Published: 08:30, 09 July 2015
The Olympic Park is now fully open and its legacy for Kent garden enthusiasts this summer is an exceptional ribbon of gold, bronze and silver planting which can be seen within 10 minutes' walk from the hi-speed train at Stratford International.
The wildflower meadows are in their full golden glory spiked with cornflowers, poppies and other nectar-rich species.
Prof Nigel Dunnett and his colleague James Hitchmough from the landscape department at the University of Sheffield designed wildflower meadows to make gardeners and local authorities ‘realise wildflowers aren't weeds’.
Prof Dunnett, who inspired visitors to Green up Grey Britain at this year’s Hampton Court Flower Show wants to see more mini meadows taking over formal summer beds.
He said: "We designed the wildflower planting to be extremely high-impact because you can talk about the idea but the best advert is to see it for real.”
The park has been planted with 4,000 trees, 300,000 wetland plants, 15,000sq m of lawns and particularly interesting for Kent visitors is that half of the 150,000 perennial plants were supplied by Palmstead Nursery in Ashford and the South side planting was overseen Willerby’s Landscaping of Edenbridge.
Alongside the canal, designer Sarah Price’s planting represents the regions of North America, the Mediterranean, the Southern Hemisphere and Asia in four areas using plants we have seen in our gardens over the centuries.
The North American prairie featuring rudbeckias, asters and other prairie daisies and cone flowers look really striking while the Asia planting includes masses of Anemone japonica and lilies add a taste of the exotic.
More than 60,000 prairie plantings by Piet Oudolf wind through the park and the grasses and prairie flowers look soft and tactile creating waves in the breeze.
Dr Phil Askew, the park’s project leader joined me for a stroll in the park. He said: “It is now hard for visitors to imagine this site was once a polluted, derelict landscape - a scrapyard of dumped cars, washing machines and an impressive fridge mountain! Two million tons of material was removed because the land was contaminated.
“We brought in the soil; it was made especially for us - a mixture of crushed material, gravel, sand, green composted waste.
Dr Askew has been involved with the park’s creation from the outset. He said: "We wanted the right plants for the right places and the right soil.
“The groundwork and soil is so important. Plants hate sitting in water so everything had to drain well. What happens underneath is more important than above”.
“Without that nothing would have worked. We grew the wetland plants on matting and put them in place like a jigsaw. Trial plots helped us achieve the seven hectare wildflower meadow, one of the largest pre-sown meadows."
The various planting schemes across the North and South sides of the park prove his theory – lush lawns for lazing by the river, beds with bands of dark green box for structure, random planting of masses of colourful and grasses a-go-go with swathes of coreopsis in warm bronze and golds.
Dr Askew said: "Everywhere the gardens’ naturalistic style attempts to echo the patterns of how plants grow in the wild, by randomly arranging groups of plants in a dense mass for dramatic effect.
It was quite a challenge for the planting teams.
“Turning the site into a modern picturesque landscape that was sculptural with naturalistic planting was our mission and I am delighted, no thrilled, with the results."
He added: “It is also great to have the River Lea within the landscape and now the wetland planting cleanses the water. We have nesting birds and kingfishers so it is a wonderful place for people to come. There are eels in the water so wildlife is returning to what is now a contemporary pleasure garden.”
“We have a 10-year management and maintenance strategy for the park, so we will continue to refine a variety of biodiverse areas. This is not just about cutting grass and hedges because people interact with the landscape."
The North is the place to stroll, the South has children’s educational play areas and fountains but to see the whole park wander hrough the parade of oaks to the 114.5m ArcelorMittal Orbit to get a great overview from the red steel sculpture designed by artist Sir Anish Kapoor. The £15 entry for year-round access means you can watch the gardens change through the seasons.
Legend has it that London Mayor Boris Johnson and steel magnate Laksmi Mittal conceived the idea for the Orbit in the gents at Davos. Whatever the story, consider visiting in a group and book a Blue Badge guide to give you the full low down.
So take a walk in the park, a swim in the Aquatics Centre, bring your bike, take a peep at the wonderful Velodrome and make the most of the new London park that's on Kent’s doorstep.