The Garden Bridge – a Balanced Argument?

I think it must be a couple of weeks since a hot little debate started up on my personal Facebook page. I had posted the previous blog about The Garden Bridge, and whilst a few friends were “for” there were also a few friends that were adamantly “against”.

Below is an altered version of the conversation, to separate out the most valid points. I enjoyed reading the comments to balance out my own child-like enthusiasm for the project. I think the figures mentioned surrounding public money resounded most for me.

“UK horticulture needs to stop relying on its heritage. London is the perfect place for this creative vision. Hope the Garden Bridge will become a reality very soon. Gardening is always about change and using plants in this way is an innovative approach to interactive architecture.”

“The recent withdrawal of support by wildlife experts the RSPB speak volumes. How has this got through planning and got public money without all the requirements that are usually involved? I hope the project will be reviewed for how a project that is getting £60m of the public purse wasn’t open to other tenders as required by law. Just because celebrities are involved shouldn’t mean they are above the law. As for it being innovative all I can say is poppycock, there’s a garden bridge in Mile End that’s been there for at least 10 years and students regularly produce ideas like this. Please stop claiming its innovative and that London needs a new tourist attraction.”

“I’d really really love to be behind this, as the idea itself is of course fantastic…..and of course, most of our world wants horticulture to be innovative…but you can’t separate it from the other issues. Public money is going to this and the location is one of the most iconic in the country, which requires consulation by all appropriate statutory bodies and the public. As well as a process of tendering – ensuring a transparent process that ensures public money is spent well and that public gains (open access) are achieved. We have to remember that most of the public aren’t concerned whether horticulture is innovative.. However excited a project’s supporters are about it, we should all want that process to be gone through. It is what protects our money and ensures we get the benefits from it.”

ME: “Thanks for your responses. I’m not quite sure futuristic is the right word, but I get your point. Forward-thinking is maybe a better way of putting it. I would say I like the conceptual art and design of the bridge, and that would be the innovative part of this entire project. I’m not sure the tourist office would agree with you about not needing another attraction. The fact that the plans are strongly opposed by a number of people, can only be a positive factor in highlighting the requirements for proper consultation. The panel in the video seemed somewhat reserved about the project, and I don’t know exactly how far along things are, or how far they will get. We shall see.”

“I was pro at first and I am pleased to see some innovation in the UK at last to rival the High Line and Gardens by the Bay. These projects show that if you invest in horticulture projects, the benefits reach far beyond the project itself. However, now there seems to be restrictions on access, possible entry charges etc. I’m not so sure the original high ideals and benefits for everyone are actually going to be realised. That saddens me.”

“No entry charge is a condition of the planning consent so that can’t happen.”

“Creating a garden bridge where people living and working in offices might be inspired to engage with gardens has the potential to create more interest in the future of our planet. Either way horticulture has a huge role to play in the future of our society whereas at the moment engagement with this activity is often very elitist. The fact that it is suggested that most of the public aren’t concerned whether horticulture is innovative is exactly why we need this iconic garden to hopefully engage more Londoners with green matters. Agree private funding is best route and feel sure there are plenty of banks and finance insititutions in the city that have more than enough money to make this a reality. The organisers should present the project as a unique opportunity for Corporate Social Responsibilty to secure substantial private funds so everyone can stop worrying about use of public money. The funding is certainly key and understand concerns here but as individuals passionate about horticulture I think we should view it as an opportunity to raise the profile of gardens and plants in London’s concrete jungle.”

“I was initially keen but now I wonder who the project is actually for. The High Lines success is partly due to it repurposing an existing structure whilst this is building something new which will of course have a whole range of impacts on the existing environment and the people that use it. Does London actually need another tourist attraction which is what this really is? The funds would be better spent on green initiatives elsewhere in the capital or its surroundings that would benefit more people from across society rather than the few. I understand that some feel we need to be ambitious to promote our horticulture and the Singapore Gardens in the Bay are often sited in this context but I think this is something of a red herring. Singapore wanted to regenerate an area which was essentially reclaimed and not that great, this isnt the case in London. There are surely ways of showing off our horticulture and engaging more people in it aside from building another bridge over a river which already has many crossings. I should add that there are other initiatives similar, so it isn’t that innovative. There are plans for something along these lines near me but, as with the High Line, using an existing structure.”

