Public garden for the WWT, one of the world’s leading wetland conservation organisations. Based in Gloucestershire, the Slimbridge site is one of 9 such sites in the UK and attracts in excess of 210,000 visitors each year.
To design a garden that embraced the conservation message of the WWT, providing a naturally immersive and educational experience for visitors. In a prominent position, directly opposite the visitor centre, the site was waste ground and inaccessible with a muddy ditch fed by water contaminated with wildfowl effluent. Retaining, recycling and cleaning water was key. The design had to accommodate heavy foot traffic and enable visitors to journey easily between adjacent gardens within the site. Planting needed to relate to the wetland environment, the client had limited resources for maintenance and wanted to encourage small birds.
The shape of the design is one of flowing curves inspired by the watery landscape. Planting is naturalistic in keeping with the surroundings and uses mesic plants that tolerate sustained flooding as well as drier periods. Raised berms and an island create areas of interest and the potential to host a wider range of plants such as 3 specimen white Himalayan Birch which are a focal point. Native woodland species provide habitat for small birds and wet meadow planting is used in clearings. Plants with a long flowering period are interspersed with grasses to give interest through winter as well as valuable seed heads for birds to feed on.
Generous non-slip walkways provide a journey through the garden with planting rising up and giving the visitor a sense of being enveloped. The design uses non-wood decking which has a long life, requires little maintenance and poses no threat to the environment from leaching which is often a problem with treated timber. Large areas of seating provide ample space for outdoor learning and relaxation and natural play is incorporated with a living willow den in the woodland and a water-play activity area on a raised deck.
Where possible I used environmentally friendly materials. A wood shelter with turf roof provides a space to sit in the woodland planting. Storm water planters and a series of planted swales slow water flow. Contaminated water is channelled into successive reed beds which filter and clean it enabling more diverse marginal and aquatic planting in a retention pool where hummocks and shallow beach areas encourage birds, invertebrates and small mammals.
This was a live college project and the client is hoping, in the future, to gain funding to build one of the designs produced by my cohort. My design was judged by rigorous standards and gained me a distinction.