Defining Public Planting

Click to enlarge if needed: the public planting at the centre of Radstock, Somerset on a grey January day two weeks ago

At the start of the year I declared I'll be writing a series about public planting. Of course my taste might not be yours, so my good and bad may end up with us having a debate (I do hope so), but before we get to that part, I need to state some terms of reference.

I've found there's all sorts of opinions on what actually constitutes public planting. In its widest sense it can be anything designed for us to view, or land that's accessible to us all. If these were my terms, we'd need to consider any properties with gardens open to the public, allotments, parks, common land - practically everything that's not built on, farmed or designated as a National Park or Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. I just want to focus on the everyday and (usually) mundane: the areas we pass by on the way to work, the landscaping of our suburban estates, what we see when we go to the supermarket or the planters on our streets. I want to consider those plantings we don't usually visit for recreation or pleasure (or pay to see), but they still form part of the fabric of our lives. Most of these have been designed in some way, but they usually have very little in aftercare - unless there's a strong Britain in Bloom or community element involved - those merit a series of posts on their own.

Having said all that, I'm struggling with whether to include roadside verges or not. Roundabouts are definitely in, especially as some councils permit sponsorship of them these days and they often form the first impressions for our towns. So if I'm including those, why not verges too? I'm still undecided at this point, so value your opinion. In the meantime, there's plenty to say about the rest! More details from that Radstock planting and also Chippenham's roundabouts are in the pipeline already. In the meantime, you might like to have a look at the posts I wrote before I realised public planting was becoming an interest and rant of mine:
  • Pruning rage! - what happened last November to the winter interest planting on the estate where I live
  • An End to Chippenham's Conkers? - Leaf miner moth is in town and is tearing through some of Chippenham's most stately trees
  • Happiness Is - my day trip to Weymouth last August, including an example of a typical bright seaside bedding scheme
  • Are You Doing Your Bit? - a post about National Volunteer Week last June which includes a view of the simple but effective planting outside Heelis, the National Trust's HQ in Swindon
  • Chelsea Roundup - a post about the Chelsea Flower show with another view of the planting outside Heelis
  • Blooming Marvellous? - an example of a large street planter in Chippenham in May last year with a bit of a debate in the comments
  • ABC Wednesday - G is For... the green walls of the Eco houses built in Chippenham last year
  • Bunches of Daffodils - the lovely mass planting of daffodils on part of our estate last St. David's Day
  • Tree Rescue - the trees I Guerrilla Gardened last February
  • Snowdrop Census - Week 6 - a picture of some of my Guerrilla Gardened snowdrops
  • Guerrilla Gardening - a brief introduction to my Guerrilla Gardening activities which also links to Richard Reynolds' guerrilla gardening website
I'm not planning Public Planting as a regular slot, but will post as and when I have enough material on a fresh topic. Your views are welcome too - as comments here, or as examples to share either via me or your own posts.


  1. VP, I think verges where they are newly planted are worth including because they have greatly improved. The verges around the local bypasses (planted (Oh! I don't think they are that new - time passes quickly) at a guess 15 years ago) are a lovely mix of mainly native trees and shrubs. These are at their best now but will need to be maintained, if they are to remain good. Roads built earlier than this were often just left with wire fences.

    One roundabout I know of, an organisation wanted to adopt it and where told No, because it was too distracting to the drivers! This is on the edge of town in a built up area but on a trunk road.

    I think this is going to be interesting and I hope others get involved around the world.

    Best wishes Sylvia

  2. oh VP, Radstock has a very big place in my heart. Many a pair of school shoes were bought in that coop, in the summer holidays whilst visiting my granparents.

    Many a chinese was also had from the take away at the bottom of the hill going to Midsomer Norton. Hmm am misty eyed. Unfortunately the market also closed many moons ago, where I happened to be given a Mr Men book by one of the stall holders.

    It would be nice for it to have more colour wouldnt it?!?

    As a foot note to this... I have received a few prangs in the car doors when in the supermarket there, best off parking down the road next to the pit wheel and the market. Then use the zebra crossing.

    See our paths have crossed again!

  3. Umm, don't know what a verge is, exactly, but I say, "What the hey! Why not include it?" ;-)

    I do love public planting, so I'm excited about reading your series. Surely little patches of garden here and there affect us in a positive way, even if we don't think we notice them...

    My hometown had the usual terribly ugly intersection on a city loop until a few years ago. Now they are planted in these lovely little landscapes of drought tolerants. I'm not sure people give them much thought, but I'm convinced it lifts our spirits just a tiny bit whilst we sit at a traffic light.

    Maybe your series will inspire me to do a similar post or two about those odd places where cultivated splendor appears around town...

