Benedict Green won a competition for UPS’s Olympic Sponsorship project to design and rejuvenate the gardens of St James’s Church in Piccadilly, as part of London’s Olympic Legacy
I was initially approached by Momentum Worldwide Events in late 2010, who invited me to submit a design in competition for UPS’s (United Postal Service) Olympic Sponsorship project to rejuvenate the garden and grounds of St James’s Church, Piccadilly. The church is an historic London landmark designed by Sir Christopher Wren. The churchyard was redeveloped after the Second World War as a garden of remembrance ‘to commemorate the courage and fortitude of the people of London’. As an official sponsor of the 2012 London Olympics, UPS wanted to visibly invest in a long term legacy project for London. UPS was also interested in developing the area as a Visitors’ Venue during the games.
St James’s Church representatives and project sponsors chose my design as the competition winner. We then began a long process of creating a realistic plan within budget during 2011. The build started late that year and practical completion was reached in February 2012.
To provide an Olympic Legacy to central London by rejuvenating this public space making it more welcoming, safer, more practical and beautiful.
The garden had become very overgrown with difficult sloping borders up to eight metres deep which drug addicts used to indulge their habits uninterrupted. Planting was needed that would reduce hiding places while still keeping the ‘green sanctuary’ feel of the garden.
The lawns were in poor condition underneath the large London Plane trees that made the whole garden shady and dry. A more robust and practical solution was needed for these areas where office workers and weary tourists would come to relax away from the bustle of Piccadilly.
Since little space was given over to seating, with benches and picnic tables randomly dotted around the paved pathways, more specific areas of seating were requested.
The entrance to the garden from the busy market next to the church was to be made more welcoming and more obviously an open garden for the public to enjoy.
No heavy machinery was used on site. All clearance was achieved by volunteers and landscape contractors. Only small hand tools, and general small equipment was used to prepare some of the hard landscaping (cement mixers, grinders etc.).
The historic nature of the site required a sensitive approach to cultural heritage in London’s built and natural environments. Plans included a careful study of the design, layout and colour palette of St James’s Church and grounds. The grounds were redeveloped with a primary regard for preserving and protecting the existing character of this unique site.
Due to the large London Plane trees throughout the garden the whole site was quite shady and dry so we applied for permission to have ‘crown reduction’ on the trees that had not been worked on for some years. However the planting was still designed to be as shade and drought tolerant as possible, although we installed an irrigation system to establish the plants for the first few years. We also used RTF turf to replace the existing lawn and set down a maintenance schedule to help keep the well-used space looking good.
It became clear fairly early on that we wouldn’t have the budget to totally redevelop the garden with new hard landscaping. Therefore, we decided to clean and repair existing features as much as possible and concentrate on soft landscaping and creating two new areas of seating. These seating areas comprised two alcoves with small retaining walls in the large slope border. This created more usable space as well as integrating the deep border with the rest of the garden.
One particular aspect of this project was to reclaim the use of this community area from an increase in drug use. Many needles were collected from the planting beds, requiring the use of Sharps gloves and buckets.
There were an extensive number of stakeholders, sponsor representatives and participants involved in this project including MomentumWW, UPS representatives and volunteers, St James’s Church leaders and administrators, Landform Consultants, Olympic athletes, press and publications, Westminster Council, among others. This meant that communications were complex and required an enormous amount of detailed planning, scheduling and liaising.
UPS employees donated 2012 hours of volunteer labour towards the build and maintenance of the project. Many of the volunteers were very enthusiastic but somewhat unused to landscaping methods, tools and procedures, therefore a great deal of oversight and team coordination was needed to ensure works proceeded to plan. It was wonderful that so many UPS volunteers invested so much of their own time in this project. They were really energetic and it meant a great deal to the parishioners of St James’s Church and Piccadilly residents.
UPS invited Olympians Denise Lewis and Louis Smith to help keep the volunteers motivated and raise press profile for the project. This made for an interesting and fun afternoon, but I’m not sure how much work got done!
ABOUT GREEN GARDEN DESIGN
Benedict Green is a professional landscape designer based in the Surrey, London borders.Benedict started his design and build landscaping business in 2004. After building many successful projects he concentrated on design only in 2008 when he completed a diploma in Garden Design with distinction. Since then he has worked freelance for many private clients, landscapers, architects and designers. He also teaches construction detailing at Merrist Wood College. Benedict now designs and project manages gardens for Belderbos Landscapes. He designed his first show garden for RHS Hampton Court Flower Show this year in the conceptual category.