“It is wrong to assume that people in offices are somehow not engaged with landscape and plants. Indeed people who live in places with no outdoor space of their own are often the first to seek it out. I feel the money could be spent better on grass roots horticulture that inspires people and supports thousands of projects across the UK. Projects like Streetscape and the many campaigns that Thrive are involved with will not in any way benefit from a £175m/£3.5m a year corridor of planting less than half the size of a football pitch.”

“Just a few comments from someone who works in horticulture, has worked on high end projects such as this and is now firmly entrenched in community work. If this was to be London’s High Line, a repurposed space being brought back into use, then it would be a wonderful project. If it was engaging with communities and improving lives, giving people the opportunity to be involved in such a project equally it would be amazing. But it isn’t either of these things. There appears to have been little or no public consultancy, which in itself is appalling knowing what most tiny projects have to go through to prove the project is wanted in the area. And yet still there is £60million of public money, in times of crisis and austerity, put aside for this. If it is going to be timed ticket only, closed to cyclists, of no use to London’s biodiversity needs or wildlife, closed in the evenings and one day per month for private events, and only open to groups of over 8 by previous booking, or indeed at all, I question how this is inclusive? How is it going to change the lives for the better of people living in the area? What will be its social outcomes?These are questions that working in the community, have to be in the forefront of your thinking. I wonder why private companies working within the public sphere don’t feel they have to ensure the same outcomes?”

“I think what finally made me really baulk was the stat that each London borough could have 53 community projects funded at £100,000 per project with this money. Our community projects made 12 gardens on a budget of about £3000 this year, imagine what a difference £100,000 would make. If this can’t make that change, then the money should be repurposed. But actually it also brings to light the way public money is given out, and that I think now needs scrutiny and a new policy drafted.”

ME: “Thank you for your comments, I think your questions highlight the need for transparency in the entire planning and consultation process. I don’t think many projects in such a high profile area would engage communities or even individuals. Money rules in central London, and as far as authorities see it, this is a project for tourists rather than Londoners. Every time I visit London, I feel like a tourist, which is probably the reason for my support of the project..”

“Private companies are often more motivated by commercial issues like brand awareness and maximising awareness of their corporate identity, as well as being seen to support a high profile project in one of the world’s leading cities that offers huge potential for pubilicity. Corporate objectives often very different from public sector ticking of boxes. Just wondering why cyclists have become so crucial to every project in London. There are plenty of other bridges for them to use and the garden bridge in my view should encourage visitors to ponder and enjoy the surroundings. Cyclists in London are normally riding from a to b in a hurry so let them use other bridges. I am fed up with being nearly run over at pedestrian lights but cyclists who seem to think red lights do not affect them. Social outcomes of any garden bridge are important but I am more interested in the environmental and green impact so keen to know what evidence there is to suggest it will be of no use to Londons biodiversity or wildlife. That is the crucial issue for me. Delighted this could thankfully be a cycle free environment so we dont have to worry about speeding maniacs on 2 wheels.”

ME: “I know the RSPB don’t approve, but I really can’t see the bridge as being of benefit to wildlife anyway, judging from the occasional pockets of shrubs along the South Bank. Pigeons and maybe the odd cormorant? I’m pretty sure any bees or insects would just get blown away! I’m not sure how many cyclists use the footbridge, but not sure they would need to be banned altogether.”

“It has been stated that cyclists won’t be allowed onto the bridge in one of the pieces in the national press. If this is a tourist attraction, rather than something for real Londoners, and is being run by corporate organisations who will be looking at making money out of it in some form or another, it is completely inappropriate for public funding. I also think if it is going to continue to be called a bridge, it needs to be one, and that is something accessible that allows a crossing to take place, a transit to happen.”

ME: “I’m not sure whether the national press can be trusted on everything they say, but as mentioned there can be no entrance fee. The way the bridge is to be laid out would imply ease of passage for cyclists if they wanted to cross, though the number of people stopping and using the space may mean that it simply isn’t practical for cyclists to pass anyway. In my last post, I meant the footbridge to Charing Cross doesn’t seem to be a heavily used cycle path. I’m off to look up how many London boroughs there are!”

