I was lucky enough to visit the Olympic Park in Stratford a couple of times this past week. The landscaping was suitably impressive and the vast areas of informal perennial planting (designed by the meadow experts, Professors Nigel Dunnett and James Hitchmough of Sheffield University, and garden designer Sarah Price) is looking fantastic.
On entering the park, once you have crossed over the bridge and passed the Aquatic Centre, you can drop down from the main concourse to the garden areas that run alongside the River Lea. If you’re not in a hurry it’s a lovely walk beside these planting areas all the way to the other end of the park. On our first visit we arrived around 10am for an afternoon hockey session and it was nice and quiet for some wandering around (people were in their morning event sessions and most others had yet to arrive for the afternoon ones).
The South Park area, nearest to Stratford Gate and the main stadium, is more ornamental and decorative than the other end of the park and has been designed with an urban feel. Here the ‘2012 Gardens’ have been arranged according to ecological zones and are split into the European, North American, South African and Asian Gardens. Much of the large perennial borders in this area have been planted randomly in order to mimic the nature of the plant communities in the wild. Other parts have been inspired by the naturalistic ‘new perennial planting’ style – with plants in strips or waves.
Planting in the South Park area:
The landscaping has seen the largest areas of annual meadows ever to be sown in a park. More than 10 hectares of annual and perennial meadows have been created in total.
The North Park area is extensive and informal. The areas here represent a range native UK habitats and this is where the wetlands area, rain gardens, bioswales, wet woodlands, reed beds, ponds and perennial meadows are found.
This has been the largest new urban park to be developed in Europe for 150 years. If you haven’t been fortunate enough to get an Olympic ticket to the park, don’t worry! It will be converted and opened up for public use after the Games. Some of the planting areas will be adapted slightly. The annual meadows for example, will be turned over to perennial meadows with a mix of grasses. The park will be taken over by the London Legacy Development Corporation and the first areas of the future Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park are planned to be open to the public from the end of July 2013.
More photos from the Olympic Park can be viewed on my Flickr feed here
I always love it when the Olympics come around. The earliest one I can remember watching and following on TV was Seoul in 1988, willing the likes of athletes including Linford Christie, Colin Jackson and Liz McColgan to go faster. I get completely swept along in the celebration of human endeavour and with all these nations and the world uniting in sport. It is inspiring and uplifting. With 2012 being our local Games and practically taking place in our back yard, Olympic fever is at an all time high in our household. I feel completely proud to be British and supporting all our amazing athletes in Team GB. Bah humbug to all the cynics and moaners.
So far I’ve been to see the rowing at Eton Dorney and to the Olympic Park in Stratford twice – once to see the women’s hockey and yesterday for the swimming. The organisation has been good. The fans have been great – the atmosphere has been amazing and as you’d expect the support for team GB from the stands has been immense.
Today is going to be a big one for Team GB. I’ll be watching the TV for the rowing finals later this morning, Wiggins cycling the time trial and our two GB boys swimming the men’s 200m breast stroke final later this evening. Go GB GO!
Some photos from the last few days (ones of the landscaping and planting in the Olympic Park to follow in a separate post).
This is our third summer living on the London/Kent border. It’s been great having the best of both worlds – an easy half hour train ride that takes us smack bang into the middle of the big smoke or a roll down the hill into the glorious, green countryside of the Garden of England. The more we explore and get to know Kent the more we fall in love with the county. From the undulating High Weald and the Kent Downs, ancient woodlands to the arable land of east Kent, dramatic cliffs on the coast around Dover to the bleak beauty of Dungeness and Romney Marsh, it is varied and truly beautiful. There is much for us to discover and we are doing so bit by bit. Last weekend I went to visit yet another picturesque corner in search of lavender.
This is the time of year for lavender. It’s looking great right now, that gorgeous-smelling, beautiful, useful herb. Last year I went to see fields of it at Castle Farm in Shoreham. This time I trundled down the road a bit further to Downderry Nursery, which holds a Scientific National Plant Collection of Lavender. This is not the place to come to see fields upon fields of lavender. But what they do have is the most diverse collection of lavenders in the world. Down some beautiful, quiet, winding country lanes (with some great views over the surrounding countryside), not far from Hadlow, I arrived at the sun-baked walled garden that is home to the nursery.
