Monday, 8 July 2013

Gardening in the Square Mile

Guildhall Library Talk 4th July 2013

I attended an excellent talk by Louisa Allen the Manager of the Corporation of Londons parks and spaces. Louisa and her team of 27 gardeners have to deal with a huge remit.  Not only are they responsible for the 200 green areas in the Square Mile but they also take care of Bunhill Fields (Islington)  which is just outside boundary of the City walls.

The area they manage consists of 47 gardens, 43 churchyards and 110 Beds it amounts to some 20 hectares and includes the Barbican.

Mostly deemed to be Pocket Parks the logistics of gardening within them is challenging, small areas in a busy city which has 3 million tourists per annum, plus some 8000 residents and 300,000 workers coming into the area each day is no easy task.

The areas for which the City of London is also responsible includes Epping Forest, Burnham Beeches, Hampstead Heath and Manor Park Cemetary all funded by City Cash this is money gained through interest on investments of over 800 years!  The City fund, as it is called is, money raised by poll tax and business tax and this is used to pay for the green areas within the Square Mile.

English: Greenery in the City. Not a person in...
Finsbury Circus - pre Crossrail
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The gardeners are all qualified through the RHS or with NVQs and have to be trained in all manner of things, not only Health & Safety, but also using heavy goods vehicles, cranes, site management in awkward places as well as grounds maintenance. Plus as unofficial tourist information!  They also have to deal with anti- social behaviour and the Homeless (assisting where they can by alterting the social services).

Special project work is usually achieved by applying for external funding and Section 106 important to improve local schemes whereby developers are obligated to improve the landscaping and pedestrian areas around their new buildings/schemes. For example when Crossrail have completed their work at Finsbury Circus they will restore the garden. Also Network Rail have improved the Thames Path link to Embankment as part of the Blackfriars Bridge redevelopment.

Recent projects completed include :
Queens Diamond jubilee Garden formerly known as Coach Park
o   895 tons of soil brought in
o   828 buxus
o   New type of grass - hardier

Funded by Section 106 by New Change development

Also the new installation by Konstantin Dimpoulos Blue Trees in celebration of 20 years of the Trees for Cities organisation.

St Pancras Church site-  Pancras Lane off Queen Street
A beautiful design by Studio Weave which includes pew benches decorated in Romanesque church carvings, sad site a year or two ago, now a very special secluded spot for people to enjoy.

Tree planting - green corridors. Did you know it costs £400 to dig a trial pit for a tree, this is to ensure that no vital services are hit, some lie very close to surface. The trees selected are Liquidambar orientalis (north side) and Alnus x spatheii (south side), chosen as one prefers the sunny side of the street and the other shade. The City is moving away from Plain trees as there is a disease currently rife among them causing them to die off. The new plan is to plant new types of trees to increase the variety, so not all is lost when disease hits.

Cheapside towards Bank

Blackfriars pub garden has also recently been renovated as it was looking rather tired and in need of restoration.

Bio diversity is also high on the list and Tower Hill gardens and playground have ensured safety for children from pollution high hedges, and habitat birds and bats. The City has moved away from
traditional schemes (renovation of Christchurch Greyfriars Rose Garden) to more sustainable planting.

You may have noticed that at Bunhill Fields the grass has been left to grow higher but dont think it is being neglected, it will still receive a trim now and again. A so public aware not left to its own devices. A new woodland meadow has also been planted.
 - ponds have to be cleaned out by hand

Volunteers are welcome and  the community is also involved, including the corporate side, banks and businesses often create teams to assist the gardeners on a volunteer and team building basis.  Schools and special groups are also invited to take part. Last year just under 2000 hours of labour was given free for which the department is grateful.

Also watering is kept to a minimum by using irrigation systems.

There is a considerable amount of bee keeping too, on the roofs of the city, in fact there are now too many bees! They need an acre in which to roam, they are thriving but as there are no records of hives it is difficult to manage and control.

The talk was followed by a presentation and exhibition of photographs by Niki Gorick who has been following the gardening team over the last couple of years.

All the photographs are candid not posed, in black and white. It is a fascinating insight into the logistics and challenging work they do. The photographs also show the scale of some the work undertaken. Highly recommend her book Where Soil meets City The Gardeners Who Transform The Square Mile available from the Guildhall Library or on online.

The next City gardens walk by Miss B takes place on 21st July - book in below:

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