My first visit, shamefully, to the London Wetland Centre, a nature reserve in south west London created a decade ago on the site of disused reservoirs. I went to see sustainable gardens designed by Arne Maynard and the ecological plantsman Nigel Dunnett, one of the brains behind the breathtaking pictorial meadows at the Olympic Park.
Sometimes it’s good to visit gardens in the autumn, after they’ve done their star turn. It’s then you can see just how good the planting is. It was a dreary day, but both these gardens shone.
Dunnett’s Rain Garden is an masterclass in water conservation designed around a existing stream. Rainwater is collected from in rills and pipes to create boggy areas and ponds filled with plants that cleanse the water. Logpiles and sculptural ‘creature towers’ fashioned from recycled tiles, bricks and bits of wood provide habitats for wildlife. You can walk round and through the whole thing and it’s full of invention and surprise.
Maynard’s garden, effectively a large, island bed planted with grasses and huge swathes of perennials, carefully chosen for architectural prowess as well as summer swagger, shows how clever planting can work even in winter, if you can forget about the messy bits and look at the whole picture with a designer’s eye.
A boardwalk leads you past the the centrepiece of Dunnett’s garden, a recycled shipping container with a green roof (see picture). A creature house made of recycled tile and wood is on the left, and an interactive treadle to pump water on the right. The upright grass, Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’ always flatters modern buildings. The second picture shows wild side of Dunnett’s rain garden. Our native Betula pendula (Silver birch) anchors the sweep of Molinia ‘Skyracer’ in the background. This grass was the star, used by both designers. Molinia caerulea subsp. arundinacea ‘Skyracer’, glows even in watery winter light.