When you think of the Olympics, gardening usually doesnt come to mind. The 2012 London Olympics may be the first to make gardening just as important as the games themselves.
So youre probably thinking of large swaths of lawn, precisely clipped hedges and award winning flowering plants and shrubs straight from the royal gardens.
No, not this time.
The ODA (Olympic Delivery Authority) procured land for the 2012 Olympic village and park well before the opening ceremonies of the Chinese Olympics in 2008.
The land they chose was an industrial site that was no longer home to industry.
Buildings had been vandalized, the soil was polluted, the rivers held more junk and trash than fish, and invasive weeds were the only flora to be found.
The second order of business was to hold a landscape design contest. There were 200 entries and those entries were judged by 4,400 members of the gardening public. Two winners one a 12-year-old girl had their garden plans brought to fruition among the many gardens of the park.
Also among the garden planners were two landscape professors one specializing in perennials and one specializing in annuals. A designer who had won awards at the Chelsea Flower Show was also brought in to help with the overall design. And, of course, several landscape design firms and hundreds of landscape laborers were included in the process.
The Lea River, known in Charles Dickens time as polluted and a place to be avoided, has been cleaned up shopping trolleys and all and now is a pleasant waterway that runs through the park. As polluted as the river was, it was still home to waterfowl and those birds had to be protected while all the industrial cleanup and new building took place.
Instead of the usual British formal gardens, the designers went for informal meadows. Grasses and wildflowers fill the green spaces. Because the native plants of Britain generally flower in May and June and die back by July, non-native seed mixes were developed by the two landscape professors. The plants included in the mix were guaranteed to bloom in time for the July Olympics yet will still play host to native insects.
The Olympic Park is made of several different gardens: the Europe Garden, the American Prairie Garden, the Southern Hemisphere Garden, the Asian
Garden and an extensive wetland area. Four thousand trees, 300,000 wetland plants, 150,000 perennials and 60,000 bulbs were planted. Countless annual and perennial seeds were scattered over the grounds. All this was done well in advance of the opening ceremonies.
The gardens showcase plants introduced to Britain over the years from other parts of the world. The black eyed Susan, native to the American prairie, has been a favorite in English gardens for many years.
After the Olympics, the temporary structures will be removed and replaced with more native gardens. Long after the games are over, the gardens will remain a delight for Londoners and tourists alike.
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