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A garden of Olympic proportions

by Timber Press on August 2, 2012

in Design

Nigel Dunnett at the London Olympic Park’s Gold Meadows. ©Nigel Dunnett

When constructing an Olympic park most of the focus is on the buildings, and perhaps, rightfully so, but England is big garden country and it’s only natural that the London Olympic Park include a garden.

To say that England is big garden country is an understatement, it’s more like a country of gardens, 13,000 square kilometers in fact. That’s more than 5,000 square miles to you and I, and more area than all of the country’s nature reserves combined. “So gardens are our nature reserves,” Nigel Dunnett recently told the Guardian.

Dunnett, along with fellow University of Sheffield professor James Hitchmough, and rising design star Sarah Price, were tasked with designing and overseeing construction of the London Olympic Garden.

To say garden isn’t accurate, either. The “garden” includes annual meadows which create a “gold ribbon” around the park’s stadium, as well as a half-mile river-side strip celebrating regions (Mediterranean, North America, Southern Hemisphere, Asia) which have supplied many of the now-common plants found in English gardens.

It also includes:

  • 4,000 trees
  • 300,000 wetland plants
  • 161,459 square feet of lawns
  • 150,000 perennial plants
  • New habitat for (among others): grey heron, bee, house sparrow, bat, song thrush, toadflax brocade moth, lizard, newts and toads, slow worm, grass snake, sand martin, swift, and invertebrates.
  • The wildflower meadows alone cover an area the size of 10 football fields, and include Pot marigolds, tickseed, and corn marigold hybrids, the key ingredients in the “ribbon of gold” surrounding the stadium.
  • 250 benches and 3,000 plus seats insure that visitors are never far from a place to rest.


Sustainable practices, such as this bioswale, at the London Olympic Park help to keep the park’s environmental impact at a minimum. ©Nigel Dunnett

While the plants and green spaces are meant to impress, the gardens are built firmly on sustainable practices. This means the use of bioswales for water conservation and native biodiversity to attract wildlife (more than a billion pollinators will soon call the park home).

Visitors to the park can see for themselves the potential of better practices in gardening, and Nigel Dunnett hopes it will become an advertisement for more naturalistic home gardens, telling Pro Landscaper Magazine: “Wildlife gardens aren’t full of  nettles and an embarrassment. They can look beautiful as well as be sustainable, and bring in the bees and butterflies.”



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