The Festival of Urban Landscapes was, as billed, ‘a small conference with a big difference’. John Little, Greenspace Manager at the Clapton Park Estate, Hackney, invited an outstanding group of speakers to Hilldrop, his family’s four-acre wildlife garden in Essex and then added great food and music to the mix. A fascinating bunch of people, passionate and knowledgeable about urban nature, signed up to hear what they had to say.
It was a celebration of action rather than theory. Whether it was Wendy Allen’s work with rain gardens and rivers, Sara Venn’s community gardens in Bristol, or Laura Gattii’s vertical forests, we heard about projects that are already making a difference to nature and to people.
There was time for conversation and plenty to inspire in the imaginatively created brownfield landscape. Participants left Essex having made new friends and with brains buzzing – but without the feeling of overwhelm that often follows a day in a lecture theatre.
‘Maintenance’ was a word that surfaced frequently - linking the contributions of many speakers. Rather a dull word. Seemingly far from the notion of biodiversity and a sense of joyful community, yet key to the success of both. It’s something that is usually underfunded and frequently misunderstood. How often is the relaxed appearance of a wildlife-supporting green space mistaken for lack of maintenance?
Ease of communication is one advantage of a small conference. Ideas surface and can be exchanged. Why not, it was suggested, kick-start a change in attitude by ditching the word ‘maintenance’ with all its negative connotations and instead introduce the word ‘care’. Immediately, it would conjure up a sense of landscapes that are being nurtured rather than controlled.
Perhaps it’s also time, as John Little pointed out, to give value to the people who ‘care’ for our green spaces and to those who care for people. A delightfully small conference, but it had a very big heart.
Presenters in alphabetical order:
Wendy Allen, Wendy Allen Designs
Award winning garden designer, Best Sustainable Garden RHS Hampton Court 2009, green roofs, community rain gardens,
Arit Anderson, Diamond Hill Garden Designs
Award-winning garden designer, Gold Medal Near Future Garden, RHS Hampton Court 2016 (now a permanent garden at the Eden Project), teaches at Capel Manor, one of the BBC Gardeners’ World team.
Jon Broome, Jon Broome Architects
Designing sustainable homes Developing sustainable policies and briefs Advising on sustainable construction, specifications and suppliers Bringing together theory and practice to create environmentally sustainable and affordable housing. Building on 20 years of experience of ‘green’ building to incorporate the most cost effective and trouble free measures into the mainstream.
Laura Gatti, Studio Laura Gatti
Award-winning landscape designer pioneering the Vertical Forests concept with architect Stefano Boeri bringing hectares of trees into cities with high-rise developments such as Milan’s Bosco Verticale (RIBA International Building Award 2018), the Nanjng Vertical Forest and Forêt Blanche social housing development in Paris.
Dusty Gedge, Livingroofs.org, Green Infrastructure Consultancy, President of the EFB
Internationally-recognised green roof policy and design expert and activist, Founder of UK independent advisory organisation Livingroofs.org, Director of the Green Infrastructure Consultancy and President of the European Federation of Green Roof and Wall Associations (EFB), co-author of Small Green Roofs and The Green Roof DIY Guide.
Gary Grant FCIEEM, Green Infrastructure Consultancy
Ecologist, Fellow of CIEEM, Director of the Green Infrastructure Consultancy, with over 30 years’ experience designing and integrating nature into buildings and urban landscapes, masterplanner, author of Green Roofs and Facades, Ecosystem Services Come to Town - Greening cities by working with nature and The Water Sensitive City.
Marc Linton, Landscape Architect
Senior Landscape Architect with London Borough of Islington, new-build housing and refurbishment, integrating nature for resilience and health, and Director of MDL Environmental Ltd.
John Little, Grass Roof Company
Ground-breaking urban greenspace manager of Clapton Park Estate Hackney, the 'Poppy Estate', Director of the Grass Roof Company and Green Roof Shelters, co-author of Small Green Roofs and The Green Roof DIY Guide
James McGill, Entomologist
Entomologist, botanist, ecologist and brownfield invertebrate expert, researching brownfield invertebrate conservation.
Richard Scott, National Wildflower Centre
Director of the National Wildflower Centre, wildflower seed producer and creative conservationist, Chair of the UK Urban Ecology Forum.
Ed Snodgrass, Emory Knoll Farms
Internationally-celebrated US green roof expert and plantsman, President of Emory Knoll Farms, Maryland USA. Award-winning nurseryman and horticulture specialist.
Sara Venn, Incredible Edible Bristol
Community organiser and activist, urban food grower and educator with Incredible Edible Bristol.
Fergus Garrett, Great Dixter
Head Gardener and tutor at Great Dixter House & Gardens, horticuturalist, Chief Executive Officer of the Great Dixter Charitable Trust, writer, lecturer and educator.
National Wildflower Conversation at Great Dixter, January 2018:
Richard Scott National Wildflower Centre, Fergus Garrett Great Dixter CEO & Head Gardener, arachnologist Andy Philllips, John Little Greenspace Manager Clapton Park Estate Hackney, nature communicator Polly Moseley and others:
The event is supported by Inside Ecology and Kate Priestman Co-Founder and Editor of Inside Ecology:
Video of the venue: https://youtu.be/_ewr7jAbNtI
Grasslands (aka Tom Haynes)
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