The garden is stuffed full of different lavenders growing in the ground but what I particularly liked were the demonstration trial beds, which showed the effects of planting distances, pruning times, mulch types, the addition of grit and different feeds. The hedges looked best at closer spacings – giving a larger, fuller hedge – but I suppose it depends on the effect you are after. Pruning immediately after flowering from early September produced the healthiest, bushier-looking shrubs. Unsurprisingly grit mulch worked the best, as did grit added to the soil (50kg per square metre). The plants by far preferred having no feed – and definitely were not liking manure added on planting!
There were some roses trained against the back wall of the garden. This one, ‘The Generous Gardener’ is worth a mention as it was looking and smelling divine:
Downderry are leading lavender experts and this is a great place to come for choice and advice. This small family company propagates over 95% of the plants they sell and guarantee their lavenders are true to type. It’s worth buying lavender cultivars (for example, my favourite cultivar ‘Hidcote’) from reputable people such as this because plants raised from seed are often variable.
Downderry are open Tuesday-Sunday and bank holidays from May to September. See their website for more details and for plants sold online.
They can also usually be found at Hampton Court Flower Show and this year is no exception. They won Gold and Best Exhibit in the Floral Marquee – many congratulations to them!
I went to the Cottebrooke Gardeners’ Fair on Saturday. This is the fair’s fifth year but only my first time visiting. It always gets raved about as being a real plants person’s plant fair. It has a hand-picked selection of specialist little nurseries and garden sundry companies selling interesting plants and garden equipment, including those that you can’t get just anywhere. The fair takes place in the grounds of Cottesbrooke Hall in the Northamptonshire countryside.
I took a small shopping list with me and was very good as I more or less stuck to it, buying a few plants from Meadowgate, Hardy’s, Edulis and another nursery, which I have shamefully forgotten the name of. I wanted all the tools from Niwaki but resisted. The fair was indeed very good – pleasant surroundings, never felt crowded and the exhibitors were all of a high quality and good mix. Even hubs enjoyed it. He particularly liked the Edulis stand with their unusual edibles. Although we didn’t go to any, there was also a marquee with talks from gardening slebs and experts throughout the day.
For those who have to travel some distance to the fair and who may want to visit next year, we drove up on Friday night and stayed in Highgate House (which we booked for a cheap price with Booking.com) – a good value hotel with friendly staff and decent food just 2 miles down the road from Cottesbrooke Hall.
Despite getting stuck in the mud in the car park on the way in I’m pretty certain I’ll be returning again next year.
More photos on Flickr here.
Having driven past Easton Walled Gardens on countless journeys back to the shire I finally managed to visit yesterday. It’s just off the A1 in Lincolnshire, by the junction we always take on our trips back ‘home’. Admittedly this is often at non-friendly times for garden visiting – usually late on a Friday night (gardens closed and us frazzled after a week of work and 3 hours driving) or late on a Sunday on our way back down to London (gardens closed and us frazzled after a weekend of family) – but I knew of its story and I would always see the sign for the garden and think ‘I really must visit there someday’ as we cruised on by. So when an invitation from Ursula to a Midsummer Lunch press event dropped into my inbox I jumped at the chance. It was a perfect excuse to visit the lost gardens.
Sir Henry Cholmeley first bought Easton, nestled in a little valley of the River Witham, in 1592. The original conveyance listed a manor, orchards, meadows and gardens and the estate has been in the family ever since. Sadly the grand old house that was once there, Easton Manor, fell into disrepair and was pulled down in 1951. The gardens were abandoned and soon became overgrown and engulfed by elder, brambles and 20ft trees. The only original buildings that remain today are the gatehouse and stableyard. The gardens, over 400 years old, were almost completely lost before Ursula started to rescue them from dereliction in 2001.
We were encouraged to wander the grounds before lunch. The place was looking wonderful on this balmy midsummer’s day. From the drinks reception I walked through the Pickery and the cottage garden, past the greenhouses, vegetable garden and compost heaps and came out to a vantage point alongside the terraces, looking down to the river (as seen in the picture above). Swallows were swooping and diving all around. It was a beautiful view. The garden has an air of romance and tinge of sadness about it knowing that the old house has gone and the gardens almost vanished. On the other hand the rejuvenation of the gardens is a joyous one and the love and passion that Ursula and her team have for the place really shines through.
