Eco-friendly design:the radical estate
by Abigail Willis
Tony Heywood has been described as the ‘most avant of British avant gardeners’ and he has been responsible – in partnership with Alison Condie – for some pretty out there garden installations. A dynamic fusion of land art and horticulture with painting, sculpture, video, performance and shamanic ritual – Heywood & Condie’s work represents landscape and nature in a bracingly original way (www.heywoodandcondie.com). Their collaborations include Glamourlands – a cartoonish mobile landscape that has appeared in various evolving guises – as Space Ritual (Tatton Park Flower Show 2010), Jurassic Court (Berkeley Square (2011-2012) and A Techno-Folly (Chelsea Flower Show 2012).
Cutting-edge stuff, but it is Heywood and Condie’s less high profile ‘day job’ as garden contractors for the Hyde Park Estate (HPE) that may prove more revolutionary. Combining horticultural know-how with artistic flair, the couple responsible for ‘foresting’ Bathurst Mews ( http://www.cityplanter.co.uk/inspiration/gardens/the-forested-mews ), are bringing their unique style of urban gardening to the prestigious Bayswater enclave owned by the Church Commissioners.
Hyde Park Estate, which is bordered by Bayswater Road, Sussex Gardens and Edgware Road, is well stocked with garden squares such as Norfolk Crescent, as well as private gardens belonging to residential developments like The Water Gardens, The Quadrangle and Devonport. Tony knows them all well, having worked for HPE since 1985, first as Head Gardener and then as a contractor (Tony Heywood Landscapes).
Today he is a man on a mission, charged with putting sustainability at the heart of the Estate’s horticultural practice, as part of HPE’s green initiative (http://www.hydeparkestate.com/page.php?id=2397 ). The ambitious scheme aims at nothing less than the total transformation of the estate’s ecology and daringly envisages these private residential gardens as a stepping stone in a green corridor linking the spaces like the Natural History Museum’s Wildlife Garden to St James’s, Green and Hyde Parks.
Working with partners such as the Centre for Alternative Technology – and with the absolute support and backing of the Church Commissioners – Tony’s seven-strong team have introduced a raft of eco-friendly gardening methods across HPE’s garden portfolio. Bayswater’s invertebrates are just some of the beneficiaries, with log piles and insect hotels, many fashionably up-cycled from reclaimed materials, popping up all around the HPE gardens. Nesting boxes for bats and birds have been installed, and chemicals are steadily being removed from the gardens. New composting areas have been created; these provide a homely touch and a move away from the formal look that previously prevailed. Things may feel more unkempt but as Tony wryly observes, “it actually requires more effort to get and keep them like that!”
Bio-diversity is high on the agenda, and Tony and Alison are introducing more native species, raising wildflowers like corncockle and night-flowering catchfly in the Estate’s new greenhouse at Devonport. For Tony the greenhouse – a spanking new Hartley Botanic number provided by the supportive Church Commissioners – is a powerful symbol of regeneration, a glass ark for rare and endangered species.
Over in the Water Gardens (whose aquatic expanse belies the fact that it is actually a roof garden, built above a car park), marginal plants such as yellow flag iris, water lilies, water hawthorn and gunnera, now blur the once crisp edges of the water where moorhens and waders breed.Lawns are being replaced by more sustainable alternatives offering greater seasonal variety, such as the exotic woodland garden at Devonport, which features hellebores, woodruff, astelias, euphorbia, gaultheria and – nice touch – busy lizzies to brighten the forest floor. In June ‘instant’ mini-meadows were installed in some of the raised borders at The Quadrangle immediately boosting the invertebrate quota, and allowing a ‘vole’s eye’ view of the teeming insect life.
Lawns that have been given a stay of execution are kept in trim with a zero emissions Etesia Bahia ride-on mower (www.etesia.co.uk). Although this lithium-powered beast doesn’t have the range of its petrol-powered brethren, Tony has found that with carefully planned rotation good results are possible. With petrol-fuelled machinery being factored out of the maintenance routine, the team is also trialling lithium hedge trimmers, leaf blowers, and strimmers (all made by French manufacturer Pellenc and supplied by RT Machinery www.rtmachinery.co.uk ). The gardeners are also voluntarily choosing hand tools for jobs like topiary – a positive development as far as Tony’s concerned, “The new regime has resulted in a more holistic way of looking at the estate – we are in each of the gardens most days now, and are more hands on. It’s actually better for the gardens and those that tend them – they feel more involved and notice incremental changes that would otherwise be overlooked.”
Not all residents have the luxury of being able to wait years to see developments come to fruition so new schemes are established quickly, using mature specimens and nifty technology such as meadow matting. Interpretation panels, initiated by the Church Commissioners, showing the wildlife species that live on the estate, engage residents with their surroundings, and there is talk of putting web cams in the gardens – “like Spring Watch on Hyde Park Estate” enthuses Tony. Walking around the gardens with Tony and Alison it’s clear how much residents value their gardens, with the couple constantly being stopped by residents wanting a chat or an update
Tony is also a kind of artist in residence, appointed to create a series of conceptual gardens on the Estate. A pair of meditative gravel and stone installations in the Water Gardens were inspired by the Zen tradition, and are designed to be seen by residents, from above. True to his ‘aesthetic of extremes’, Tony followed these with Helter Skelter, which opened in 2001 on the corner of Sussex Gardens and Edgware Road. It’s a tricky public site whose challenges Tony met head-on with an energy-filled vortex of a garden that swirls together evergreen topiary with molten glass, slate, steel, lead and pumice. Helter Skelter is to be extended further into the paved area of the street while, in a separate development, this year the ‘olivisation’ of Connaught Street will begin, with the first of some 30 or so olive trees being installed outside shops and restaurants.
Heywood’s next project is a radical eco-makeover of Norfolk Crescent; the yet-to-be-finalised plans involve the creation of a ‘lost native woodland glade’, formal topiary and some 400 tonnes of soil. Tony describes his design as “a contemporary take on the London garden square, with a wildlife aesthetic”, but might it also signal a romantic return to the pastoral predilections of some eighteenth-century London squares (although presumably minus the sheep that occasionally grazed them).