Volunteering is fun. I enjoy meeting people from different walks of life in an outdoor environment, having a laugh, consuming tea and biscuits (why does tea always taste so much nicer outside?) and leaving an area tidier, more attractive or more productive than it was before we started. A couple of weeks ago we began a particularly exciting project which involves planting a new garden designed to celebrate Garden Cities around the world. The project, based at Standalone Farm in Letchworth Garden City, is a collaboration between the RHS and the Letchworth Garden City Heritage Foundation, supported by Arch Community Group. It is the second such garden to be built at the farm.
Community Garden Spirit
Last summer volunteers and staff worked hard to transplant many elements of the Hampton Court Flower Show ‘In Bloom’ garden, celebrating 50 years of the RHS community gardening campaign, to the farm grounds. At the end of last year work began on an adjoining piece of land in preparation for the new International Garden Cities Garden. The hard landscaping team persevered throughout the wettest December on record, to complete a stunning framework ready for planting to begin in the spring.
International Garden Cities
David Ames, Head of Heritage and Strategic Planning for the Heritage Foundation, explains that the project explores the influence of Letchworth Garden City (the first garden city) on gardens and gardening in towns across the world. The garden includes representations of garden cities in Australia, Brazil, South Africa, China, Germany and the UK. Designed by Charlotte Liu, each of the six areas showcases plants from the different countries. The Australia garden uses native plants such as Eucalyptus gunnii, Ozothamnus rosmarinifolius ‘Silver Jubilee’ (formally Helichrysum rosmarinifolius) and Brachyscome iberidifolia (an annual herb found in Western Australia), whilst the Brazilian garden includes South American favourites such as Alstroemeria ‘Apollo’, Stipa tenuissima and Tropaeolum majus (Nasturtium). (More on the design of the different areas in later posts focusing on the individual countries.)The garden will also include other elements such as a dry pebble area and small wooden bridge in ‘China’ which creates the illusion of being beside a lake. This aspect of the garden follows traditional Chinese design principles by mimicking the natural environment. In ‘Germany’, raised beds explore the concept of the Schrebergarten – German allotment gardens which enable urban citizens access to land on which they can grow their own crops.
An Interactive Garden
Each country also has an interactive section, many of which are designed for children. These include a giant sandpit, a teaching and performance raised deck surrounded by large rocks for seating, and areas where visitors can learn to grow their own herbs and other crops. Interpretation boards in each section will give more information about the countries and their links to the garden cities movement (initiated by Ebenezer Howard in 1898 with his publication of To-morrow: a Peaceful Path to Real Reform and realised with the building of the first garden city in Letchworth, begun in 1903). The boards will also have information about the different ways in which visitors can volunteer and participate in the garden.
Garden in Progress
All 25 volunteers worked in the garden throughout the day planting up many of the areas and the weather treated us well, only starting to drizzle at 5pm when we were packing up. I met new people and caught up with friends I’ve not seen much over the winter months. There was a shared sense of purpose as we added to the character of the garden plant by plant, until by the end of the day there was a definite outline emerging. There are still plants waiting to go in, a wooden bridge to be added, raised beds to be filled and tender specimens to nurture under protection until it is their time to shine, but the garden is no longer just a concept – it is almost a reality.
Many of the volunteers will return throughout the year, supporting the garden maintenance programme, helping with events and chatting about the garden with visitors. The farm is a favourite location for many local families (mine included) and the new gardens will give visitors the opportunity to learn about nature as well as the ways in which Letchworth has influenced town planning across the world. As the designer, Charlotte Liu, says ‘People have always desired a closeness with nature and this is fundamental to the idea of the garden city. Letchworth has shown the world that you can live in nature.’
For more information about international garden cities visit the International Garden Cities Institute website at http://www.garden-cities-exhibition.com/institute/ and for information about the world’s first garden city visit the Letchworth Garden City Heritage Foundation website at http://www.letchworth.com/heritage-foundation.
Farm activity and opening information can be found at http://www.standalonefarm.com/
With thanks to Christian Trampenau and the Letchworth Garden City Heritage Foundation for permission to use some of the images in this article.
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