Click to enlarge image if needed. Clockwise from top left: 1. Estate entrance (also bottom, right picture) 2. Bund side view 3. A view of both sides of the road looking south 4. Ditch 5. As 1 6. Behind the bund 7. Gravel soakaway strip 8. A view of both sides of the road looking north
When I first introduced this year's series on public planting, I was unsure whether verges should be included. I had 2 main responses at the time - yes, include them and what's a verge? I promised the You Ask, We Answer team would get on the case, so here at last is their preliminary guide to verges, aka shoulder if you hail from across the pond.
Most verges in the UK refer to a narrow strip of grass at the roadside, just like the edge you can see in the first and last picture in the collage. On more major roads, the design gets a little more complicated and I've chosen one such example to show you - the one closest to my house - on the A350 Chippenham bypass, a mere 5 minute walk away from VP Gardens.
As the busy road borders a housing estate, this side of it has been raised in the form of a bund as Lucy has also shown in her post on Poundbury, plus the joint one we did together. Like Lucy's example, this bund has also had shrubs and trees planted on it - this one is a more mature example as it is 10 years older. Dogwood and native trees are the main mix here in Chippenham. The bund and the trees act as a sound screen to mask most of the road noise from the houses nearby. On the other side of the road is open countryside, so the bund and trees aren't needed and here most of the old hedgerows have been retained as much as possible. Further down the bypass this side of the road is flatter and marks a clearer transition from urbanised to countryside areas.
Susan over at The Bicycle Garden also asked if our verges have ditches. In my example the answer is yes, though they're not there in a lot of cases. Ditches are usually only present when drainage is needed, though in my example it's for a different reason - some travellers camped on this verge* a few years ago, so the layout was changed to discourage them in the future. Lumps of stone and a raised bank were added next to the road and the ditch excavated behind the bank. This in turn led to drainage problems (as my feet can vouch for from yesterday!), so a gravel soakaway was added right next to the road side.
As we build more and more roads in the UK, verges are becoming an increasingly larger proportion of our unused land. Therefore they have an increasing value as wildlife corridors and refuges for our native flora. For new roads, sowing wildflower meadow mixes and subsequent management are often specified as part of the design brief for the highway contractor. Of course many of our verges are a lot older and in 1970 here in Wiltshire, the local Wildlife Trust surveyed most of the county's verges to identify those of particular floral value e.g. there is a verge near Chippenham that has a nationally rare type of mustard; many others are rich in orchids. This has resulted in specific plans being drawn up for the civil engineering company who maintains the highways on behalf of the county council to ensure these 50-odd verges are managed in a sensitive manner. In addition, the trust has a monitoring scheme where volunteers, such as my friend L from choir, 'adopt' a specific verge and complete a questionnaire about its health each year. If the monitors find the verge's quality has deteriorated, then the Trust can work with the county council to ensure the habitat and right management is restored.
As I mentioned at the start of this post, this is just a quick guide to verges here in the UK. In researching it I've found a lot more questions that need answering e.g. who exactly has responsibility for which verges and how they are managed. Therefore, I may return to this topic at a later date. I have sneaked in a tiny preview of part of the roundabout that started getting me so interested in public planting though - see picture 3 - so I will be returning there shortly!
* This verge is much wider than usual, hence it was roomy enough for travellers to camp there. NAH and I believe it's so wide in case the county council decide to make the road a dual carriageway in the future.
This is also an Out on the Streets (OOTS) post as well as a YAWA guide. There's more OOTS posts here - do have a look, or better still there's still time to add your public planting post's URL to the OOTS Mr Linky this month.