Thursday, 18 June 2009
Norfolk provided both resignation and surprises in pretty much equal measure as far as public planting is concerned. I'm rather resigned to a significant amount of our public planting in the UK being poor and unfortunately found further evidence whilst I was away. There are many issues contributing to make it so - to be covered at a later date - but I'm convinced there are ways of addressing these to get something more like what we deserve.
I was surprised Norfolk had so much of poor quality though. This is a county of blowsy seaside resorts and lush countryside, where tourism is one of the main sources of income and so needs to look good. Unfortunately, many of the few places set aside on the streets for planting weren't well maintained and so looked rather threadbare.
If Norfolk has a signature plant, it must be lavender. This probably owes much to Norfolk Lavender, which has over 100 acres in commercial cultivation for precious lavender oil - more to come at a later date. As a result it was to be found everywhere and the pictured example I found in Sherringham echoes the rows of lavender to be found in the fields. Rows of single planting were also a common theme: seen in the long row of petunia planters decorating a handrail I found in one of Norwich's main shopping areas and the rather blurry picture of Stipa gigantissima snapped from the park and ride bus at the end of our day there. Unfortunately the bus moved off just as I took the photo, but in some ways it mimics one of the desired results of the planting - a long-lasting blurry curtain to soften the concrete beyond. It does show that even narrow strips of bare ground on our streets can look good if the right plant is chosen.
As ever the majority of good public planting was to be found in the parks - just like the pictured one in King's Lynn. I suppose this is not surprising as I believe most councils naturally concentrate most of their relatively tiny horticultural budgets into these 'showcase' areas. It was pretty dire elsewhere in the town: I found just a few sad looking planters containing multi-stemmed silver birch and French lavender (Lavandula stoechas). These could have looked pretty good, especially as the more unusual white form of lavender had been used, but there were large gaps in the planting, suggesting little is done to maintain these. In Norwich there was very little planting to be seen too, but I did like the many mature trees in the central shopping area with circular seats wrapped around them inviting shoppers to pause awhile. You'll see they're also very honest about where they source some of their plants!
In Cromer, there was some lovely planting to be found outside the museum. They'd chosen plants which I'd not seen in other locations - in Norfolk or anywhere - covering a much wider season of interest which I thought worked really well together. I liked the use of chunky timber for the planters too - I feel it echoes Cromer's maritime heritage as well as being attractive in its own right. It was raining when we were there, but I felt the pictured scheme plus the others there were really welcoming, not only to the museum itself, but also to that part of the town.
There's not much to report roundabout-wise, just the usual untidy gathering of shrubs and trees on the whole. However, I was delighted that the ubiquitous combination of hebes and cotoneaster which I'm used to around here had been replaced by English lavender and vibrant pink Cistus in Norfolk. Much more cheerful and equally hard wearing.
I must also report on one that got away. In Fakenham there was a tiny scheme next to the town's cinema*: the understorey was a little unkempt and non-descript, but it was topped and lifted by two glorious weeping pears (Pyrus salicifolia 'Pendula'). They'd been semi-trained into shaggy silvery hairstyles which the breeze blew around most winsomely.
* = we saw Doubt there last Thursday, a dramatic and well acted film on the whole - with Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman on fine form - but rather spoilt by the rather weak final scene and a woman snoring away 2 seats from me during the entire second half. Apart from that, the cinema owners are to be congratulated on providing a varied programme of films - for such a small independent cinema and town - just like they manage to do here in Chippenham and Devizes.
Back home, I'm pleased to report I spotted Chippenham's carpet bedding scheme being given a spruce and tidy up yesterday. The dog-eared Euonymus used for the wording was being replaced when I drove by, so I must pop out for an update picture as some point.
So now it's over to you - what are you finding Out on the Streets this month? I especially need to appeal to the Spring Flingers. Did any of you take any pictures of Chicago's schemes Prairie Rose told me about when commenting on one of my earlier posts? Do show me some pictures as I'm dying to see them. Rose says they're some of the best public planting she's ever seen and we're in sore need of some good examples to show just what can be done! To any of you wanting to join in this month - good or bad examples are welcome, as are any issues you'd like to raise on this theme - the kick-off post for you is here. Leave a comment on there when you've posted - you can also get back there by clicking on the planter picture I've put up on the top of the right sidebar for this month - and we'll all come over for a visit :)