Trafalgar Square St Georges day pop up garden


This has been a really exciting project for me.   I only got instructed a few weeks before the event so it was a race around the clock to achieve but the combination of challenge, message and high profile event was very hard to resist.

The Brief

To design and construct a garden for London Wildlife Trust with an English / Drought theme sponsored by Thames Water for a one day event hosted by the GLA in Trafalgar Square for St Georges Day,  Saturday April 21st

The Challenge (ie constraints that will influence design and construction decisions)

There is a very short on site construction time of 1.5 days and even less garden ‘strike’ time of just a few hours in the evening after the event.  This will require preparation and construction during the lead in time to pre prepare several features that can then slot together and come apart easily on site.

There is short lead in time to prepare the pre fabricated features.  Assuming the garden design is approved week ending 31st March and planning can commencing week commencing 2 April there will be 11 days prep time to source materials and features and then pre construct the main elements.

The  early time of year and availability of suitable plants is also challenging to make the garden look reasonably established and colourful.

The Concept

A demonstration English drought garden to highlight issues of water use and support to wildlife during the increasingly common drought conditions and hosepipe bans facing the UK. Thames Water wanted to call teh garden the Beat the Ban Garden.

The demonstration garden will be a pop up garden that represents a small garden or area within an urban garden where one can enjoy the afternoon sun but being mindful of drought and water issues as well as habitat opportunities and wildlife assistance during shortage of water.  It’s a climate change interpretation of a more typical English garden to come.

The garden will be constructed within a rectangular wooden box that is 4.5m X 3.5m. It will be possible to be view it from most or all sides (depending on screen options below) but it will not be accessible.  Access will be prevented by surrounded posts and rope (either attached to the wooden frame or on the outer edge of the garden perimeter) If possible (time and budget)  it would be interesting to construct a screen across two edges – an adjustable sun screen sailing sheet on poles and a wire trellis fixed to the main box container) for ivy to trail up.

To mitigate against the relatively dull constraint of a rectangular garden container the garden will incorporate round and curling form with interacting and overlapping features.  These are likely to include:-  A wooden deck,  long meadow grass (for habitat, beauty and reduction in the need to water) and plants in a gravel bed are the main areas of hard and soft materials.  It might also be possible to have a small pre formed (but sunken and disguised) pond (depends on plant availability) and if not a bird bath and butterfly drinking station will be included.  It may be possible to incorporate a water butt but this could only be ‘attached’ to pipe to an imaginary wall as we probably do not have capacity to build a pretend wall.  There will be other water collecting devices – watering can, bucket and bowls. Also,  containers of herbs on the deck to demonstrate the possibility to green up decks with drought tolerant plants as well as a cross section of a plastic lined terracotta container to demonstrate water saving technique.  Perhaps there will be capacity to build a compost bin to promote the creation of ones own soil improver/ mulch or even just a bag of mulch on the edge ready for spreading. A tree or two in the ground or in big pots or set into the decking will add interest to the edges of the garden as well as promote their value to habitat and shade.   There will also be some leaves, logs or slabs or even a dry hedge to demonstrate the need for shady cool spots during hot dry weather for amphibians.  A parasol and deck chairs on the deck will recall the English seaside.

The garden will benefit from some artistic interpretation – for example, of typical garden wildlife (a sculpted frog under a rock?) or blown glass rain drops on rods perhaps.

Literally a back of an envelope scribble when inspiration hit over the weekend away from my desk

Plan view of the proposed pop up garden

3D interpretive sketch


Features as message

  • Long grass – habitat, beauty and reduced need to water
  • Drought tolerant plants in containers on deck – green up your decking / lining terracotta containers with plastic to reduce evaporation.
  • Water features (pond, bird bath or butterfly drinking station) as habitat and drinking water for wildlife
  • Grey water conservation
  • Rain water collection
  • Trees for shade and habitat
  • Damp / cool areas (logs, leaves, slabs or planks) for amphibians
  • Gravel of different sizes as habitat for invertebrates
  • Maybe a compost area to promote the creation of ones own soil improver/ mulch (reduce water evaporation) Or even just a bag of mulch ready for spreading…
  • Other containers to promote the value in collecting rain water
  • Drought tolerant plants – require less watering – also opportunity in literature to explain how to train new plants to set down deep roots to search for water rather than relying on mains irrigation.
  • Garden is mostly permeable and will absorb rainwater during periods of heavy rain – taking strain from storm water system.

There were a few minor amendments to make but Thames Water, London Wildlife Trust and the GLA were all happy with the design so we were on our marks to get the garden ready. The plan was to build a container to hold the garden but with minimal ‘fill’ to reduce weight on the heritage stones at Trafalgar Square as well as reduce cost, on site construction time and clean up time.  Minimum fill meant a series of shelves to hold the depth of the various features which would eventually be concealed to create the impression of an established garden.  It would essentially be a theatrical set.

The pre-construction went very well thankfully as we had to minimise the on site construction time due to only being allowed in Trafalgar Square to build the garden for 1 day.  I was in charge of sourcing plants, art works and other miscellaneous ‘furniture’ (sails, pots, water butt and so on) and Steve and Tom, the hard works team,  were in charge of the construction of the hard materials (deck, frame, beams, trellis).   It was not without it’s hiccups though – for example a curved deck is a very tricky and precise feature to create especially for such a high profile event, under time pressure and in constant torrential rain but Steve and Tom did a brilliant, beautiful job.  Also, the long grass that we sourced needed a bit of tender care and some additional plants brought into to prepare to plug into it on site.

I was particularly pleased with the art works I sourced.  There were the hand forged larger than life garden creatures by blacksmith Kevin Boys at Surrey Keys Farm and also the simply beautiful hand blown glass raindrops by artist Bruce Marks.  I nearly cried when I collected the drops as they were so stunning and simply perfect for the job.

The build day dawned, er, damp and grey and we loaded up two vans with all the precious cargo.  By now Kurt and Kasia, two of my trainees, were on board as well as Martin to help Steve and Tom and of course not forgetting Tom’s dad too who very kindly lent us his big van when our original big van supplier let us down (see above under not without hiccups)

Unloading the preconstructed deck is a delicate process


Part of the main frame with the National Gallery in the background

Part of the main frame with the National Gallery in the background



It’s all about location location location!


Long grass is down – just need planting up with wildflowers…


Ta Da! a (nearly) instant garden!


Ta Da! a (nearly) instant garden!


The fantastic team!