From industrial wasteland to glorious flower meadows, from Olympic Park to the Queen Elizabeth Gardens – that is the way this part of east London is being transformed ...
|Swathes of Gold and Silver|
... soon to be reconfigured again when the temporary buildings are taken down or adapted (all part of the great scheme of London 2012) after both the Games are completed in early September.
British Waterways have happily worked with London 2012 to restore the ancient river system of the Lee Valley, by cleaning up the industrial sites once and for all, and in the process give the marshland a more 21st century feel of a modern park with up-to-date sport and community facilities.
|Olympic Park - early days|
The 100 ha (247 acres) site is hourglass shaped with the venues, facilities, exhibitions interspersed amongst the concourse, the walkways, steps and garden zones.
The choice of plants, planting density and planting technique for all four sections was researched and trialled by Sheffield University, while a young designer from London (stipulated in the brief) brought her youthful exuberance to the planting.
The zones were planted up last summer to ensure the plants had a chance to bed down and settle in their positions. There will be a very rich habitat for insects, birds, bats and bees ...
... while the canal banks, having been cleared of all their detritus, are now planted with geraniums, silver birch trees and pollarded willows, with the towpaths dimly lit at night time.
Nesting boxes for otters, bats, sand martins and kingfishers have been installed along the canal walls – bats which like to use canals and rivulets as their motorways will be pleased to have the low light towpaths.
Regular use of this part of London from pre-Roman times to the Middle Ages by tribes and the early Royals ensured that Londinium grew into the great City that we know today.
The Olympic Park straddles an area originally known as Stratford Marsh through which the River Lea runs, and has provided from those very early days an opportunity to ford and cross on a causeway the marshes to gain access from Essex (Colchester – Camulodunum [Pliny mentioned it as Cunobelin –known to Shakespeare as Cymbeline]) into London ...
... as well as providing plenty of natural impediments across the marshlands to marauding or raiding parties of home tribes or Viking warriors – or by probably the first man-made alteration by Alfred the Great, who stranded a force of Danes in 896 AD by cutting a new channel as told in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles.
1,100 years later the Park has been planted up with four different gardens – the European one, through to the Prairie Garden, on to the Southern Hemisphere Garden, and finally to the Asian Garden ...
... there is a Great British Garden perhaps to be improved in the revamp as there was mix up between competitive creativity and health and safety requirements ... sad but that’s the way it is, and the amazing wild flower meadows ... ribbons of gold: Olympic Gold Meadows ... fielding their way through the southern areas of the Park.
The river bank meadows were also trialled and from footage available – they look absolutely splendid with cloaks of many colours. The tracts of rolling hills are now perennial meadows.
The North Park is where the river has been widened, creating a basin; wetlands have been planted; large swales (marshy depressions) and balancing pools have been included ... allowing for rapid floods to be absorbed, preventing flooding upstream.
It is here that the overlay of wetlands, trees, shrubs and meadows reflect the more rural Lea Valley ... adding to the perennial meadows full of UK native plants ... to the wildflower and swathes of plantings in and around the Park ... and the four continental sections exhibiting wonderful plants from around the world.
The whole has been designed with the least amount of maintenance in mind, while having the best possible habitat for wildlife, and as the Queen Elizabeth Gardens settles into becoming a 21st century Park to join those envisioned by the Victorians with their Royal Parks.
Let us rejoice in this new urban parkland arising from an area that used to hold stark reminders of our past – the Industrial Revolution style buildings with its accompanying blight, talked about in horrified terms by Dickens and social reformers of the 19th century.
Yet reminding us of that Victorian entrepreneurial heritage in the Bryant & May match factory, and Joseph Bazalgette’s northern outfall sewer built in 1863 – the London sewer system that stands sufficient to this day – and over which has been created the Greenway a public footpath and cycleway.
|late July 2012 - early Games|
The London 2012 team have yet again delivered ... with the sea of golden-yellow blooms surrounding the Olympic Stadium, interspersed with stands of silver birch, and the burnt oranges of meadow flowers ...
... a sight to behold and which many a commentator, intrepid and lucky member of the public taking full advantage of the parkland, even athletes have waxed lyrical.
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories