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Future Gardens

SunflowersIf you are looking for beautiful, thought provoking and educational gardens that have something for all the family then you couldn’t do much better than to visit the Butterfly World Project near St Albans.

Forming the first phase of the project, twelve designer show gardens demonstrate that sustainability can co-exist with innovative, contemporary design. Unlike other show gardens that are built to last only a few days, these are designed to remain from June to October so giving the plants a chance to follow their natural seasonal cycle.

Over 100 designers submitted their ideas for this year’s opening, with the selection panel (which included James Alexander Sinclair, Andrew Fisher Tomlin and Cleve West) looking for pioneering garden designs that would acknowledge the fragility of the environment and fire the imagination of all generations visiting the event.

Whilst all the gardens have an environmental theme, each has its own unique style and statement to make. The whole site is laid out to form permanent shapes that reflect the anatomy of the butterfly and the layout of these gardens forms the body of a caterpillar. A winding path allows the visitor to move from one to the other, giving access through each which is another major difference to the normal show garden (all except one are accessible by wheelchair).

These temporary gardens are joined by several permanent gardens some of which are bound to appeal to the younger members of the family. Three Leaf gardens include Through the Flowerpot that aims to show the garden from an insect’s point of view and includes giant terracotta pots, seed packet and hand fork. The Theatre of Insects has boundaries constructed from gabions filled with man-made objects from bricks to bicycles that become homes for insects. The Spangle Gall garden contains a series of large raised beds built to resemble galls within a leaf each planted with it’s own individual theme. Children will also love running around the Proboscis Walk, a spiral that at its centre has a nectar garden.

Visiting this Project during the main weeks of summer is to be highly recommended. Twenty acres of the site have been planted with 65 different species of cornfield annuals and is a site for sore eyes. The 65 species currently in bloom come from the UK, Europe, South Africa and America and include Californian bluebells, Mexican hats, poppies and lupins. In future years it is planned to sow with native perennial wildflowers that will attract domestic butterflies, bees and other insects to complement the tropical butterflies.

For 2009, with only the base of the biome construction completed, the owners have cleverly used the 100m diameter space to provide sunshine, even on a cloudy day. Apart from an unplanted area in the middle that forms the shape of a butterfly in flight, the area has been filled with sunflowers. This is the sight that greets the visitor as they exit the existing butterfly house and despite being part of a building site it really takes your breath away.

The gardens are open until 4 October 2009 and will reopen in June 2010. The world’s largest butterfly dome will be completed in 2011 and will house 10,000 tropical butterflies and moths and will also include hummingbirds, scorpions, spiders and giant leaf cutting ants. This will complete the £25 million world-class visitor attraction, which will then be open twelve months of the year. It’s even worth visiting just to see the toilet and office blocks – in the shape of giant beehives they look brilliant!

Wildflower Planting
Wildflower Planting

Release Garden
Release Garden
Designers: Michelle Wake and Chloe Leaper

Urban Greening
Urban Greening
Designers: Andy Sturgeon

Theatre of Insects
Theatre of Insects
Designers: Ivan Hicks

Narratives of Nature
Narratives of Nature
Designers: Hugo Bugg and Maren Hallenga

The Exoskeleton
The Exoskeleton
Designers: Paul Dracott

The Beehive Buildings
The Beehive Buildings

© Sharon Brown 26th July 2009

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