Gardens pop up at the Southbank Centre

by Rhiannon James

The roof garden is part of the Southbank Centre's Festival of Britain 60th anniversary celebrations. Credit: Belinda Lawley

A roof garden with an orchard, vegetable plots and wild flower planting has been created on top of the Queen Elizabeth Hall, as part of the Southbank Centre’s celebrations to mark the 60th anniversary of the 1951 Festival of Britain.

Along with the rooftop plot, a seaside garden and a new staircase featuring wild urban grassland planting have been built for the celebrations, which will run for four months.

The 1,200 square metre roof garden has been created in partnership with the Eden Project. Eden’s landscape architect Jane Knight said, “The whole idea behind the garden is that it is a taste of British gardens and landscapes. We have a lawn area with orchards, vegetable plots, a rosebud walk and a wild flower area with 90 different varieties, specially built to attract nature to the centre of London. And we have created a herb garden around a bar/café that is part of the design.”

A group of fifty gardeners, who have faced challenges including homelessness and spells in prison, have been brought together by the Eden Project to transform the rooftop. Paul Pulford, leader of the gardening team, said, “To be able to help to design, build and nurture the garden on the Thames at Southbank Centre with our team is, to this date, one of the biggest challenges of my life. A challenge that I am relishing as others in the team are too.”

The seaside garden, created by Southend-on-Sea Borough Council Parks Team, aims to take visitors on a journey along the town’s seafront from its formal Victorian gardens to the historic cockling industry at Leigh-on-Sea.

Southend-on-Sea Borough Council's garden features bright bedding and sub-tropical plants popular with the Victorians

The garden runs into a seventy-metre urban beach on Queen’s Walk, complete with beach huts, a bandstand and vintage funfair rides.

Southend-on-Sea Borough Council’s Corporate Director for Adult and Community Services, Simon Leftley, said, “From Victorian times to the present day, Southend has been a popular destination for Londoners and those wanting to experience the Great British seaside.The festival showcases the British seaside to visitors from all over the world, giving them the opportunity to experience the wide range of history and culture that Southend has to offer.”

The seaside garden also features the wreck of an old wooden clinker boat, recovered from the mudflats at Leigh

As well as the gardens and other pop-up features, the anniversary celebrations will include a four-month programme of themed weekends, performances, exhibitions, talks and events by some of Britain’s leading artists and thinkers.

The 1951 Festival of Britain was created to give Britons a feeling of recovery and progress following the Second World War, as well as celebrating the centenary of the 1851 Great Exhibition. At the heart of the nationwide Festival was the South Bank Exhibition, situated on what is now the Southbank Centre.

Jude Kelly, Artistic Director of Southbank Centre, said: “The 1951 Festival of Britain was a landmark event, visited by millions, and its legacy and influence continues to live on. Following the destruction of the Second World War, a festival of idealism, optimism, imagination and innovative design was created to pave the way for a better future for the country. Coinciding with another period of austerity, Southbank Centre’s anniversary festival will evoke the spirit of 1951 by celebrating Britain’s leading creative and cultural role and by welcoming people from around the country and beyond to take part.”

Southbank Centre’s Festival of Britain 60th Anniversary Celebrations will run until 4th September.




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