Earlier this year my neighbours and I pimped three tree pits in Princess Street Southwark. We planted around three ornamental pear trees that Trees For Cities had planted here in spring 2006. Actually they’d planted four but one had been removed. Now another has been chopped down too. Which is all rather disappointing considering how lovely (and expensive) they were. It turns out it had been planted in a rather stupid place – directly in front of a traffic light, which just goes to show, that even when professionals are pimping pavements with trees, they can get things wrong. I’ve spoken to Trees For Cities and we hope to find some new locations for more permanent trees. Nevertheless, the tree pit remains and I’ll be repairing the planting around the stump. Here’s a photo of the tree before it was chopped (with, by chance, Mayor Boris Johnson next to it), and how it looked today!
I’ve recently been touring Germany speaking about guerrilla gardening. And I’ve been on the look out for pavement pimpers, I even joined some locals doing a bit in Essen and Munich using the usual guerrilla tactics. But I was on the look out for places where the city actually encourages it and in Essen came across the “Pflegepatenschaften” scheme which I learnt means you become a ‘godfather’ to care for little public space. In Essen there are more than 1000 godfathers, with citizens and enterprises who do the gardening. The city expects four things: (1) watering (2) keep it clean of weeds and litter (3) planting (4) scarify the soil when needed. Sounds good to me. You find a spot, you make a request online and if they city agrees you press on and get an official document. You’re not legally bounded by the law to do the gardening and can end your ‘godfathership’ whenever you want… so it sounds like a fairly relaxed and sensible scheme. Even so… there’s lots more potential to pimp Essen. So although the scheme’s in place the benefits for everyone of participating need to be drummed up. You can view a report of the guerrilla gardening in Essen here.
Edie.net came along for the Trinity Street gardening and I gave a brief (and noisy) interview to them about Pimp Your Pavement.
This morning we successfully pimped six tree pits on patch of pavement that is now so smart the locals are calling is a piazza. In went an assortment of plants (Lavender, Mount Atlas Daisy, Purple Sedum, Perennial Wallflower, Swift and Primula) and a couple of bags of peat free compost. Not that the soil needed enriching, it was fresh and deep. The cost to me of this £150. The cost to the council £0. Given that this pimping was all entirely legitimate, no guerrilla gardening here, it was a little concerning to hear just days before the dig that Southwark’s Head of Public Realm Des Waters was not too pleased about the Pimp Your Pavement initiative and expected his men would rip it all up because they’d not planted it. Thankfully he was advised to advise his men not to by Cllr McNally. And I’m trusting that even if Des message doesn’t pass down the ranks smoothly the damage won’t happen because it seldom happens to guerrilla gardens – if contractors see a well tended flower bed and it’s not planted to cause hazard they are intelligent enough to leave it alone. I’ve heard this directly from front line staff working for Transport for London and Lambeth Council horticulture departments. But the fact that Des’ response was so negative shows what a big journey is ahead (in my local borough at least). Attitudes need to change in these departments if the benefits that come from residents gardening in the public realm can come from any other strategy than a guerrilla one. I want their attitude to turn from quiet tolerance to active encouragement and support as I have seen elsewhere.
Today is the official launch of Pimp Your Pavement. It’s 3.42am and I’ve spent the night updating the website and getting things ready. In four hours I’ll be on BBC London 94.9FM talking about it on the breakfast show. Two hours later I’ll be at Trinity Street with the brilliant Clare Armstrong (a local resident who I met last year while guerrilla gardening at St George’s Circus), Alistair from Southwark Living Streets and a crowd of other locals, other London Leaders and Tim McNally, a local councillor. We’ll be putting the finishing touches to the big new pavement here (where once there was road) by planting around the trees in the six new tree pits. And I’ve heard the pub will be opening at 11 for something of a celebration afterwards. Now it’s time for bed!
The Conservation Foundation have been running the London Green Corners competition for several years, awarding gardeners across the capital. Schools, hotels and guerrilla gardens have won in previous years. As an extra incentive to get pimping your pavement they’ve agreed to create a new category this year, one specifically for pavement planting. More details to follow later in the year.