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In an English urban garden

How often do you stop and admire the beauty within our urban environments? Largely considered eyesores within towns and cities, brownfield sites can be scenes of incredible life, diversity and colour, if we looked beyond the surface. Challenging our conceptions of urban environments, architectural landscape designer Eds Higgins (Architecture, 2011; Masters in Architecture, 2011) wants to change how we view the city landscape through his show garden at RHS Flower Show Tatton Park in July. 


'Finding urban nature' garden

A finalist in the prestigious RHS Young Designer Competition, Eds' garden 'Finding (urban) Nature' celebrates the hidden charm of wasteland and highlights the importance of urban spaces for wildlife. We chatted to Eds to find out why our urban environment is so important and how we can bring some urban diversity into our gardens...


Eds, what inspired you to design 'Finding (urban) Nature'?   

"I wanted to challenge people to consider brownfield sites as something charming and an important part of healthy cities. It's part of my larger passion to bring more nature into urban environments. 'Finding (urban) Nature' is inspired by 'The Island Site' just outside Nottingham city centre, an area I walk past regularly. Every year, I'm stunned by the vibrancy of the colours, the wafting scents and the shear tenacity of the plants growing on the site, which I'm hoping is captured in my garden."


How have you reflected the urban environment in your design? 

"The garden presents an informal combination of reclaimed and new materials representing both the renovation and reclamation of an unused urban space. Materials such as timber, metal and brick have been used to fit into the urban vernacular. Many plants that are found on brownfield sites are featured, many of which are UK natives while others are domesticated plants that have escaped from gardens. Visitors to the garden will be familiar with many of the plants, particularly 'Buddleja', a mainstay of railway sidings, which features prominently."


Why do you think it's important to challenge established views of these unloved spaces?

"Brownfield sites are little splashes of green in what can be grey urban areas. They're incredible refuges for wildlife, particularly invertebrates and pollinators such as bees and butterflies, essential when populations of both are crashing. 


"Taking such a design to a RHS Flower Show is a challenge to the status quo itself, contrasting strongly with the more traditional show gardens. Despite the informal quality, my garden will be full of flowers and colour so hopefully it will get some love."


What do you feel we can do to transform abandoned sites across our towns and cities? 

"Not all brownfield sites need to be transformed. Some thrive as wildlife havens because we have abandoned them. Many of the species growing on brownfields require disturbances which gives them a temporal nature. I'd like to see a future where, when a building comes down, it is sown with wildflower seeds and allowed to flower while it's awaiting development. I picture an ever-shifting mosaic of colour across our cities, acknowledging one role of cities, which is to adapt to change."


How can urban gardens help us reconnect with nature in an increasingly busy and stressful world? 

"Urban gardens, particularly pocket parks, give residents living in cities a chance to escape to nature and relax. Importantly, they also provide opportunities to socialise in an informal setting where there isn't a need to buy something, which is vital for social cohesion. 


"Gardening offers obvious physical benefits, but also many important mental ones. Nature is fundamental to our health and wellbeing, we evolved amongst it, so our minds are greatly stimulated by interacting with plants and landscapes."


What is your top tip for keen gardeners this summer? 

"My favourite tip is, if you have a lawn in your garden, consider letting a portion of it grow longer. It's likely you'll end up with some wildflowers that have been hiding in the soil. It's an amazingly simple way to attract pollinators such as bees and butterflies." 


Finally, what are you looking forward to most about showcasing at the RHS Flower Show? 

"It's a great feeling to be a finalist! Having seen the work of previous finalists and winners, it's incredibly daunting. Many RHS Young Designers go on to create gardens for RHS Flower Show Chelsea, which would be a great honour. RHS Flower Shows are a great way to see a variety of garden styles, which is what I really like about them. The shows really embrace that there is not just one way to grow plants, or design a garden, which makes them really accessible. Ultimately, I hope to use this platform to raise awareness of the importance and value of nature in urban areas, particularly to decision makers."


You can see Eds' garden 'Finding (urban) Nature' at RHS Flower Show Tatton Park from 18-22 July.