The Garden Bridge
by Tom Moggach
The world’s best city? It’s a tough call. Some say that it’s London, but two flaws undermine this bold claim.
First, there is the sad decline of the River Thames – once the vibrant heart of the city. Now this mighty waterway has ebbed from our consciousness and the rhythms of daily life.
Second, the capital boasts no new, iconic, creative urban garden such as the High Line in New York or Promenade Plantée in Paris.
But hope comes in the shape of The Garden Bridge, a £150 million “floating paradise garden” across The Thames, an inspiring project that will counter both of these charges.
The original idea came from actress Joanne Lumley, who then enlisted the help of designer Thomas Heatherwick, the man responsible for the famous Olympic cauldrons.
Announced back in November, the proposal has since gained serious political and popular traction – as well as some controversy. The formal planning application will be submitted for approval this spring.
Heatherwick is responsible for the physical structure of the curving 367 metre bridge. Two pillars will open up like tree branches to support the structure itself.
The bridge will run between Temple Station and the South Bank between Waterloo and Blackfriars Bridges.
Garden designer Dan Pearson has created the planting scheme, with five different planting zones to ensure you won’t be able to see from end to end.
If the project receives the green light, completion is scheduled for the end of 2017.
Lumley has said: “This garden will be sensational in every way; a place with no noise or traffic where the only sounds will be birdsong and bees buzzing and the wind in the trees, and below the steady rush of water. It will also be a safe and swift way for the weary commuter to make his way back over the Thames.”
She traces the roots of her idea back to a childhood in Malaya and her vivid memories of misty, tropical gardens.
In terms of design, the middle, more exposed area, will focus on tough British natives and Mediterranean plants such as Phillyrea and Cistus.
At the south end, Pearson’s plans include willows and catkins, while the north end will be more ornamental.
270 trees will adorn the bridge’s length, with a soil depth of 1.5 metres at its deepest points.
Species include the field maple (Acer campestre), river birch (Betula nigra), lacinated alders, the cherry plum (Prunus cerasifera), Russian olive (Elaeagnus angustifolia) and the intriguing peanut butter tree (Clerodendrum trichotomum), on account of the aroma the leaves produce when crushed.
“It’s an extraordinary idea,” Pearson has said of the Bridge. “A floating garden that rises over water and doesn’t touch it and has all this space around it — it’s already got a magical quality to it.”
In terms of funds, the government, including Transport for London, has potentially committed £60 million of the £150 million required. The rest will be raised from private donors.
Supporters have asked Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne to exempt the project from VAT.
However, there are vocal critics of the scheme, including Opposition Spokesperson for Transport in the House of Lords, Lord Davies of Oldham, who has said: “It is a very expensive piece of public art. It is a vanity project of the mayor”.
But for all of us hooked on gardens, let’s hope The Garden Bridge gets planning approval – the vital first step.
In the meantime, remember there are already some floating gardens on The Thames, if you know where to look.
Garden Barge Square at Downings Roads Moorings is a series of seven residential barges, connected by walkways and bridges and heavily planted, which bob in the water near Tower Bridge. They will open up on 11th May as part of The National Gardens Scheme.
Tom Moggach runs City Leaf, which trains people in urban food growing skills, and is author of ‘The Urban Kitchen Gardener: Growing & Cooking in the City’ (Kyle Books).