There are 32 London boroughs and the city-so effectively 33 areas/boroughs in all!! I think what’s important to consider is social outcomes. Coming into a city and creating another tourist attraction with minimum at best public consultation, is not a good way to make friends, or influence people. And if social outcomes haven’t been considered, then they should be brought into the conversation now. It’s all very well pleasing tourists but another attraction that isn’t inclusive just plays into the hands of all those shouting against this and every other project like it. Moving into the future we need horticulture to be innovative, urban greening to be the change that is needed in all our urban spaces and landscape architecture to begin in the cities to begin to make real change in the way we use our outdoor spaces. We need cutting edge projects, skilled designers/architects and horticulturalists to begin to make the change that will see urban spaces greened and made more useful in a myriad of ways. But innovation needs to come from new ideas, not partially recycled ones, and the projects that will work are those that change the way citizens use the urban space. It needs to be about changing people’s everyday lives for the better, rather than pleading tourists.”

“Why can’t we have both? Agree we need community projects that change how we use outdoor space and involve citizens but London also has a reputation for large iconic structures that create international interest and encourage international visitors due to the city having a global reputation as a creative hub. We should use public money to change local people’s lives for the better through horticultural innovation but also encourage large privately funded iconic structures that green our capital and attract tourists that in turn create jobs for local people. Hopefully with careful planning and public consultation London can accomodate both of these horticultural futures.”

“The two should be the same. We shouldn’t be changing people’s lives unless we have consulted with them on how they want that doing, if at all. We can have corporate projects that are iconic and support local people. We just need a minor step change in the way we think about this, and if it could come from horticulture we could all stand up and say look at the change we’ve made!!”

“I have swayed back and forth in regards to my support for the bridge. My initial thoughts were very sceptical as I thought it was purely a branding project, whether that be an individual or company. The actual concept of the bridge is very appealing to me and a ‘project’ I would like to see become reality in some form. However, my eyes are now more open to the public funding aspect. Do we know how much public funding has been given to other similar projects? I’m going to call this a vanity project and I do not see anything wrong with that, lets try not to pretend it’s anything else. Should such a project have public funding and the processes involved with the bridge, that’s a very different question all together.”


The Garden Bridge, London

uk first garden bridge thames

Image taken from The Guardian website

Earlier today I watched the below video on youtube (the same is on Vimeo if you can’t access youtube for whatever reason). Since then, I’ve been terribly excited about posting my thoughts here.

Since I initially heard the concept of the Garden Bridge in London, I have been listening and reading very mixed views. I have followed posts by the opposition, and heard mostly positive remarks from the wider horticultural community. Although my personal opinion generally swayed towards the positive, I have enjoyed taking in a balanced view. The video below (set aside some time, it’s an hour long!) really affirmed the project as a real gift to the city of London.

I loved Joanna Lumley’s recital from her book about her upbringing in Srinagar, and the vivid description of what was to become the birth of an idea which has progressed quickly over recent months. The video suggests that she is within the top 100 powerful women in the UK, and I can see why, looking back over her career.

I’m very familiar with the work of Dan Pearson. My interest in gardens had germinated (for want of a better word!) just after he had filmed the first UK garden makeover series, Garden Doctors. I missed the series but acquired a copy of the book, which became something of a bible to me in those early years.

Thomas Heatherwick is of course held in high esteem following the success of his Olympic Cauldron during the London Olympics 2012. His name has been banded about, but this video was the first time I had really encountered him, so to speak.

What I took from the video, more than anything else, was the sincerity and understated, typically-British attitudes of these three very brilliant and thoughtful people. The sympathetic approach, and explanation of a number of the concerns I initially had, really excited me. My recent comments in the twitter world were backed by a number of people, when I suggested that with all arguments aside, this is a modern, architectural gift to London. The fact that it is predominantly a high-profile horticultural project too, thrills me to the core.

Whilst the project was deemed too ostentatious, and a vanity project by some, in my opinion has been highlighted as the antithesis in these last few sentences. Yes, the money for this project could be used elsewhere to great effect. As Joanna Lumley points out, you have to get to the top, to the heart, to make this a project that’s worthwhile.

I visited the proposed site with some friends a few weeks ago, who pointed out where the bridge would be built. Some individuals have used loss of trees and green space as an argument against the project. However, you only have to take a look at the patch of grass worn away by foot traffic, and a few 20 year old London Plane trees to realise that the Garden Bridge would only improve and enrich this area for both people and wildlife.

