Seen at The Festival of the Tree

...if you would be happy all your life, plant a garden - Chinese proverb

Friday, 8 May 2009

Chippenham's Carpet Bedding


Chippenham Town Council must be rather proud of this public planting as it's at the top of their latest newsletter. The logo in the middle is the town's coat of arms and the lettering reads:

Improving the quality of town life
Chippenham Town Council

It's an example of carpet bedding - a floral art which came to prominence in Victorian times when public planting schemes would have intricate designs composed of thousands of plants - usually colourful annuals - and there'd also be bizarre objects like floral clocks which did actually tell the time (Edinburgh still has one) and pictures made up entirely from plants. It's a dying form in most places as it's expensive to do: for both the initial outlay on plants and labour and it also needs a lot of ongoing maintenance. The plants need to kept from growing out too much, else the designs lose their sharp outlines. Another factor in its decline has been the decrease in corporation greenhouse facilities for growing thousands of plants.

Towns famed for their floral displays will still pay homage to the art, like I saw at Weymouth last year and some places also have giant 'plant sculptures' usually formed from thousands of Sedums and Sempervivums. I've seen them in nearby Bath and Salisbury, so I'll keep an eye out for this year's designs. I wonder if many of the towns and cities continuing with this style of bedding source their plants from here.

I've driven past Chippenham's example many times and I've been quite surprised to find one in the town, especially as it's a more labour intensive form of planting compared to the other ones I've shown you. On closer inspection to take the picture for this article I realised that compromises have been made: only the coat of arms and words are actual plants - Sedums and Sempervivums for the coat of arms and a rather poorly looking small leaved Euonymus for the letters - the rest of it is that red mulch again. For once I feel the mulch has added to the decorative effect. All the plants chosen are relatively slow growing (and cheap), so it requires little ongoing maintenance.

Whilst it doesn't match the floral art of past times or towns with a much larger budget for public planting, I think this is a much better effort for Chippenham than usual. There's hope for us yet.

9 comments:

  1. They do similar things in Frome but I haven't got my camera at the moment.

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  2. They always used to have a floral clock in Hove, not sure if they still do. I bet they cost a lot less to maintain than all the hanging baskets around town centres (I am not against them btw) anything to brighten our towns up.

    Gary

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  3. Wisley do what I'm sure is a slightly ironic take on carpet bedding, in the beds at the head of the lily pond. I'm sure I've seen them use salad crops and they very often use succulents such as sempervivum. If you watch people going past, they always smile.

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  4. I remember seeing a floral clock in Weston-Super-Mare when I was young, I wonder if they still have one? Also last weekend for the first time I saw the corporation greenhouses in Bath just off Victoria Park. Amazing how many plants they have stored away!

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  5. I am a big, big fan of carpet bedding. I've got some great old postcards of park and seaside displays, including an excellent one from 1928 of a flight of stairs in Princes Parade, Bridlington, which has been completely covered in plants to resemble a carpet.

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  6. When I see this sort of carpet bedding I often wonder if there is a stock of spares somewhere in case any of the plants die. Like subs on the bench at a football game!

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  7. Wow, this bought the carpet bedding fans out of the closet didn't it?

    Hermes - don't worry, there's plenty of time to get your camera and take some pictures for Out on the Streets next month :)

    Gary - I think there's a few floral clocks around, particularly at seaside towns where the art of carpet bedding is still alive and well.

    Victoria - actually salad crops would work quite well, especially now there's loads of different types of lettuce. However, I'm sure there'd be problems outside of Wisley with people nicking the plants for their dinner!

    Dave - I don't think they do - must check that out the next time we're there. I saw those greenhouses a few years ago. I think Bath is one of the few corporations left who still have that kind of set up. But then as a major tourist city and former national Britain in Bloom winner, I suspect they'd need to retain them to ensure their standards are kept up to scratch.

    Martyn - that sounds fantastic. Have you seen Martin Parr's books of old postcards, especially of motorways in the 60s? Sound like you've got a similar collection.

    EG - I suspect they'd be needed, not only for that but for any plants that get nicked too!

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  8. Keep carpet bedding schemes going with sedums and sempervivums. I think they are the ideal plant for this purpose. I'd imagine minimum maintenance is required. x

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  9. TIMP - I think you're right as they grow more slowly than bright annuals.

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