A few weeks ago the fam and I got involved in a bit of community gardening at the Chester Supertrees project, about which I thought I would now belatedly blog. The Supertrees project was inspired by the ‘Gardens by the Bay’ attraction in Singapore, which feature a series of man-made tree sculptures. Singapore is a world leader in urban greening and the Gardens by the Bay are used as a vehicle to raise awareness of the impact of dramatic climate change and the need to promote biodiversity.
The objectives of the Chester Supertrees project is similarly to advocate urban greening and biodiversity, albeit in the rather less glamorous location of the area formerly known as the ‘Mecca Bingo roundabout’ in Chester city centre. The roundabout houses what is effectively a sunken garden which links a number of subways providing pedestrian access across a busy intersection. I remember walking through this area on numerous occasions as a child whenever my family drove into ‘town’ from our nearby village and finding it quite captivating. In recent years the roundabout/garden had fallen into something of a sorry state and had become decidedly inhospitable.
A few years ago I had the good fortune to be able to visit the Gardens by the Bay while on a work trip to Singapore. The site is on quite a significant scale with landscaped parkland including a couple of bio-domes which house a tropical ‘rainforest’ (including spectacular waterfall) in one and temperate planting in the another, a bit like the Eden Project. In the outside areas the tree sculptures are a substantial size and are connected by a raised walkway, which I can tell from personal (and foolish) experience is not particularly compatible with vertigo! The ‘trees’ provide support to climbing plants and are lit up at night to spectacular effect.
You can imagine that having visited this fairly stunning tourist attraction on the other side of the world I was pretty amazed to hear that someone was planning to create anything even remotely associated with it here in my home town of Chester! Indeed I admit when I first heard word of the project a couple of years back I was entirely sceptical about it ever coming to fruition. I love Chester – it is the city of my birth and a beautiful place which is rich in history and character. However, having lived in or near the place for most of my life I also know that it can be conservative (with a small ‘c’), resistant to change and somewhat prone to inertia. “Supertrees in Chester (I thought)? Fat chance!” In recent times though there seems to have been a bit of a sea change with a groundswell of activity from interested people wanting to improve and promote where they live. There are all sorts of local events, grassroots initiatives and collaborations by local businesses which makes me feel more positive about the city than I ever have. It is against this backdrop that Chester Supertrees has indeed been delivered.
Of course, the project is on nothing like the scale of Gardens by the Bay. Nonetheless, what has been achieved looks great and is certainly a vast improvement on what came before. The area has been re-landscaped with new seating and a ramp to improve accessibility. And, yes, I can confirm that there at the heart of it all are three Corten Steel ‘supertree’ sculptures, designed and built locally. Climbing plants such as Clematis, Honeysuckle and Rambling Roses have been planted which I think will look fantastic in a couple of years once they are established and have wended their merry way up the structures. Stone built raised beds and the sloped banks around the edge of the roundabout which enclose the space have also started to be planted up. Evergreen plants such as Sedges and Grasses, and those with interesting foliage such as Heuchera provide the backbone, as well as some actual real trees. In amongst this are flowering annuals and perennials such as Verbena bonariensis and Cosmos providing an attractive city centre destination for bees and other pollinators.
Our task on the day was the planting of Spring bulbs such as Snowdrops and Allium which will provide some splashes of colour early in the year. There were plenty of volunteers of all ages around to make light work of the planting before the heavens opened as they often have this Autumn. For this we were rewarded with some most excellent home made cakes – always welcome when you have a toddler in tow. Before we left we were also encouraged to take away a bag of compost donated by the ever supportive local business Dandy’s Topsoil and some packets of seed. We will happily be taking up the challenge of propagating some more flowering plants to be returned to the site for planting next Spring. A lovely idea to encourage the continued community engagement which is at the heart of this project. Indeed it is important to note that this isn’t just about making a grim bit of city centre a bit nicer. It is also about doing something which makes a bold statement and gets people talking about environmental issues and the need to bring green space into the heart of urban living.
Our contribution to this project has been tiny but it is gratifying to have the opportunity to support something so visibly worthwhile. A little late to the party perhaps, but better than not turning up at all. I take my hat off to the organisers of the project who have raised money, found funding and cajoled the residents of this fine city into providing their support. I look forward to seeing the space literally grow and mature into something of which to be proud, and I solemnly promise to be less cynical about such initiatives in future!
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