I find it timely that I am posting this following a post about Singapore. This city has captured the attention of the world in the use of plants and gardens to improve and enhance the environment. I know that I’m not the only one that has marvelled at the architecture of Singapore, with an ally which should be present in all cities both present and future, that is horticulture.

With great anticipation, I wish the project well, and look forward to London bringing horticulture into the 21st Century.

Gardens by the Bay, Singapore – Flashback

Having fallen in love with Singapore Botanic Garden, I could easily have lived in the glasshouse of Gardens by the Bay. These gardens are on the reclaimed land in the central business district of Singapore. There is so much to see, it is like Disneyworld for the avid horticulturist.

I can probably talk at length about how much I love it, so I will have to watch the word count in the corner! Aside from the above, there are lots of new ideas and concepts within the gardens.

The super tree grove is a collection of metal structures to resemble trees. Apparently they also provide electricity thanks to the solar panels, hidden from the pedestrians view. Some structures are festooned in bromeliads (not needing any soil), others act as structures up which tropical climbing plants may grow. One has a restaurant at the top, with an open rooftop bar – something everyone must visit on a trip to Singapore.


The other striking thing is being able to look at plants whilst having a backdrop of some of the most awesome skyscraper architecture in the world..


As far as I can remember there are two main glasshouses. One acts as a temperate/Mediterranean climate zone, complete with air conditioning! A festive Chinese New Year display at the start of last year greets visitors to the larger glasshouse.


The other glasshouse also caters for cool-loving plants from around the world. As you enter, a 100ft waterfall greets you in a shroud of ‘refreshing’ mist.


Pass this main ‘wet zone’ and you find that the living walls relish this constant spray of water, showing a dazzling array of foliage, form and flower. Beautiful!


A walkway leads to the top of the waterfall, “The Lost World” where there were various tropical highland species growing. This included Nepenthes or similar, plus quite a few I wasn’t able to identify. I spent a long time looking around Gardens by the Bay, and loved the fresh and exciting atmosphere created in this very new and high-profile garden. The gardens are free (admission charge allows entry to the glasshouses) and so it’s nice to stop and relax when passing by this urban oasis. I was also here at night, equally magical, but a blog for another day.

Licuala palms, and careful planting abound throughout the gardens. I’m really looking forward to revisiting these gardens once they have matured a little bit more.


Kew Gardens – Fire and Ice


It was one of those clear, frosty mornings, that we seem to have had a lot of over the past fortnight. The last day of 2014, and what better way to spend it than with a friend wandering around Kew Gardens?

Darran ( @Urban_Creations ) and I started off in the Princess of Wales conservatory. Pretty much the same as it always is, but always something new to see, a bit like Kew Gardens in general. I loved the winter sun shining through this orchid (above), looking like molten lava dripping from the branch overhead.

Although it had been cloudy when I was driving in, the sun rose above the tree line, and cast warm rays across the gardens. I took a quick snap of some vegetation on the river wall, the reason, to find out what the camera on the iPhone could do.


Does anyone know where the smell of curry or curry plant comes from, outside the arid end of the Princess of Wales? I have looked and looked on several occasions, but there is no evidence of any shrub flowering that is giving off such a smell. Still puzzled, we continued on to the Alpine and then the Palm House, taking in the views. We passed the Temperate House, where all plant life in a 50-metre radius has been removed.

I was a bit saddened by the removal of the Jubaea chilensis which once scraped the ceilings with its fronds. I wondered whether the huge rare plants had met a similar fate, the Ceroxylon quidiuense amongst others. Fingers crossed the Temperate House will be even more impressive when it’s replanted and re-opens in a few years time.

We went on around the lake. I fulfilled my hobby of watching ducks slipping on the ice. We also took in the magnificent Taxodium, which had retained most of the foliage complete with autumn colours. It was really spectacular, and both tree and reflection contrasted with the blue sky and icy landscape.


All in all, a brilliant day for washing away the winter blues. I love visiting Kew at this time of year, and I hope despite recent cut-backs, it continues to thrive as a world-renowned institution.

Obligatory Ophiopogon planiscapus nigrescens fringed in frost photo!


Singapore Botanic Gardens – Flashback

In January last year I set off on my travels which lead me to Singapore, Cambodia, Vietnam and back through Singapore again where I got my return flight to London.

