Friday 3 June 2011

Design or participation

I have mentioned before that we have a large courtyard at work that is slowly being turned into a garden for the staff and students.  It has been an interesting process, not least as it has made me think about what is more important the over-all design of a garden or the participation in making it and being surrounded by green. 

I have been getting more interested in the design and planting of gardens and when they announced that they were allowing the staff to design the garden I thought I would go along. Sadly at the first meeting it became obvious that there was a huge range of ideas and that it was going to be designed by committee.  I am sure anyone reading this knows the importance of having an overall picture of the garden, it even applies to a collection of pots. So the thought of there being no over-all scheme, or person in charge, filled me with dread. Sure enough now the garden is almost finished it is not pretty, some of the planting is not very interesting and I can't help feeling that we missed an opportunity.

But the strangest thing has happened, the group of staff that have given up weekends, hurt their backs, and got their hands dirty building the garden, have had a great time.  People who have not got a garden, have never grown plants have designed raised beds and are looking after them.  There are flowers, a veg patch, and plants that just don't go together. Yet no one, (apart from me) seems to care, in fact they love it. There have been compliments, you can not get a seat at the tables which are used all day and the powers that be want to green more areas.

The plants are happy as well. The tree ferns have thrived,  and the bamboo is going to be a monster. I can't wait to see how big these new culms get, they are so much chunkier than the existing ones as you can see.

I still want to ask if people are looking at the same garden as me, but I have also realised the power of getting involved and having green space around. Does it matter that the garden is not all it could be? Not one bit. Though it pains me to say that, and don't expect me to say that in relation to any other garden. But in this case people seem so pleased to have some green to sit among, and just to have the chance to garden that they don't notice the haphazard nature of the green.

Who knows with time,  I may be able to bash the flowers out of their heads and get them to appreciate the beauty of proper plants.  There are already signs a few a turning towards the more spikie side of gardening. I am pleased to say we get the most comments about the rockery.


  1. I can totally picture how the "design/plant by committee" thing happened. Yikes. But as you say what a great end result. Now that they've started down the garden path (so to speak) it's only a matter of time before at least some of them start to see it your way...great story!

  2. I think that those people just want to be involved in growing something. It is in our nature and has been pushed aside in many people. This may be there only opportunity. When the flowers die out and they are tired of replanting then they will look at more succulents. Bring one or two and see what happens!

  3. Loree: You would have laughed if you had seen me in the meetings. In one sentence they would say the garden has to be low maintenance, in the next they wanted an herbaceous border. I think at that point I actually did hit my head against the table.

    Candy: you totally right, that is why i am less bothered about it not being great garden design and plants wise. It is allowing these people to grow plants which they don't have a chance to do in their London flats.

    And don't worry there is a large rockery which is totally mine to plant and is full of succulents (although right now it needs to fill out considerable) I am using it as a propagation area for plants I don't have space for and friends have kindly donated loads of plants.

  4. The best gardens are loved gardens, and it sounds as if this one is being used and enjoyed. I'm sure it will only improve, given time. It's good to give people a chance to get outside, makes the burdens of the work day a little easier to bear.

  5. HB: It was amazing how quickly people started using it. As soon as the first plants went in the tables filled it. You now have to book the garden tables instead of the meeting rooms.

  6. It needs a bit of time too, I think committees fail to realise that there are no ready-made gardens and even ones built for Chelsea would fail if left as they are as they are such an artificial construct. Sounds like an all roudn Good Thing and you can do some guerrilla dry gardening when noone is around (also the weather will weed out the unfit cottagey stuff I suspect)

    Well done you all though, such a nice thing to have and have done

  7. I am currently negotiating a small budget for next year and hopefully having by then lived with it for a year we can re-plant small sections that haven't worked.