David Keary MSGD on designing the new Promontory Garden
This project began back in 2013 when I was the winner of a competition organised by the Landscape Show, in association with the SGD. The garden’s funding came in part from the park, and the charity Friends of Battersea Park was a major contributor. The work was tendered by Wandsworth Council and Blakedown Landscapes won the tender.
The location of the garden is exceptional: it’s next to the river, and the uniqueness of having a promontory into the Thames is such an advantage. This previously untouched area of the park, 50m east of Albert Bridge, is now open to the public for the first time in over 30 years.
The garden took time to come to fruition; we had to overcome a lot of hurdles to make sure the design didn’t compromise flood defences, so the design morphed to accommodate that. For example, the original design had two entrances, but we were only able to use one in the end. We began construction at the end of last year, and the project officially opened in February this year.
A network of curving paths and mounds an integral part of the design, and I was determined to have the curves and levels correct. We didn’t have the benefits of a co-ordinate drawing. One of the radius points was in the middle of the Thames, which would have been difficult, so it ended up as a fairly fine judgment by eye. We took points where we could access them, but setting out was a very critical part, and judging the levels. We also had to navigate around two huge plane trees and the existing limes, then create the morphology to reflect the design.
My interpretation of the brief was to reflect the eclectic character of the park and its history as a Victorian public space, so diversity and interest were an important part of the plant palette. I used robust ferns and grasses including Blechnum spicant, Matteuccia struthiopteris, Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’ and Carex morrowii ‘Variegata’ and a patchwork of herbaceous planting. Ilex crenata ‘Golden Gem’ served as a tough, low-growing evergreen offering structure through the year. Because we already had a canopy of mature trees, we put in groups of robust and dependable Japanese maples, Acer palmatum ‘Chitose-yama’ and Acer palmatum ‘Osakazuki’, which should grow to 4-5m to give that middle height.
At the official opening in February, the garden was covered with snow, so we didn’t see a lot of it, but it was nice to meet the Friends of Battersea Park, and they were delighted, as were the park’s management team, which is pleasing. The benches have gone into the park and they were packed over the recent Bank Holiday weekend, so it’s great to know people are already enjoying the space.