I was travelling with my friend Angela, who unfortunately had her travels cut short when she broke her meta tarsal on the wonky hotel steps in Cambodia. We weren’t to know that this would happen when we arrived in Singapore, so, still exhausted by our flight, we went straight out to the world renowned Singapore Botanic Gardens.

The weather had been very dry for several weeks, apparently very unusual in this part of South East Asia. However, we had a lovely afternoon spent amongst the palms and taking in the spectacle of heliconias and orchids. I returned for an entire day when passing through Singapore on the way home. I was able to investigate the gardens further, and below are some of my highlights.

I love the combination of concrete steps with the graceful arching fronds of tree ferns. The huge number of ferns and mossed in the beds really give a lush and restful feel to this part of the garden.


The large palms with undivided leaves are Licuala, which thrive in Singapore’s climate.


The Heliconias below were just a couple of a myriad hybrids and species grown in Singapore.


I love the contrast of foliage in this part of the garden – the palm is miniature Rhapis humilis with Alocasia in the background. It goes to show that plants are bolder planted in groups!


Through the main bus and coach entrance you pass through the area below – a spectacular courtyard garden, with beautiful planting and contemporary waterfall water feature. My title picture for the blog is currently of this area of the gardens.


Stunning orchids and Jade Vine (Strongylodon)


Then there was a very special palm – a plant with the largest seeds in the world. A waste bin highlights the scale of this gigantic “Coco-de-Mer” from the Seychelles.


For any person even vaguely interested in plants, Singapore is THE place to be. Whilst I was completely in awe of the botanic gardens, that was just a taster for what this “garden city” has on offer. To be continued..

Trends in Gardens

Ah so here I am on a serious post!

A number of people will have their thoughts on garden ‘fashion’ and trends in gardens. Whilst there are trends, these seems to occur over the course of a year, and gradually fade away after several years. It’s nowhere near as fast-paced as the fashion world. As we turn our attention to the new year, so too do we question what will be the fashion in gardens this year, and what plants will be the ‘must-have’ at Chelsea. Of course it is all speculation from the individuals viewpoint, and I don’t think even popular media channels ever quite know what will be the next big thing in gardening.

Some things most people will agree have had their day. This can be at our peril, and the reason is that gardens are not ‘disposable’ as a pair of jeggings (I’ve never owned a pair, should you ask!), a great big, bushy beard, latest iPhone or even a new car. Gardens are planted and mature over the years.

I love Chelsea Flower Show, despite it not changing much from year to year. I’d love to see more innovation, but it’s just not the way things are done. What I do look for in the show gardens, even more so than the individual planting schemes, is the overall composition, and I think this is where new fashions and trends lie. After all, there are only so many different herbaceous perennials that will be flowering during Chelsea week. It’s how the plants are laid out, which hard landscaping is present, where the trees and shrubs are planted, which can provide the real excitement.

Chelsea is the biggest example of what’s hot and what’s not. I mentioned in an earlier post, I love taking inspiration from various points in history, and bringing them up to date by incorporating them in different ways. I will leave you with some pictures of Chelsea gardens I have found inspirational, whether they have sparked a fashion or been part of a trend, I couldn’t really say!

My favourite bit of planting in Andrew Wilson’s 2014 garden (Photo taken at dusk with my iPhone, so sorry for the poor quality of the pic).


Andy Sturgeons garden from a few years ago – industrial and still ultra stylish. Photo from The Telegraph website.


Jo Thompsons 2014 garden. As always with Jo’s gardens, full of sublime planting. She gives the crowds what they want, flowers in their masses!


The red and green of Ann-Marie Powells garden a few years ago would not be a first choice for some (the red depicting blood vessels – it was the British Heart Foundation garden after all). However, I think this is the most restful and relaxing garden I’ve seen at Chelsea. The abundance of green made it truly luxurious – something to remember for all of us here.


Lastly the garden by James Wong. Sleek and modern, and as above, restricted to lush green planting. Sublime!


I’m looking forward to the new year, and seeing if the predicted trends present themselves. I wonder if we’ll get more innovation at Chelsea this year? We’ll just have to wait and find out..

Where I live

By means of introduction, I began my interest in plants and gardens primarily through a love of nature and wildlife. My aim was to attract as much wildlife to my parents garden as possible.

