CHRISTMAS OFFER Subscribe to Surrey Life today CLICK HERE

The RHS Wisley garden with links to Olympic Park landscapes

PUBLISHED: 09:50 28 November 2012 | UPDATED: 22:26 20 February 2013

The RHS Wisley garden with links to Olympic Park landscapes

The RHS Wisley garden with links to Olympic Park landscapes

If you were lucky enough to get tickets for the Olympics, you may well have admired the landscape that formed the iconic backdrop to the London 2012 Games. Back in Surrey, Leigh Clapp experiences the innovative meadow planting closer to home

Originally published in Surrey Life magazine November 2012

If you were lucky enough to get tickets for the Olympics, you may well have admired the landscape that formed the iconic backdrop to the London 2012 Games. Back in Surrey, Leigh Clapp experiences the innovative meadow planting closer to home with a visit to the prairie meadow at RHS Garden Wisley, created by the same designer

SUBSCRIBE to Surrey Life magazine
BUY SL online
DOWNLOAD the app

Although the main focus of the London 2012 Olympics was, of course, to celebrate the sporting prowess of the world, the site itself is of great interest too, as the largest urban parkland to be created in London since the 19th century.

Two-and-half square kilometres of reclaimed industrial land by the River Lea have become rolling grassy contours, formal gardens, managed meadows and wetland areas. Central to the landscape design is an emphasis on sustainability and providing a permanent park as a long-term legacy of the Games that people can enjoy in years to come.

One of the key players in the design of the Olympic landscape was Professor James Hitchmough, from the Department of Landscape at Sheffield University, who has revolutionised the way sustainable meadows are designed and managed. If you were fortunate enough to visit the site, you will have seen the visual impact of ten hectares of pollen-rich perennial and annual meadows, awash with golden blooms and alive with bees and other insects.

The main meadows, in the north park, are composed of native species only, to provide a sense of local character and also support as much wildlife as possible, says James. They are unlike most nature conservation meadows, however, as they are also designed to be colourful and attractive as well.

My work in the south park uses non-native species (USA and SA) and celebrates the gardening traditions of the British over the last 500 years.

In both areas, I chose to use random repeating patterns of individual plants, rather than planting in blocks.

A golden opportunity
You can also experience this trend-setting concept of managed low-maintenance perennial meadows closer to home, by visiting RHS Garden Wisley, where in 2008 James Hitchmough designed the Perennial Meadow that spreads out behind the glasshouse.

The planting scheme is designed to build year after year and for a long season of interest, from pasque flowers in March, through vibrant echinaceas, rudbeckias and kniphofias in summer and autumn, to statuesque skeletal seed heads in winter.

Tall accent plants emerge out of dense ground-level foliage in a meadow-like natural scene. The majority of the plants come from North America, with a few species from Europe and Asia. With an aim of sustainable management, so that it can be maintained relatively easily and cheaply by the RHS staff, the area is not fertilised and since it was established has not been watered.

In November, the last asters add colour against the parchment tones of prairie grasses and browning seed heads have a beauty of their own as they add chocolate punctuation marks to the landscape. Torches of golden kniphofia, a favourite plant that James frequently uses as he finds them visually extraordinary, catch in the light, and fire-red switch grasses add flickering flame effects.

James is keen for people to wander through the meadows he has created and enjoys hearing their feedback.

I hope my meadows are exciting for people; a bit like Willy Wonka and the chocolate factory, he says. Most of my work is about trying to deliver, through understanding of design, ecology and horticultural, experiences that are sustainable but breathtaking to look at.

If you want to get ordinary people to engage with the natural world it helps if you can exaggerate their experiences a bit like watching David Attenborough wildlife documentaries.

  • RHS Garden Wisley, Woking GU23 6QB: 0845 260 9000 /

More from Surrey Life

Yesterday, 16:06

Education expert Dr Ryan Hinchey, Coordinator of College Counselling at ACS International School, with campuses in Cobham, Egham and Hillingdon, answers your questions

Read more
Yesterday, 11:34

Surrounded by reservoirs and located on the banks of the famous river from which it takes its name, Staines-upon-Thames (as it is now called) is a town working to reshape its future and celebrate its picturesque riverside setting

Read more
Mon, 16:30

She may have recently moved to the seaside, but Surrey still holds a uniquely “precious” place in the heart of legendary children’s author Dame Jacqueline Wilson – not to mention the crucial role the county played in bringing everyone’s favourite and newly-returning feisty foster-kid to life

Read more
Mon, 11:59

Great things to do in Surrey this weekend (23, 24 and 25 November): art exhibitions, walks, concerts, theatre, places to visit and other events and ideas.

Read more
Thursday, November 15, 2018

Surrey is full of secret hideaways and hidden gems. Slades Farm on the Wintershall Estate is definitely one of them

Read more
Wednesday, November 14, 2018

The new hotel is set to open in spring 2019 and will be located in the heart of the vineyard, offering sweeping views over the North Downs Way.

Read more
Tuesday, November 13, 2018

From Santa’s Grottos, to Victorian Christmas markets and late-night shopping, we’ve covered what’s on in Surrey this season

Read more
Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Whether you're looking for fine dining, pub grub or exotic dishes, eating out in Surrey has something for everyone. Here's our guide to the best local restaurants and pubs

Read more
Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Having bloomed in Brighton’s restaurant scene over the past decade, The Chilli Pickle opened its second site in Guildford this summer

Read more
Monday, November 12, 2018

Historic Royal Palaces and IMG have announced that Kylie Minogue is the first headliner confirmed for Hampton Court Palace Festival 2019. These will be her only London shows of summer 2019. Here’s how you can get tickets

Read more
Monday, November 12, 2018

Enjoy this linear rail to ramble section of the Thames Down Link route taking the short train-ride from Box Hill & Westhumble to Ashtead before walking back

Read more
Tuesday, November 6, 2018

It’s that time of year when our beautiful countryside is alight with the colours of autumn. Here, we pick out some of her favourite spots to enjoy the seasonal splendour – as well as some perfect places for a post-walk refresher

Read more
Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Found on the stretch of the River Thames between Weybridge and East Molesey, Sunbury-on-Thames is blessed with a village feel where it meets the water. From antique hunts to the joys of river life, here are a few of our favourite reasons to visit

Read more
Monday, November 5, 2018

Verity & Violet are Loui and Jess – a singing duo from Surrey who specialise in blending vintage classics with modern favourites. The two have achieved success in the capital, but are now hoping to attract an audience closer to home

Read more

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Our Privacy Policy

Topics of Interest

Follow us on Twitter

Like us on Facebook

Subscribe or buy a mag today

subscription ad

Local Business Directory

Property Search