Garden designer Nigel Dunnett teamed up with the RHS and the Landscape Agency to create Community Street, a wonderful RHS Show Feature that highlighted the benefits of planting in grey spaces.
The project was chosen from 13 submitted by RHS Britain in Bloom groups, and featured a 60m² version of St Mungo’s Hostel's garden on Kensington Road, Bristol. Covered in gravel to begin with, this was the starting point of the design by Nigel (pictured above), a walk-through, interactive exhibit, transforming from a grey street into a lush green one. Hopefully visitors will be encouraged to take similar steps in their front gardens, streets and community spaces, to help combat air pollution and climate change.
Nigel's aim was to raise awareness of air pollution, being a significant risk factor for a number of health conditions including respiratory infections, heart disease, strokes and lung cancer, as well as being absorbed by urban crops and food in gardens. As up-to-date research dictates, plants can absorb gaseous air pollutants and, in particular, broad-leaved trees are the most effective at this, because of their size and leaf shape.
The feature was effectively a showcase of environmentally-aware but beautiful, dense planting. Multi-layered shrubs are good for absorbing vehicle pollution, a mix of evergreens and broad-leaved deciduous trees, as well as hedges and living walls can be effective additions to otherwise sterile gardens.
Nigel, who is also Professor of Planting Design and Vegetation Technology at the University of Sheffield, says: "Now, more than ever, it is essential that we champion the role of horticulture, gardens and plants as being in the vanguard of how we address the multiple challenges of climate change in our built environments. We need to fill our cities with plants, and to be radical and innovative in how we do it. We need to start a revolution! With the RHS Hampton Court garden we aimed to show how this can be done in even the smallest of places, in community spaces, in private gardens, and in the wider public realm."
The end result was a welcoming oasis, also showing how horticulture can dramatically improve the outside environment for the 10 residents living at the temporary home, some of whom have complex needs through former homelessness, addictions or mental health issues.
Parts of the garden, which was constructed by Landform UK, will be transported to Bristol to be installed in the Kensington Road community space – ensuring a lasting legacy that will benefit not just the residents of St Mungo’s, but the wider area.
The second part of the street was inspired by BBC Gardeners’ Question Time – this demonstrated how a row of dull, grey, urban front gardens can be transformed into beautiful but practical spaces. The RHS Greening Grey Britain initiative was launched in April, and is encouraging gardeners to make a pledge to make their front gardens and community spaces greener with small actions such as planting up a windowbox or planting a shrub.