Working with 50 men and women who have faced really tough challenges in their lives, the Eden Project has created a rooftop garden for London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall – as part of the Southbank Centre’s Festival of Britain 60th anniversary celebrations.
Eden has brought together a group of gardeners, some of whom have been homeless and others who are ex-prisoners, to turn the top of the building into a lush 1,200 square metre garden – helped by local schools, youth groups and neighbours.
The project provides the missing piece of the futuristic building, as it transforms the space labelled as ‘Sun Deck’ on the original architect’s plans that was never fully developed.
Eden’s Howard Jones said: ‘The roof garden is a new type of garden – appropriate for a world-class destination, open and welcoming to the public. It is beautiful, providing intimate space that will be a great place to be in the evenings as well as during the day.’
Designed by Eden’s landscape architect Jane Knight and designer Paul Stone, the garden gives a taste of British gardens and landscapes. Visitors can stroll around a lawn area with orchards, vegetable plots, a rosebud walk, and herb garden created around a cafe.
Its wild flower area, with 90 different varieties, is specially built to attract nature to the centre of London. A rustic pergola clothed with sweetly-scented climbers provides easy access to the Hayward Gallery over a bridge lined with drought-resistant plants growing in cracks in the pavement.
The groups of disadvantaged people have been led by East London-based Providence Row Housing Association, working in association with the Eden team. Some of the gardeners, including Paul Pulford, also known as Scruffy, have built on their previous successes at the Chelsea Flower Show, where for the last two years, the Eden-led show gardens have won silver medals. For many of the participants, becoming involved in horticulture has helped them get back on their feet and end a spiral of homelessness and despair.
Paul Pulford said: ‘To be able to help to design, build and nurture the garden on the Thames at Southbank Centre with our team is, to this date, one of the biggest challenges of my life. Seven years ago, I was a broken man both physically and mentally, living on the streets with methadone, heroin and alcohol addictions numbing the misery of my life.
Today I am clean, employed as a Horticulture Teacher in our group, Grounded Ecotherapy, paying my own rent for the first time in 30 years and I get my hands in the earth each day, grow plants, herbs and vegetables and share my life with anyone who wants to join us.’
The gardens are open from 22 April – 4 September 2011, as part of the South Bank’s festival of British culture and creativity.
Find out more about Eden’s work with the socially excluded, from building show gardens with homeless people at the Chelsea Flower Show, to food growing schemes in prisons.