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London 2012 – Olympic Park Gardens

August 2, 2012

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).

Kniphofias (or Red Hot Pokers) with the top of the main Olympic Stadium in the background. Most of the 2012 Gardens planting is found on terraces or ramps so you can look up, down or across the areas.

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 first bit of garden we came to on arrival in the park – the South African section of the 2012 Garden, inspired by moist montane grassland

‘Asia’ Garden. Planting in swathes. The designers wanted to focus on the structure and lushness of foliage that you find on the edge of Asian woodlands.

Beautiful umbel flowers of Ammi majus, with spikes of purple Atriplex and blue cornflowers growing through it. Gorgeous!

North America prairie planting with the edge of the Aquatic Centre just seen in the background

Europe Garden. An area inspired by European hay meadows but with flower species chosen for their length of flowering

Europe Garden – Planting detail

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.

A specialty of Nigel Dunnett & James Hitchmough – Annual ‘pictorial’ meadows surround the main stadium. The stipulation for the meadows around the Olympic stadium was that they should be yellow and gold – known as the ‘Olympic Gold Meadows’.

A vivid combination of both native and non-native plants were selected for the gold meadows designed to flower from late June until the first frosts. After the Games the meadows will gradually incorporate a range of grasses, both naturally and through over-sowing. The idea is that they will become self-sustaining and help support wildlife.

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.

Sticking to the landscaped areas we walked along to the North Park with the River Lea on one side and meadows up the bank on the other. Looking back the way we came towards the stadium and the Orbit.

The Velodrome in the North Park area

Looking over the River Lawns area in the North Park. Beyond the trees you can see the Riverbank Stadium where the hockey is taking place

Looking over the wetlands area back to the stadium. You can really get a sense of how green and vast the park is from here

Woodland on the edge of the wetlands area in the north park

View to the City in the west. You can see the Shard and the Gherkin. Park Live where people gather to watch events on the big screen is just in the foreground. This is an area where the bioswales could be seen. It was also where volunteers were fighting a losing battle to keep the public from rudely trampling paths through the planting on the banks!

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.

Useful links:

Nigel Dunnett’s Olympic Park page

Official London 2012 Gardens site and Phone App

More photos from the Olympic Park can be viewed on my Flickr feed here

13 Comments leave one →
  1. August 2, 2012 5:54 pm

    I’m looking forward to seeing this at the end of the month having heard James Hitchmough and Sarah Price speak about their experiences in designing the planting. James Hitchmough had to decide when to cut the meadows so they’d be on top form for the Games. It must have been made really difficult seeing we’ve had so much rain this year, but from your photos it looks like he made the right call 🙂

    I hope it’s sunny when we’re there!

    • August 2, 2012 8:48 pm

      Hi Michelle – that’s great that you’ll get to visit. You’ll love it. I was really very impressed.

      It’s good that they had a couple of years to practice sowing and managing the annual meadow areas before the Games. Although I’m sure the weather this year was challenging to say the least! Looks like they handled it well. The only problems I noticed were some planting areas that looked a little decimated by slugs (they were out in force in the damp evening on my first day there) accompanied by some rather over-zealous slug pellet application! But I think every gardener has had to suffer too many of those pesky pests this year.

      Fingers crossed for sun when you visit!

      • August 5, 2012 9:53 am

        Hitchmough told us they researched slug damage. They’ve mulched the soil with sand – slug damage should be confined to just the first 2 metres of planting. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if this year’s wet weather means they’ve been able to go much further!

  2. Rama Lopez-Rivera permalink
    August 2, 2012 7:34 pm

    Hats off to you for a great review. Really well written Sui Kee…

    • August 2, 2012 8:48 pm

      Thanks Rama. Too kind. PS – good luck with starting the Kew Diploma later this year. Look forward to hearing all about it!

  3. August 3, 2012 10:01 am

    Thanks for sharing this post. There is far more to the gardens than I had imagined – I hope I will be able to visit them at some point.

    • August 6, 2012 9:58 am

      Hi Alison. My pleasure.

      I hope you get to visit the gardens too. They’ve done a grand job!

  4. August 20, 2012 9:31 am

    Can you just turn up to see the gardens or do you need tickets … thought I’d ask as you had done it, as the information on the web is clear as mud.

    Hope you dont mind me asking.

    Your photographs are wonderful, made me even more determined to go now. The sports don’t interest me in the slightest, but the architecture and garden design does!

    • August 20, 2012 12:36 pm

      Hi Zoe – I’m afraid you do need a ticket to get into the Olympic Park to see the gardens at the moment – either for one of the Paralympic sporting events held in the park or an Olympic Park Day Pass (these look like they are still occasionally coming up for sale [£10 per ticket] on the ticket website, but you have to get lucky!). As far as I understand, the park is then closing until next year. When I spoke to the press department back in May I was told the first areas of the future ‘Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park’ are due to open on 27 July 2013. Hope this helps.

  5. August 21, 2012 4:50 pm

    I’ve seen a couple of blogs now featuring the Olympic gardens and your photos are excellent. It appears they did a great job particularly as meadow planting is so difficult to keep things even. Looks stunning!

  6. August 30, 2012 1:37 pm

    The park, gardens and planting are beautiful. So pleased that someone else took the time to enjoy the landscaping! Great post
    Kind regards

  7. September 4, 2012 12:53 pm

    I wasn’t lucky enough to get tickets for the Games and no doubt I would have missed many of the really interesting aspects that you’ve managed to highlight.

    I’ve seen a lot of reviews of the Olympic Park but this is really a great advert for the gardens. Top notch.


  1. 2012: the Olympic Park meadows | Insideology

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