This amazing public space in East London will always be just the ‘Olympic Park’ for me. My first views of the park on a balmy summer evening when I went to one of the final dress rehearsals for the London 2012 Opening Ceremony stays in my mind all these years later. Swathes of beautiful wild flowers of every imaginable colour as far as the eye could see around the Olympic Stadium made my knees wobble. It was a total triumph, not least because it had been raining that year pretty much since the beginning of April.
The mood was for a catastrophe of giant proportions. The traffic would grind to a halt, the tube system wouldn’t cope with all the extra people, the security was going to be a disaster as G4S hadn’t planned properly and there would be queues of people missing their sporting events. And so on, and so on. By nature an optimist, and having been a huge supporter of the whole ‘shebang’ from the moment we won the bid seven years previously, I was not prepared to be dragged down by the pessimism. So on arriving at the park on that evening my spirits lifted and my heart raced. I knew, if they could create this beautiful space from a piece of forgotten wasteland, everything was going to fall into place.
I have been back to the Park quite a few times over the years but mainly to the area around the stunning Velodrome. Today I re-visited the area near the Olympic stadium. That bit that had me gasping in 2012. The Landscape architects responsible for the design of the Park, Professor James Hitchmough and his colleague Nigel Dunnett with Sarah Price were given the brief by the Olympic Development Authority ‘to ensure that the park was an expression and a celebration of forward-looking horticulture and design, and a demonstration of what a sustainable and ecologically-orientated park could be’. I think this has been realised in a way that is more than the original brief stated. What it has done so successfully is create a place that people want to be. Workers, families, local residents, tourists are all to be seen enjoying what this beautifully landscaped space has to offer.
Seven years on although different from what I have stored in my mind it is still a fabulous place to be. Wonderful colours and inspired planting schemes which you imagine are easy to create but in reality are works of art and need the same degree of artistic endeavour as any great masterpiece. What had to be beautiful and work specifically for the six weeks of the Olympic and Paralympic Games has now matured into a sought out public space with every month new and eye-catching planting evolving over the entire year.
This forgotten land on the east of London has been transformed into a glorious park for the people. That moment in 2012 when I knew all was going to go well has stood the test of time and gives respite from busy lives and enjoyment to all.
1 thought on “Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park”
Well,.. I’ve read and enjoyed your blog now, from start to finish. You write incredibly well. Also, you are a real gardener. This is important. There are a lot of so-called garden designers and, especially, “design-and-build” operators who haven’t got a clue, and don’t have the passion or artistry that you offer, nor any practical skills. A garden need not look like it’s been “Designed”, but rather, when you walk into it, it’s just a lovely place to be in. For humans and wild things.
As designers, we can deliver the garden the client wants, rather than some formulaic attempt by a profit-led landscape company which pushes out CAD plans with no attention to detail.
And, yes, it’s theatre too, the plants, the performers, have to hit their marks and sing. It also has to be an ecosystem, and as you say, the soil and it’s hidden inhabitants are most crucial. Apart from that, a garden must be easy to look after, so a new design should try to solve any existing problems without introducing new ones.
Wish I’d met your Dad, a man who could see the beauty and achievement in a good cabbage!