Gardening comrades, help us in sparking an urban gardening revolution! From streets to rooftops, GardenTags and the RHS are on a mission to Green Grey Britain.
Darryl Moore is an award-winning landscape and garden designer, Director of Cityscapes and Senior Partner of Moore Harrison Land Design. He is a widely published design and horticulture writer, and regular contributor to Garden Design Journal, a Fellow of Royal Society of Arts, and has been the RHS Innovation Mentor and a City Lit garden design tutor.
Bringing People & Plants Together
The inexorable rise of cities in recent years is now recognised as an evolution set to continue in the foreseeable future. It is something that forward thinking metropolises are acknowledging and looking at the opportunities it can provide for sustainable uses of infrastructure and resources.
But increased urban density has come with a price, as can be seen in the inflation of property prices and the loss of outdoor space. This loss comes at a time when the health and wellbeing benefits of proximity to plants is now widely recognised, consequently making the matter of urban greening a hotly debated topic of some urgency.
When Adolfo Harrison and I started Cityscapes it was to engage with this debate and to develop and promote new ways of designing, making and inhabiting the public realm, through the creation of both permanent and temporary parks, gardens, installations and events. When we began we looked around London and saw odd spaces, orphaned sites and underused areas. We saw these as opportunities to be transformed in innovative ways through design, to bring people and plants together.
We saw the need to adopt new timescales and ideas about what is temporary and what is permanent in a world driven by constant development, in which buildings are designed to replaced every twenty five years and people only stay in a house for an of average five years in London. This sense of transience makes the demands on public spaces more diverse than ever and constantly in change. Consequently the activities that take place in parks and the user groups that inhabit them need to be adaptive and responsive in order to be effective and sustainable.
By embracing the flux at the heart of London, we have been able to create greening projects that are dynamic, exciting and full of possibilities, allowing unintended encounters and interactions with horticulture. Avoiding prescriptive approaches to placemaking has allowed us to stimulate senses and the imagination, and to explore ways in which we can engage with the urban environment in meaningful and beneficial ways.
London is internationally renown as a hotbed of creativity and we felt we that the city’s urban environment should be something that reflects this great cultural asset, so we tap into this through cross disciplinary collaborations with designers, artists and cultural organisations, and by incorporating multi media elements in our projects.
We embrace unusual spaces that call for unusual and imaginative responses, whether they be temporary or permanent. They all offer opportunities to shape spaces, creating Beta versions of places, investigating new ways that they can be used and enjoyed, and finding novel ways to use plants in city situations.
Cityscapes, The Remix Garden
One of our projects in particular highlighted the different creative approaches that can be taken to present fresh ideas about how a site can be imagined. The Remix Garden creatively recycled materials from a RHS Chelsea Flower Show designed by Wilson McWilliam Studio to create four new versions of the garden in the courtyard of the Oxo Tower Wharf over the summer of 2013.
The original garden was ‘remixed’ into unique garden installations, in the same manner that a song would be remixed, by four upcoming designers – Jon Sims, Anoushka Feiler, Matthew Childs and Daniel Lobb. Drawing a parallel between garden design and music culture, it highlighting the variety of ways that a pre-determined set of elements can be reinterpreted and artfully recombined into a variety of different and distinctive forms. Whilst the key structural materials and plants in each garden were the same, each garden was distinct and occupied the available space in different ways (including one in a shipping container!). The gardens were sequential, with each in place for three weeks before being replaced by the next, with a three day rebuild in between. This process invoked a sense of anticipation and intrigue for local residents and businesses who enjoyed seeing each one evolve and then exploring, discussing and inhabiting them for their duration. After a fifth version by Wilson McWilliam Studio appeared at RHS London Shades of Autumn Show, the remaining materials ended up in local community garden spaces.
Communities are key to our projects and much of our time is taken up with stakeholder engagement. But rather than a traditional idea of community we seek to engage a rich mix of as many different interest groups as possible, including residents, schools, businesses, local authorities and cultural organisations, in order to deliver greater results for everyone involved. This often means bringing together groups who gave had no previous contact, but helps to maximise user flexibility, ensure maintenance and sustainability, and future proof places against unforeseen, potentially resource draining circumstances. These new models for community gardens offer opportunities for both designers and communities to work together, responding to specific sites and local needs, to create places that are both aesthetically appealing and functionally flexible.
Our 2012 project Gibbon’s Rent in London Bridge, created in partnership with The Architecture Foundation, Team London Bridge and Southwark Council, took a neglected alleyway in London Bridge transformed into a colourful and much loved urban oasis through a design by architect Australian Andrew Burns and UK landscape designer Sarah Eberle.
Cityscapes, Gibbon’s Rent
The flexibility of Gibbon’s Rent shows just how design can be employed to create an engaging environment. Burns proposed the idea of an incomplete site, constantly in transition according to the active participation of local residents. The design features a series of large concrete drainage pipes, which Eberle has utilised as planters filled with an exotic array of plants, providing an all year round sensory experience. Surrounding these are various sized plant pots, placed and moved around by local residents, continually modifying the site according to their horticultural needs and seasonal interests. The landscape is continually morphing and provides new encounters upon each visit.
Since opening in June 2012, the garden has benefitted from the addition of a ‘little library’ and has been embraced by local residents and businesses for a wide variety of uses, including food growing, sunflower competitions and carol singing. St Mungo’s ‘Putting Down Roots’, a local gardening project for the homeless, provides further community interaction by providing quality year round maintenance.
Another project that provided a community approach to place-making was The Paperworks Garden, a temporary site in Elephant & Castle in 2014. The garden was a venture between Cityscapes, Siobhan Davies Dance and Corsica Studios, and was designed in a collaboration between landscape designer Anoushka Feiler and choreographer Charlotte Spencer with a group of local young people aged between 14 and 21.
Through interactive workshops they explored the site, materials and the ways in which garden design and choreography both approach the use of space and the movement of bodies through it. The crossover points between the disciplines were the starting point for the week of workshops, resulting in the creation of the garden and also a performance piece within it, which was presented to the public upon completion.
Flexibility was important for the elements in the garden to be used and moved during the performance and also to be rearranged afterwards, when it was used as a social space within The Paperworks larger temporary street food and drink venue. Feiler’s use of gabion cages as structural elements for seats and benches responded well to these demands and also nodded to the site’s industrial past. The plants used in the project were reused from Stefano Passerotti’s show garden at RHS Hampton Court, again stressing the reuse of elements from shows.
Through these and our other projects we have been fortunate to work with some great partners and collaborators, and been able to cast aside preconceptions of what a garden or park should be. We have approached London as a stage setting to try out new typologies and ideas about how people and plants can be brought together to interact in positive, beneficial and exciting ways, and we look forward to continuing do so in the future.
– Darryl Moore, Cityscapes Director
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