The Floating Pocket Park, Merchant Square, London

 

Last week history was made with the opening of London’s first Floating Pocket Park at Merchant Square, Paddington. Measuring 730sq metres this new open space treads water in Paddington Basin, near the start of the Grand Union Canal. The design is by Tony Woods, who also masterminded the garden on top of the John Lewis department store on Oxford Street. The Floating Pocket Park provides a new, publically accessible centrepiece for an area of the city that’s completely reinvented itself over the last ten years and which is now home to some of the country’s leading businesses, including Marks and Spencer. Tony clearly knows a thing or two about greening awkward spaces, but required the services of a marine engineer rather than an architect to keep this unique project afloat.

London is one of the greenest cities on the planet, but also one of the most polluted. And, although our capital is relatively low-rise in global terms, it’s also highly populous. Spending time regularly by the coast, I can really discern the difference in air quality between town and country.  Some horrific statistics were released recently measuring the amount of pollution one hoovers through one’s nostrils on various forms of London transport. Let’s just say buses are no longer my preferred way of getting around! Pocket parks are one way of absorbing air pollution and putting oxygen back into the atmosphere, plus a means of creating useable space in densely populated urban areas.

 

 

As I recall, there was no mention in the report of travelling by barge, which is how the materials used to create The Floating Pocket Park arrived on site. The designer and his client felt it would easier and less intrusive for residents if traditional methods of transport were used. The design of the park allows people to walk over the water on a series of decked platforms and walkways. On Radio 4’s Gardeners’ Question Time, Tony explained the limitations of designing a garden that floats on water and yet is not connected directly with it. There’s weight and balance to think about, as well as irrigation. Then there are the strong winds, shade and harsh reflections created by tall buildings surrounding the basin.

Tony’s scheme for the Floating Pocket Park features an open lawn area, densely planted raised borders and communal seating. A contemporary shelter provides support for plants, shade for visitors and opportunities for the park to host events. The main areas of the garden are planted with a mix of wind tolerant grasses that will play in the breeze, and nectar-rich flowers such as alliums and salvias. The garden boasts an independent wildlife island planted with native waterside plants including great burnet, purple loosestrife and yellow flag iris to encourage birds and waterfowl to feed and nest.

 

 
As this is the 21st Century, the park has been equipped with free, super-fast Wi-Fi to encourage office workers and residents to stay connected whilst outside. And if that’s not enough incentive to get out and explore what West London has to offer, there are self-drive electric boats available to hire which can be used to explore Paddington, Camden and Little Venice, or to use as floating meeting rooms to encourage innovative and creative thinking. Sounds a lot better than sitting in an office to me.

The Floating Pocket Park has permission to remain in situ for 5 years, during which time it will evolve and mature. The planting, though simple, has been carefully chosen to provide year-round interest, from alliums and wallflowers in spring, to salvias and astrantias in summer, followed by anemones and liriope in autumn and dogwoods, holly and hellebores in winter. Where once there was murky water and unusable space, there’s now seating, foliage, shelter and the hum of bees foraging among flowers. Here’s to the Floating Pocket Park and all who bob up and down on her.

 

 

Plant List

Anemone hybrida ‘Honorine Jobert’

Astrantia major alba ‘Large White’ 

Allium ‘Mont Blanc’

Allium ‘Purple Sensation’ 

Allium sphaerocephalon

Cornus alba ‘Sibirica’

Erysimum ‘Bowles’s Mauve’

Hebe albicans ‘Red Edge’

Hydrangea aspera ‘Villosa group’

Helleborus x sahinii ‘Winterbells’ 

Hakonechloa macra 

Ilex crenata 

Liriope muscari

Perovskia atriplicifolia ‘Blue Spire’ 

Prunus serrula ‘Tibetica’

Sarcococca hookeriana var. humilis

Salvia nemorosa ‘Caradonna’

Stipa tenuissima