Olympic Park Gardens are a Natural for Gold

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The gardens at the Olympic Park may end up being the greatest legacy of the Games. A formerly polluted industrial site has been transformed. The natural plantings and meadow-like feel of the gardens as they meander along the canals seem like a different world. They serve as a beautiful and restful foil to the hard surfaces of the walking streets and sports venues.

The time, money and sheer numbers of plants is staggering:

Seven years and £11 billion in the making, the London 2012 Olympic Park is finally complete. Two million tonnes of contaminated soil have been washed, 5km of riverbanks cleaned up and 35 bridges built. Six thousand two hundred trees, 9,500 shrubs, 63,000 bulbs, 250,000 wetlands plants and 766,000 grasses and ferns have been planted.

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The flower beds and wildflower fields are the result of rigorous thought--and planting. One section was designed with Chelsea gold-medal-winner Sarah Price and Dutch landscape designer Piet Oudolf (of New York's High Line Park).

Stretching almost half a mile, the long wide strip of gardens along the existing canal are divided into four climatic zones, each reflecting the ecology and planting of the area. These are more formal and contain plants, originally from Europe, Asia, Southern Hemisphere and North America that are now part of the UK garden.

The North American part is recognizable by the flourishing echinacea and allium.

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The flowers from the European part are in a matrix so that tall and shorter species are mixed together. Taller plants (some reaching 10ft-13ft high) have clear, leafless stems so they do not block out the light to plants nestling below.

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The ten wildflower meadows are more naturalistic. They were created by professors from Sheffield University. They wanted to encourage people to realize that they can give up grass. Cornflowers, poppies and buttercups abound in these ten wildflower meadows. Planting began two or three years ago, and last year, in their first summer, the zones were an explosion of colour.

The meadows around the Olympic stadium had to be yellow and gold and are known as the ‘Olympic Gold Meadows’.

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Because it is a hilly site, you can look down and see the gardens as well as experience walking through them. Several of the screens for watching live events are set in the fields, with people sitting on the grass and enjoying the view and sports.

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These lovely medallions are embedded in walkways leading to the parklands.

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This old iron footbridge is a relic and momento of the industrial past of the area. It is one of the few things left over from the area's previous Victorian existence as a canal route for industry.

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There's art in them thar hills, but it is hard to figure what it is. This elevated planter full of grasses propped up on tall legs is either a horticultural experiment or?

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This iconic telephone box is a delightful visual pun by AOC Architects: it is cut in two, on the diagonal.

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Words of poetry about the wetlands and water have been carved out along the edges of the window.

After the Games are over, some of the planting areas will be adapted. The meadows that are now filled with annuals will be turned over to perennials. The park will be taken over by the London Legacy Development Corporation: an organization responsible for the planning and development of all the facilities post-Games. Some of the hard-edged roads will be transformed into more green spaces and proper roadways. With care and not too much private residential development, this could be a wonderful place for generations to come.

Tags: Gardening | London | Olympics