The plans for this 1,200 foot bridge (which is destined to span the Thames from the South Bank to Temple) are an outstanding collaboration between architect Thomas Heatherwick and garden designer Dan Pearson.  Scheduled to open in 2018, the construction begins in Italy this year (2016) and, if all goes according to plan, the bridge itself will be floated up the Thames on barges and put in place in 2017.

To be known as the Garden Bridge – it has not been without controversy.  It was the actress, Joanna Lumley, who first came up with the idea in 1998 for a,  pedestrian-only, garden bridge.  Detractors of the scheme claim that there are no tangible benefits to be had by yet another footbridge over the Thames for ordinary people (the bridge will be privately owned and operated yet open to the public most of the time).  It is also claimed that by building this bridge, one of the best views in the city, from Westminster Bridge along to St Pauls Cathedral, will be gone forever.  The main controversy has been over the funding of the bridge for the initial funding has come from the Treasury – pledging £30 million – and Transport for London (under the Mayor’s auspices) a further £30 million.  Many feel that this is tax-payers money being used, without consultation, to kick-start what will, ultimately be, a privately-owned enterprise.  Many of its detractors also feel that this money could have been much better invested in creating new parks and open spaces and refurbishing existing parks,  paricularly in the outlying boroughs where many, formerly grand parks, legacies of the Victorian and Edwardian era,  are suffering from neglect and becoming run-down and vandalised.

It has to be said that the planting scheme, as one would expect from Dan Pearson, is fabulous.  Five distinct zones are planned – each with their own, distinct character – to fit the conditions across the bridge, for example the wind factor out in the middle section which will have a ‘Scarp’ garden of plants which can adapt to conditions of exposure, typically hardy maritime and Mediterranean plants.  On the South Bank, the visitor will approach the bridge through a wild garden which reflects what would have been the species native to Lambeth Marshes.   Willow, Dunwich rose, birth and primrose will also feature at this southern-most end of the bridge.  A more ornamental ambiance will prevail over in the North Glade with trees offering spring blossom and autumn colour (maples, Betula nigra, Cornus mas and Malus) with hedging plants such as yew and holly with flowers from perfumed shrubs such as Camellia sasanqua in winter and Viburnum farreri ‘Candidissimum’.  At the northern-most end of the bridge it will continue over the Victoria Embankment where there are existing London Plane trees and a connection will be made on the bridge planting scheme to the nearby historic garden of Inner Temple with Laurus nobilis and Ficus afghanistanica whilst plants such as jasmine and Wisteria will also be encouraged to trail downward over the edges of the bridge to the pavements below.

Interesting that, whilst the soil depth along the length of the bridge will only be around 16 in/40cm at the shallowest parts, it will be possible to plant up to 2m/6 feet deep at the bridge pillars allowing for two copses of trees (the North and South glades).

Whilst ,initially, I felt inclined to share the views of the detractors with my own concerns over the funding of the bridge and the seeming lack of transparency by the Treasury and Mayor’s Office, (despite my enormous trust in and admiration for the work of Dan Pearson) – as I learn more about the plans for the bridge to be a centre of training and education, offering access free of charge to the public from 6am to midnight (apart from 12 days per year when it will be used for private, fund-raising initiatives), I am certainly becoming more open to the idea.  One of my garden tour visitors last summer – a very wise, Australian businessman of vision, advised me to “keep an open mind’ and not be too quick to judge……………” I shall remember this as I stroll across the bridge enjoying this immense celebration of Britain’s garden heritage.




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