I was struck by how much greenery there was around the cities. Despite the constant reports of China being under a blanket of smog, there seemed to be some green hope.
Yes, of course the smog is an issue, but the presence of potentially air-purifying greenery had been thought about. And plants were almost EVERYWHERE. Central reservations on motorways were flanked in petunias, architectural Maranta jostled for attention with other foliage beauties in railway station planters, and so on.
The ultra modern city of Shenzhen has really been let off the leash architecturally, with glorious shapes that are seldom seen in UK conurbations. The motorways somehow seemed playful and colourful, but it wasn’t just the central reservations that were filled with flowers, the slip roads and flyovers were dressed in window boxes too!
While flanking motorways with annuals might not be possible with budgets available in the UK, we could certainly concentrate on smaller urban areas more. Shopping centres are popular in the bigger cities in China, and the huge communal spaces also have the perfect balance of concrete and living green; I particularly loved the greenery-clad poles at Coastal City, Shenzhen.
Why aren’t we always as plant-happy with our urban planting schemes in the UK then? Cost has often been suggested as the stalling factor, and this might well be the case, however community growing schemes are always an option. This method was used in Ipswich, where the ActivLives project used volunteers, young learners and those on work placements to grow the orange beacon begonia baskets at the local station, which were admired by thousands of commuters weekly.
Respecting green spaces
Is there also a problem with the way we treat plants in public places? How often have you seen a trodden cotoneaster shrub, which has become a victim of a shorter cut through path at a retail development? I didn't see any such damaged plants where I was in China.
Climate could be used as an excuse, certainly plants grow quicker in China due to the warmer temperatures. However, not all of China is hot all year, and we could think about shrubs and evergreens in the UK, which would be low maintenance and pretty tough to all the elements.
We are all well aware of how plants can help our wellbeing, so if we used them more in our public spaces then maybe we’d be much happier as we go about our daily commute, and arrive at work full of the joys of spring and be super productive!