When I started to hear bits and pieces about the plans for the Olympic Park, one of the things which excited me was the mention of flower meadows which were going to surround the various sports venues.
Considering the park was being built along the river Lea, and there had been some concern about the impact on wildlife along the river, I was glad that some attention was being paid to conservation issues. I was also interested to see how the areas of green space and flowers would be fitted in around the park – where would there be space to sit in the shade, or wander along the river, or spread out a picnic mat?
I also had fond memories of visiting garden festivals in Liverpool, Stoke-on-Trent and Ebbw Vale in my childhood, so I was keen to see whether a similar piece of urban regeneration in London could live up to my expectations.
The first flowers we saw were a surprise, as I had been expecting to see British wild flowers, and what I actually saw were black-eyed susans (Rudbeckia), echinacea and verbena, overlooking the aquatic centre (see above).
A sign next to the flowerbed explained that this was the ‘North America’ zone and all became clear.
We didn’t have much time for exploring more of the park, as our session in the stadium was about to start (decathlon, women’s hammer throw and 800m heats, men’s pole vault and 5k semi final), but after it was finished we wandered in the opposite direction in search of lunch.
Walking towards the dreaded ‘megastore’, which was selling all manner of Olympic tat, we passed a gorgeous carpet of flowers with silver birch trees sailing through them – I didn’t manage to find a sign for these and the only flower I recognised were the cornflowers. (Can anyone identify any of the above? Field marigolds perhaps, and Californian poppies?)
After lunch, we stood on the edge of the World Square, looking back over the stadium, and beneath us was a beautiful shady dell filled with cow parsley, dotted with more cornflowers and poppies (so definitely British wild flowers, this time!). The effect of the little flashes of red and blue amongst the creamy white parsley flowers was simply stunning.
This loveliness only served to remind me how artificial the whole thing is – you’d never usually see cow parsley growing en masse like this, it would normally be spread out along a hedgerow or mixed in with grass – but the chance to see it growing in such large quantities did give me a new appreciation for what I’d previously considered a rather dull summer flower.
The other highly artificial element of the flowers in the park was the fact that they have all been grown, some out of season, to flower at exactly the same time and give a perfect display for two weeks only.
There were signs everywhere telling people not to damage the plants to ensure they could be left for ‘future visitors’ to enjoy – but if you came back to the Park in a year, would you see the same hot-housed plants flowering all together, or a more natural cycle of growth through the seasons? In which case, are they going to replant the beds with other plants to fill in some of the bare patches at other times of year, or let nature take its course?
To answer my earlier questions – was there enough shade and space to sit? – I’d have to say no and no. If there had been a lot more benches in the shade of all the trees they’d planted, we could have sat in peace to enjoy all the flowers – but I have to say we only saw a fraction of the park so perhaps there was more seating in other areas.
We had a train to catch and it was time to head out – stopping briefly to photograph agapanthus and red hot pokers near the water polo arena, so that covered Africa.
I never did find the South American, Asian or Australian zones, so there will be plenty more to see when the Park re-opens to the public – or at least I hope the plants will all still be there.
The Park overall was a very impressive site – the stadium itself is a fine piece of architecture, the staff and Gamesmakers all friendly and helpful, queues for food and toilets minimal, and my only gripes were that they should have had more seating, more shade and more water fountains.
It was certainly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to come to the Olympics in my home city, but I hope to enjoy the Park and its facilities for many years to come – though don’t expect to see me diving off a 10m board any time soon…