For the East Angle travelling by train, Stratford is the gateway to the City and beyond. For years we have had to rely on the bus shelter and railway station to give a whisper of the brave new world under construction. And now for the price of a ticket to a sporting event; the opportunity to stroll within the Olympic Park. Everyone is very happy here. It’s a litter-free, no jostling, no aggro sort of place with the goons in the shades in the shade and “gamemasters” jollying the crowds with handheld tannoys. But what about the planting?
James Hitchmough, Professor of Horticultural Ecology at Sheffield University is Mastermind of the planting on this large site. A couple of weeks back he gave a lecture on his Naturalistic planting technique. He is used to tussling with a theatre full of students and so he rumbusted a rather lady-like audience of garden designers with a peppery vocabulary. His technique leaps out of the herbaceous border and copies nature. Away with the clumping of plants that flower and then sit there for the rest of the season.
It is a highly individual approach to planting and throws out a few tenets. Colour does it rather than form and foliage. (This is certainly the case for planting in public spaces). Next, to copy nature, which he finds to be like Harris Tweed - look into a sward and see how many species are fighting it out by the square metre. Last, he invited us to throw away our horror of exotics or non-native species. The British flora is pretty poor, something like one tenth of the USA. Invertebrates will not discriminate. An invitation is extended to all to visit www.bugs.group.shef.ac.uk
and see how the bugs like it.
His planting technique is to sow in situ, choosing proportions of seed by volume to take account of their eventual plant size. By this means, the same patch of ground will have flowering plants coming up over say, a 7 month period. It is good enough to check on overall heights, flowering times, habit of the plant and suitability to sun/shade or soil type.
Highly advanced plantsmanship creeps in here. Hitchmough has travelled widely and studied plant communities. He showed us mouthwatering lists of planting combos but significantly did not part with the information. I am keen to explore the method in a part of my garden next year but it will be very experimental and not one to sell to a customer untried.
Back the park, it has been orchestrated to crescendo right now, and looks sensational. The claim is made for its longevity. We will see.
There is traditional planting too - delivered by Sarah Price with a gallop through the world flora. This is bulb rich with eucomis, agapanthus and gladioli for South Africa. It will be interesting to see which has the staying power in a year or two. But for this summer welcome to the beautiful world of Olympico