Grosvenor Estate’s Parklet Creates a Buzz
The idea of converting city street areas into mini-public parks begun in San Francisco is now being emulated around the world. Helen Gazeley investigates the first parklet development on The Grosvenor Estate.
The first parklet on a street corner in Belgravia has been launched by The Grosvenor Estate. The purpose of this tiny, temporary, pocket-garden oasis, the size of three parking spaces, is to bring residents, shop owners and visitors together and, in an area where public seating is scarce, offer a resting-place for passers-by and somewhere for local employees to take a break.
The installation is not just about people however, it’s also about bees. The Grosvenor Estate, which owns three hundred acres of the surrounding area, aims to support plans for more sustainable cities and its ‘Creating a Buzz’ initiative focuses on setting up an urban eco-system for bees as well as pocket parks for the community.
“Creating a Buzz is one of the many community projects that kicked off about a year ago,” said team leader, Hannah Forkan at the opening last week. “This work includes the bees on the estate. We have one hive on top of 50, Grosvenor Hill, two on top of St Michael’s House, Elizabeth Street, and one at Headquarters at 70, Grosvenor Street.”
Roof top gardens are being established to support the bees as well as street level planting and it is hoped that enjoying and looking after the plant installations will draw the community together. “We have hanging baskets in Mount Street and window-boxes on Buckingham Palace Road,” explained Hannah. “The parklet is the last element.”
The new parklet will have Tom Ashton, owner of Tomtom Coffee House, on the corner of Ebury Street and Elizabeth Street, as its chief guardian and host. He is taking on the roles of chief waterer, monitor of how much the parklet is used and loved, and organiser of the community rota to look after it.
“I’m a terrible gardener,” he said, adding that his own garden is easy maintenance. “I put plants in and they live or die.” Glancing down at the raised beds, he said, “Hopefully I won’t kill these.”
Grosvenor’s expert gardeners will be on hand to advise, though, and it seems that Tom is a gardener in the making, as he’s already volunteered to save all his coffee grounds for the estate’s compost heaps.
His job will be made easier given the nature of the planting. Strongly architectural plants—Fatsia japonica, bamboo, Phormium and Trachycarpus fortunei—dominate, with flowers surprisingly limited to blocks of blue Salvia nemorosa “Ostfriesland” and small fuchsias.
The planting was the subject of much discussion at the planning stage. Nick Butler, lead gardener of a team of ten—who was partly responsible for the arrival of the bees, having discovered a hitherto unsuspected interest in beekeeping when he attended a course two years ago—had to take several things into consideration.
“We wanted an evergreen look, in case it stays here longer than expected,” he said, adding, “We didn’t want to completely fill it with bee-friendly plants, or people wouldn’t want to sit here.”
There is however a block of rudbeckias, to provide flowers later in the season chosen for their yellow tones—“Bees love blue and yellow.”. Sunk in pots they can be easily removed and replaced after flowering.
The parklet was inspired by the Pavement to Parks movement that took San Francisco by storm in 2010 and 2011, when parking spaces were transformed, pavements widened and plazas created, merely with planters and seating. They created a calmer environment, and a survey found that people were more inclined to visit areas where there were places to sit.
Belgravia’s parklet will be deemed a success if it becomes a popular resting place (there are currently no plans to check its success with bees). Reactions so far have been good. “There is a community feeling here,” said Nick. “A lot of shop owners know each other quite well. The parklet arrived on pallets and it took us twelve hours to put together. We had a lot of positive comments when people saw us planting up this big empty space.”
This trial run is funded by the Grosvenor Estate, but if it proves a success, the hope is to find sponsors to support a number of parklets to green the surrounding area.
Tomtom Coffee House: www.tomtom.co.uk
Pavement to Parks Movement http://pavementtoparks.sfplanning.org/