Ursula is big on meadows and I loved the use of them on the slopes of the terraces and in the old kitchen garden where roses have been planted in long grass. The Pickery full of cut flowers, orderly vegetable garden and colourful cottage garden were also all looking great. It really was an enchanting place, one that I look forward to re-visiting and recommending friends and family to visit too. Easton is also very welcoming of children so it’s a great garden for those with little ones curious to explore and play.
Whilst we were in New York we went on a two-hour sunset sail on a replica of an old schooner on the Hudson. Although it was warm the weather had been a little changeable that day. At one point we thought it might get rained off. There was a heavy downpour just before our trip but then luckily it cleared up, stayed dry and turned out glorious.
It was a beautiful evening and I think it was perhaps the most brilliant thing we’ve ever done in NY so I thought I’d share some pictures.
We did our sunset sail with Classic Harbor Line, which went from Chelsea Pier to the Statue of Liberty and back again. In winter the boat we were on spends the season in Key West. Sounds like a fabulous idea I say.
We’ve just returned from a fantastic week in New York. A friend of ours is out there on a two-year stint with work – the lucky bugger. Happily for us he welcomed us to his apartment where we stayed for the duration of our trip (thank you Alan!). He’s living in the West Village on Manhattan – an historic, leafy, residential area that used to be all boho and arty. These days it’s a very gentrified, clean and desirable part of town, popular with families and celebrities. I can totally see the appeal. It’s an attractive neighbourhood with pretty tree-lined streets. Great little coffee shops, bars and local restaurants litter the blocks. It has a very relaxed and comfortable vibe to the place. For us it was great spending time experiencing a different side of New York, away from the canyons of Midtown and Downtown. I love New York all the more for it. One of the best things for me (aside from all the gastronomy on our doorstep) was that the apartment was just a mere ten blocks away from the start of the High Line in the Meatpacking District. Ten blocks that feel like a walk in the park when the stroll is through the green and pleasant streets of the West Village in the June sunshine. The first time we were up on the High Line, a year and a half ago at the end of autumn, the second section hadn’t opened yet so I was excited to go and check it out as well as to see the park during summer. We didn’t waste much time getting ourselves up there.
On our first morning in the city we were up pretty early. The weather was balmy and by the time we headed out for a delicious breakfast at Joseph Leonard’s in the Village at around 8.30 the weather was already in the 20s.
We wandered up West 4th (full of fab little restaurants – I can highly recommend Café Cluny and Mary’s Fish Camp) towards Meatpacking and got on the start of the Line on Gansvoort Street. We walked the entire length, which probably took us at least twice as long as most folk what with me stopping every few metres to look at something or take a photo. I have an eternally patient hubs.
As on our first visit I loved how well used the park is by visitors and locals alike. The High Line has been a huge success story attracting almost 150,000 visitors a week. Its popularity was evident by the number of people we saw enjoying all it has to offer. New Yorkers were catching rays, reading or having a break on the loungers whilst others were grabbing coffee and a gossip. There were plenty of tourists trekking by or resting their weary legs and taking in the views, school groups were on educational visits, arty types were doing photo shoots, families were out giving their kids a run around, others were just walking through using the line as a handy, pleasant route on their way to elsewhere. The place was full of life.
The planting (a mixture of perennials, grasses, trees and shrubs, which was designed to mimic the landscape that had self-seeded on the derelict line before it was resurrected as a public park), was lush and green, quite a difference to the swathes of golden autumn colours on our first visit. My favourite section is still the Chelsea Grasslands area.
As we were staying so close to the High Line it meant we were able to nip through on several further occasions, using it as a traffic-free, scenic route on our way to and from various places during the week. It was great to see it at different times of day and weather. Each time you notice new things. The light will have changed and different plants come in and out of focus or into flower. There is so much to look at and discover, as well as being great for people watching!
The High Line run various events and tours – you can hear talks from the gardeners and designers and find out about the art and sculpture or the wildlife on the Line. Sadly we weren’t able to fit any of these in this trip. They have a great website with loads of information on it, including comprehensive plant lists, which you can find here. If you are heading to NY I would highly recommend a visit!
For more High Line photos see my Flickr feed here.