London's Green Future

Celebrating 20 Years of London Parks & Gardens Trust

Susan Darling, LPGT Research Co-ordinator

It was 20 years ago at the Chelsea Flower Show in May 1994 that the LPGT was launched as an independent charitable trust. To celebrate, we gathered on a glorious summer's day in June in Regent's Park at the prestigious Regent's University London, once the site of South Villa designed by John Nash in the 1800s.

In his welcome, Mike Dawson LPGT Chair, highlighted that, since its inception, the Inventory of Green Spaces in London has grown to more than 2,600 records and Open Garden Squares Weekend, founded by Caroline Aldiss, has grown from 41 gardens in its first year to 219 sites today. Such achievements are well worth celebrating and what better way than with a symposium that looked to the future of London's green spaces? Mike thanked the organisers, Barbara Simms and Robin Saklatvala, then handed over to Tony Leach, Chief Executive of London Parks & Green Spaces and LPGT trustee, who took over proceedings for the afternoon.

The Challenges

First up was Peter Massini, Urban Greening Team Leader for the Greater London Authority, who gave an overview of policies, programmes and challenges in the capital, one of the greenest cities in the world. His challenge, and ours, was how the green infrastructure can be maintained with London's population predicted to grow to 11m by 2030-40. Given the additional issues of climate change, economics and drainage, Peter emphasised we need to make effective use of all potential green spaces, whatever their size.

In discussing the issues of public health, green infrastructure, housing and water, Paul Lincoln from the Landscape Institute then asked how could we create a more 'Liveable City' for London. Green spaces, such as NEO Bankside, Dalston's Eastern Curve Garden and TfL's green wall at Edgware Road tube, are not only about aesthetics but also make a major contribution to the quality of our lives. He stressed the importance of clearly demonstrating to developers that you can get a better return on investment by paying more attention to the landscape.

James Hitchmough, Professor of Horticultural Ecology at Sheffield University, urged us to challenge current dogma on the issue of native versus non-native planting. He outlined his view that we need to be flexible in balancing the importance of nature and culture for each site.

London's most anticipated green infrastructure project

Arguably London's most anticipated green infrastructure project is the Garden Bridge, a scheme to connect Temple station and the Strand on the north bank of the Thames with the South Bank, via a public garden. Tom Armour, landscape architect leading the Garden Bridge project for Arup, gave a fascinating talk about this immensely complex project. Inspired by Joanna Lumley's dream 'of a place with no noise or traffic where the only sounds are birdsong and bees buzzing and the wind in the trees', the bridge will be designed by Thomas Heatherwick and landscaped by Dan Pearson. Built of coppernickel, the bridge will have 25 viewing balconies and five zones of landscaping, moving from leafy in the north, through cultivated glade, scarp, and wild glade to pioneer in the south.

Dusty Gedge, Green Roof Campaigner and Designer, told us that London now has the most green roofs of any city in Europe. He outlined the benefits, including cooling down buildings in summer while insulating them in winter. Combined with solar panels, green roofs can create energy-efficient and environmentally-friendly buildings. Dusty described several examples of the capital's roof gardens as well as London's first vertical rain garden on Tooley Street, across from City Hall.

Our final speaker, Leigh Morris, President of the Institute of Horticulture, talked us through the success of the Grow Careers initiative and emphasised that the maintenance of green infrastructure projects will not be possible without a constant supply of horticulturalists. This proved a fruitful topic for debate in the subsequent panel discussion and, interestingly, linked back to the Garden Bridge project, which Tom Armour confirmed is intended to act as a vehicle for training future horticulturalists.

While this was very much a symposium about London's future, LPGT President Todd Longstaffe-Gowan reminded us in his concluding remarks that, despite the pace of change and the many pressures discussed, we should not lose sight of one of the core objectives of LPGT, to protect the historic nature of existing green spaces in London.

Enormous thanks then to Barbara and Robin for organising a lively, thought-provoking and entertaining symposium. Happy 20th birthday LPGT!