New Planting in the Rookery

Southern circular sundial, and northern circular beds a modern approach

May 2016

In the next few weeks we are planning to update the planting in the former beds which have for some years been planted with annual bedding laid out in geometric patterns.

The new planting is going to be exciting, vibrant and colourful. The plants used will have year round interest, not only in colour but in their form and structure. The design has been informed by and will enhance the planting carried out by volunteers in the Old English Garden last year. Now Lambeth no longer fund planting in the Rookery, the funding for the sundial beds has very kindly been provided by Anthony Gold solicitors and for the northern beds by the Friends of Streatham Common. 

Gardens have never existed in a vacuum, reflecting the changes of nature, over the years gardens have evolved and developed as new ideas and tastes in plants change. Most recently approaches to organic gardening and environmental sustainability have begun to have an impact on the plants we use in our gardens. Of course in these financially austere times, cost is also having a big influence on how we design public gardens.

Formal or “carpet” bedding has its history as far back as the 17th Century when the parterres of grand houses were “bedded” out. The practice remained popular until the mid 19th Century, when the style began to die out in private gardens. Leading plantspeople of the time, such as Gertrude Jekyll, started to look for a more “natural” feel. This approach resulted in stunning gardens such as Sissinghurst’s White Garden (there is a theory that the Rookery’s own garden could have been Jekyll’s inspiration!). More recently Christopher Lloyd and Fergus Garret at Great Dixter have shown how a more relaxed planting style can work effectively when juxtaposed within formal boundaries and hedging.

Despite these more innovative approaches, the practice has remained consistent in many public parks. But modernity is beginning to catch up with us. We need to plant in a way which is more beneficial to nature and more environmentally sustainable. And of course we need to bear in mind costs. The current approximate costs for each of the beds in the Rookery are around £2k-£3k and this needs replanting twice a year. Expensive for plants which ultimately end on the compost heap (although we do try and save some!). In a hot summer they need regular watering – last year we were watering on some days for at least 2 hours morning and evening. But most shocking is the amount of plastic pot waste. We did share some pots with the community garden, but hundreds just had to be disposed of.

Volunteers who were involved in the White Garden project have worked hard with a professional designer to draw up a new design for the formal bedding areas in the Rookery. No doubt about it, the design is going to be different from what has been there in the past. The Northern Beds (those by the SCCoop office, near the cascade steps) will be planted with a range of mostly herb plants. With a nod to the past, they will be planted in a formal layout. The beds around the sundial will be planted with a range of exotics, perennials and bulbs giving a modern, exciting display. As with the planting last year, there is room for the design to evolve over time. We think you’ll love the new design, firmly rooted in the future.

Click here to take a look at the designs and some of the plant choices. 

If you have any comments about the planting or want to volunteer to help do the planting, please email the SCCoop Manager, Dom, at [email protected]