Preston Circus planters need help

Practise random kindness and selfless acts of beauty”. Can we rescue the planters at Preston Circus? Read on … and get involved!

Preston Circus is one of Brighton’s busiest and most polluted cross-roads, a short walk from London Road Station. It’s where Brighton’s major east-west and north-south roads intersect and it has a history of high levels of nitrogen dioxide pollution. But it is very much a ‘shared’ traffic space, with lots of pedestrians and cyclists crossing the five roads alongside the double lanes of cars, buses, coaches and lorries.

Some years back Brighton & Hove City Council installed four large planters at Preston Circus: two on the north-east side outside the Duke of York’s cinema, one on a central traffic island opposite the Circus Circus pub, and another on a south-side traffic island in the middle of the London Road. The planters are each about 125cm x 75cm at waist height – fantastic for planting that can be seen by car users, pedestrians and cyclists. I can’t actually remember what was originally planted in the planters, but I do remember one year experiencing that wonderful sense of surprise when something beautiful appears in an unexpected place. Someone must have looked after them lovingly at some time.

Sadly, they have now become bedraggled and miserable, hardly noticeable with their cigarette-butt covered soil and straggling plants, frequently covered in fly-posting and graffiti. City parks only felt able to provide minimal planting and concern was raised about them at the London Road LAT. There was some talk of traders and residents getting together to rescue them, but nothing has happened.

There was some replanting in the summer of 2011 which included lavender (lavendula stoechas) , but the plants have not thrived. A neighbour also told me she was the guerrilla gardener who planted the nasturtium, marigolds and lemon balm which have livened up one of the planters. But four planters require a concerted effort.

During this last summer, my eye has been drawn to some wonderful public planting, all the more uplifting because it was unexpected: French villages taking over their roundabouts with rich innovative planting of ornamentals and vegetables; Broadway in New York transformed into a space for humans, not just cars, by beautiful planters. If they can do it in New York, surely we can do it here?

I chanced very recently upon a lovely blog called Gardening against the Odds which talks about the magic of ‘unlikely gardening’, such as a beautifully-planted narrow strip of ‘no-man’s land’ on an unprepossessing housing estate. The author was Elspeth Thompson, and I instantly felt a sense of community with a namesake; Elspeths are a bit of a rarity in southern England. The sense of common cause was reinforced by her comment: ‘it [the no-man’s land garden] seems to me all the more beautiful for it being completely selfless – it reminds me of that old hippy tenet to “practise random kindness and selfless acts of beauty”.’ The old hippy in me shouted out for joy!

Sadly, Elspeth Thompson died shortly after writing this, but I discovered that her spirit endows a National Garden Scheme bursary – for ‘horticultural projects in unlikely places for the benefit of the community’. With just a short while before the submission date, I thought: Preston Circus planters! We’ve talked about getting involved with replanting them, so this seemed a wonderful opportunity. After an exchange with Simon Bannister, Brighton & Hove Environmental Improvement Officer, I completed a bid: you can read it under Docs above.

Planter on Broadway

The London Road Station Partnership group is just the starting point, as a number of us have wanted to do something about the planters for some months, and we’ve now had the positive experience of getting the station garden up and running. But I know there are others in the area – not least the neighbour who has already been trying to keep the planters going – who want to get involved.

We will hear in March whether the NGS bid has been successful, but be that as it may, let’s start thinking right now about how we can ‘create beauty in unlikely places’ like lovely, ugly Preston Circus!

Get in touch if you’re inspired and would like to be involved. Send in your ideas for the Preston Circus Planters, and whether the bid is successful or not, let’s try to get together to rejuvenate them. I’m hoping to meet soon with Alan Griffiths of City parks to discuss the planters. Updates soon …

Elspeth Broady, LRSP Coordinator

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