I grew up in Wimbledon, a lovely green and leafy suburb in South London. Herons would poach fish from neighbours ponds, I’d often find the odd newt or toad in the garden. My bedroom faced onto the garden, and in the latter years, a monster Scots Pine that my parents had planted grew up to shield the view. I loved it though, as it brought the wildlife to eye level. Apart from the odd wood pigeon and squirrel, it was fantastic to be able to observe goldcrests feeding from the myriad bugs that festooned the tree.

I digress. One fateful day my parents gave in to my pestering, and allowed me to build a wildlife pond. I set to work straight away, digging a large shallow and graded hole to one side of the garden. After lining and filling I went off pond dipping to help stock the pond. I returned with a few margarine tubs full of all sorts of pond life, including a few sticklebacks. Those sticklebacks were a favourite of mine, and lived there for a number of years. I remember looking through the clear water to see the male in full courtship colours, courting onlooking females in that funny way they do (guarding a little hollow in the pond sludge – who said romance is dead?!).

I’ll get to the point eventually. In order that the pond might sit well with the surrounding borders, I began planting with various alpine plants, Sagina, Saxifraga, Ajuga and some bamboos. I planted sunflowers in a nearby border which shot up, and along with the pond plants which luxuriated over the summer, I was shown the immense thrill of what nature can do over the course of a temperate summer. I was hooked.

My tastes in plants quickly found a firm footing in exotic plants. I’m not quite sure how it happened, but suspect holidays to the Cordyline-studded beaches of North Wales, as well as a timely work experience stint at Kew helped.

So I began gradually taking over my parents entire garden. This is what I did –

When I moved out, I took with me quite a large number of plants. A few were subsequently dug up and re-homed in some of my clients gardens, a few were killed by the 09-10 and 10-11 winters. There were some big surprises as to what survived, but that’s what this blog will be for, showcasing my favourite plants and how they can be used in garden schemes. My experimentation with cold hardiness of plants has allowed me to really learn a lot about climate, micro-climates, and how important it is to site plants carefully in a garden.

So when I moved again this summer, I ended up with my own little patch of grass(!) and a distilled (but still rather large) collection of plants in pots.

DSC00979 DSC00993

As you can see in pic 1, my Juania australis palm is turning into a beautiful plant, having survived a number of winters with minimal protection from the cold. The Xanthorrhoea glauca defoliated entirely a few winters ago, but regrew very quickly. I have a nice collection of succulents built up over the years, which I will be trying to display more imaginatively in the new year.

In pic 2, a mix of plants, the aforementioned Juania, Philodendron ‘Xanadu’, Araucaria araucana, Trachycarpus sp. and Commelina providing a punch on the patio with sky-blue flowers.

Whilst the house is rented, I will be looking at giving the garden a further exotic boost with one or two plants in the ground. Another blog for another day!

Favourite image of 2014

Before I get down to the proper business of writing ‘serious’ posts, I just wanted to test out posting an image on here.

I took this photo in February, at Gardens by the Bay, Singapore. I was recently walking through the glasshouse at Wisley with a colleague, where they have a huge plant of Ravenala madagascariensis, just starting to form a trunk.

Reflecting and recounting the moment with friends the following day, I did think it somewhat sad. This plant was static in a glasshouse, its life limited by the glasshouse roof.

My memory of it was huge and imposing mature ‘trees’, dominant in the high-profile landscape of Singapore. Covered in warming sunlight, a humid breeze swaying and ruffling the giant paddle-like leaves. I enjoy trying to grow plants outside their typical climate zone, but this really highlighted the fact that it is tricky to do so where the temperatures are so low for much of the year.

Perhaps I just need to go on another adventure abroad?


Blog diversion!

Dear all,

I have just decided to start blogging again! No groans at the back there please!

I hope to update the blog more than once a year, as I have a little more time these days, my wish is not to consign this attempt to the ‘new years resolution trash can’ by the 6th of January.

If you wish to read back even further than this post, my last blog was at

As I am on twitter a lot, feel free to correspond with me @robstacewicz

The micro-blogging platform works for me, as an easy way to share photos and correspond with likeminded individuals. However, I have got to the stage where I need somewhere to showcase my expert writing skills, my intense knowledge, fine photography skills and sincere modesty.