  4. i say--in with the verges. whether planned or accidental, planted is planted. love the photo of the mass-daffodil planting--the colors always bring a smile.

  5. Sylvia - perhaps it's the urban verges that are in and the countryside ones thatare out? But then, we'd be missing out on various schemes to encourage wildflowers and the value of our roadside verges as wildlife corridors. Also I'm having difficulty in finding out who has responsibility for what. I suspect they'll be in in the end, but it may take me a while to assemble the material I need to write effectively about them.

    SOL - more on Radstock soon :)

    Susan - I'd love to hear about the drought tolerants at your interchange :) And yes, we may almost ignore those little patches of land, but they do brighten things up a bit!

    Petoskystone - glad you like the daffodils. They'll be back soon :)

  6. Please, madamn, may I have more YAWA? Verges? I can guess but....

    When I think of Nashville only public parks come to mind, not lovely plantings...Our parks are gorgeous, btw. ... I might have to make a field trip to see what is going on down there! There is a rumor floating around that someone has a roof garden!

    Have a good weekend.


  7. Hi Gail - I was over at Susan's answering that very question! A verge is the wasteland at the side of most of our roads which I think you might call the kerb, though kerb has a more specific meaning over here as it is the edge between the pavement (sidewalk) and the road. You're right a YAWA is needed and a vote on whether verges are out or in!

  8. OK, I know that strip. You know, I'm not sure I really know what it's called here, either. If it is in a residential area, then it is sometimes nicknamed the "hell strip." It is also called "parking strip" and mowing strip." I don't recall hearing those strips along the more public roads called anything. I know someone who will know, however...

    I really do love it when the city plants in these places. I have a whole hypothesis about how a western town grows up over time, and approximately when in their history these public plantings start...

    Our towns are so much younger than yours (by centuries), and I wonder if that has an affect on how they respond to the need for public "beautification." (With ours being less interested, that is. Might be interesting to do a comparison.)

  9. Oh, one more thing. We have something called a "bar ditch"--a bastardization of "borrow ditch," which refers to borrowing the soil from the side to make the road-- that might be what you are talking about. Those are out in the countryside, though.

  10. Susan - this is really interesting. I'm not sure whether there's a strong relationship between the age of towns and beautification. And beautification over here is rather suspect too as you shall see as this series progresses. I suspect it depends on how important the local council thinks these places are. If they're a tourist town then they will place them more highly. Money plays a big part as does neighbourhood pride.

    I'm hoping to gather good examples as well as bad as I was worried last year I was turning into a bit of a ranter on the subject - not just here but in my comments on other blogs. As a trained scientist I want to provide a more balanced view!

    Another aspect of this are the community initiatives and guerrilla gardening as a means to improve our public spaces - in other words the people living there taking more responsibility for the look and feel of their neighbourhood.

    Public planting's a fascinating topic and one I've only started to scratch the surface of - it's quite overwhelming really, hence my need to put some boundaries around what I'm going to talk about.

  11. Susan - your new comment came in just as I was answering your previous one. I don't know a lot about how roads are constructed here and we don't always have a ditch at the side of the road either. I suspect it depends on local conditions and the size of the road being constructed. I'll do a YAWA piece with some photos - that way we can all see what I'm talking about.

    Thanks for your contribution on this - it just shows that the simplest of ideas can stir quite a response!

  12. BTW Susan - I didn't make it clear in my response that yes, history and age can also play their part in the look and feel of our public spaces. I guess there's plenty more variables that play their part too!

  13. I know a busy roundabout which has been sponsored by a local undertakers.


  14. Lucy - that sounds perfect for the challenge we've been discussing over at Blotanical!

  15. I do like that planting in Radstcock VP and look forward to your follow up article. You and your readers might be interested in this snippet :
    It is a brief summary of an article which appeared in the newspaper today. Let me know if you would like me to send you the full article in the post.

  16. Hi Anna - that's a most interesting article. I'm not sure I agree with all of it, having found a couple of council design specifications on the internet low initial cost and low maintenance are key to the planting we see on our streets. Do please send me the full article as I can add it to my cuttings file on this topic.

  17. VP, I was going to ask what a verge was, but found your answer in the comments; obviously, I'm not the only one with this question. I vote to include verges and roundabouts and any place else! We live in a small town, so there are few large public plantings, but quite a few small curbside plantings. They are planted by a local group of volunteer gardeners who have gotten more creative over the years. I always meant to take some photos and post them last summer but didn't; thanks for the idea--this year I will.
    I'm looking forward to seeing the examples you show.

  18. Rose - I'll be interested to see your post too. Our plantings tend to be rather bland, though with some notable exceptions.


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