GOB 97 – Garden Cities

GOB 97 Garden Cities

This article first appeared in Birdwatching Magazine November 2017

I watched the World Athletics Championships Marathon wending its way through the historic streets of the City of London and was struck by two things over and above my dual admiration and horror that anyone can run more than twenty-six miles in a couple of hours, and that anyone would want to. Surely a gentle stroll (or in my case lurch) a few meters down a track to a bird hide would ease their stress levels and keep them fit in heart and soul if not in body.

Having spent a lot of my working life in the Capital I was struck by its fine architecture and reminded of the splendid street names. These days, new estates end up with the boring names of boring councillors or some twee theme like garden flowers or Scottish counties, who would name a road Threadneedle Street today, let alone Cold Bath Lane, or a local favourite of mine Poor Hole Lane, commemorating the pit hapless serfs were dumped into having fallen foul of the plague.

As we are increasing cut off from the country one would expect us to become more ‘urbane’ instead of having all colour drained from our brains.

And that was the second thought that struck me as TV drones gave me a bird’s-eye view of the super fit African runners leading the rest… the only green on view was the colour of the Ethiopian’s vests! Pan out and, of course, London sports some wonderful parks, a few even being wildlife havens. At street level a bistro or two has some topiaried box and pubs flourish an occasional hanging basket, but I spotted just two rooftops that sprouted greenery. One was clearly bedecked in a sedum blanket and another had one corner with some turf and a few potted trees surrounding what I assumed was the Directors’ roof retreat of some merchant bank or insurance company.

We are being left behind the rest of the world in imaginative planting.

One of my first overseas trips was to see family in New Zealand with a stopover in Singapore. Even then that city was one of the greenest I’ve seen with every street an avenue, every unpaved yard a shrubbery and every hanging walkway a hanging garden with vines spreading along the walls and almost reaching the traffic below. Now this city of gardens strives to be a city within a garden. Despite its teeming millions, traffic congested streets and towering habitations it seeks to bring the country back into the town.

Where are we who pride ourselves of being the epitome of urbanity in humanity? A cold, grey blot on the landscape. While one hand tries to diminish exhaust fumes and motorised congestion the other hand has just the barest suggestion of life enhancing foliage. All those flat roofs could be a million lungs of sedum, grass or greenery. If Milan in the heart of a country that we distain for its lack of wildlife protection can create an incredible vertical forest on residential towers, surely, we could manage a bit of turf on the city’s flat roofs?

Best kept villages may encourage household gardeners and Britain in Bloom might muster municipal horticulturists to turn roundabouts into floral tributes but, as a nation we need to do so much more to bring country into town and use our redundant rooftops to be natural air fresheners.

Who knows, a few more plants might feed a few more passerines, encourage a few more pollinators and fix noxious discharges before they drift into the food chain, or from lining our children’s lungs with lead.

Hear the Podcast:

Rant it out!