Replanting Preston Circus planters – get involved!

Echinacea purpurea

The Preston Circus planters need you …

I finally met up with Alan Griffiths from Cityparks last week to talk about the four Preston Circus planters. He’s pleased that there is some interest in ressurrecting the planters, and agreed that Cityparks would be able to provide the growing medium for them.

What we now need, people of Viaduct Rise and Preston Circus, is a group of inspired volunteers to transform the planters into something beautiful that brings neighbours together: get involved by e-mailing lrsp@hotmail.co.uk and send in your ideas on the planters through this blog (below).

The planters will need a soil based compost – something like a John Innes 2 or 3 – which will ensure greater retention of water and nutrients than a soil-less base. In his view, watering is going to be the big challenge. So one of the first things to do is to find a water source. It may be that one of the businesses or the cinema could help. It may also be that there’s a suitable place somewhere near to install a water-butt.

Then the planters need digging over to find out what’s actually in them at the moment. Nobody knows what kind of drainage material was used when the planters were first planted up, or what state the existing soil is in. We also identified about six lavendula stoechas plants which can be saved, if last night’s snow hasn’t done for them. 

The reconstruction of the growing medium cannot start before April, so there’s a bit of time to try to get as many local people involved as possible. But how? Deliver leaflets to local residents and businesses to invite them to get involved with ressurrecting the planters? Knocking on doors? A stand in front of the planters one Saturday in March, inviting ideas for plants and encouraging volunteers?

And then the exciting part: what do we plant? Sustainability and impact are probably the key factors. Plants need to be eye-catching, happy in full sun, drought tolerant, not sensitive to frost or salt-laden wind, preferably low-maintenance, easy to propagate and easily available. They also need to be tolerant of pollution – Preston Circus still suffers from higher than average levels of nitrogen dioxide. .

And all that that’s before we start thinking about a detailed design. There are various design styles for planters: we could look at a mix of annuals and perennials and shrubs, we could emphasise grasses, we could look at just shrubs, we could even go for beautiful vegetable plants such as multicoloured chard and runner beans, but pollution makes the edible idea less attractive. There are advantages and disadvantages to all of these ideas.

Planters by Mark Reigelman II in Cleveland, Ohio. Photo by Steven Litt

Before we get bogged down in the challenges, it’s good to start with inspiration. I loved the cascading bright greens in these planters in Cleveland, Ohio. The Project for Public Spaces has the best gallery of photos of public planters across the world, though perhaps Preston Circus shouldn’t seek to rival les Jardins du Luxembourg in Paris or Broadway? I was really inspired by planters in New York, but small French towns and villages also manage stunning diplays. Sarah Raven in The Telegraph gardening blog comments on their use of Gladiolus murielae, trailing plargoniums ‘Barbe Bleu’ and Euphorbia hypericifolia ‘Diamond Frost’.

On plant choice, Gardeners’ World suggests, among others, Skimmia japonica and the purple fountain grass Pennisetum setaceum ‘Rubrum’ as reliable plants for planters, while the eHow suggests thinking about different categories: tall dramatic plants such as the purple coneflower, Echinacea purpurea, and day lillies, Hemerocallis;  lush plants such as phlox, sedum, catmint and lamb’s ears; and finally, cascading plants such as periwinkle Vinca Major, Lantana Montevidensis and Helichrysum petiolare. A Gardening Which? trial found that Gazania ‘Kiss’, Pelargonium ‘Evka’, Begonia ‘Nonstop Mocca Deep Orange’ and the ivy Hedera helix ‘Goldchild’ looked good even after two weeks of summer neglect. 

Meanwhile, the Vegplotting blog  had some interesting reflections on public planting, you can read about alternative artistic approaches to planters in Toronto, while the RHS offers comprehensive advice on all aspects of container gardening.

There’s a wealth of inspiration and advice available … and Cityparks would be happy for us to discuss ideas with them. I’m convinced that there are also lots of local people out there with an interest in the planters, with ideas of what you’d like to see. Get in touch with your vision …

Inspiring display of drought-tolerant plants in pots at Great Dixter

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3 Responses to Replanting Preston Circus planters – get involved!

  1. Ali says:

    What an excellent plan for a much neglected area. The butterfly bush (buddleja) is a very hary plant, it will die off in the winter, but flowers in August again.

  2. VP says:

    What a fab project 🙂 Good luck and thanks for the mention!

  3. Hilary Forrester says:

    Love the idea of the project and willing to help work on it. Think we should take note of Sarah Raven’s recent programmes on TV about encouraging bees and insects – even at Preston circus. I live very near so could water the planters outside the cinema – are there any others?
    Hilary Forrester

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