Hanging Low and Pimping Bus Stops

One of the greatest gardens in the world was built for a concubine.

A Babylonian priest, a couple of Greek historians, Greek Geographer Strabo and Greek engineer Philo of Byzantium all wrote witness accounts of the place.

The gardens were ordered constructed by Nebuchadnezzar II, to please his wife who was awfully homesick. She longed for the lush green mountains of home.

“…Being a Persian by race and longing for the meadows of her mountains,” writes Greek historian Diodorus Siculus, using the old accounts of a far earlier recount; ” [she] asked the king to imitate, through the artifice of a planted garden, the distinctive landscape of Persia”.

These gardens were made for love, poetry in garden form.

They were raised up on great high stone pillars, and ascended in tiers, each planted with great trees and plants so that it hung down to enchant those strolling along the raised paths.

When all was said and done, this was a garden an insanely rich lovesick husband might design. Siculus says it is a lush garden but also has a fair dose of theatre about it. None of the accounts tell us what they planted. We are left to marvel at Nebuchadnezzar’s amorous derringdo, with no hint of what actually hung there.

To a gardener – even a dormant one such as myself – the plants are the thing, with which to catch the concubine of a King.

Archaeologists have found no evidence the gardens ever existed. Which is strange. And Herodotus, the most contemporary writer to their time, makes no mention of it in his histories.

So some speculate this was just a grand story, an invention. A poetic device, fifty cubits high in a King’s imagination.

I wonder.

The grand gardening gesture is part and parcel of gardening: great Italian rococo affairs with outrageous fountains, or Capability Brown moving whole hills to alter the landscape. I’ve visited privileged garden after privileged garden. It’s all power play.

But the big stuff comes a poor second to one beautiful flower, a surprise on a Summer’s morning.

I love Cornish walls, for in that wet warm climate every crevice is filled with something beautiful. I have tried to bring the wild flowers north with no success. They are happy there, on their perch on damp stone, nodding at the fishing boats in the bay.

Like mermaids, they fade and wither, away from their native land. At school we have been putting seeds in a jam jar with a wet tissue. They sat unmoving for a day or two: and then sent up tiny shoots which delighted my streetwise, edgy charges. The hardest shell is pierced by such small signs.

And ask any gardener what are the most precious moments of the pastime and they will tell you about walking, in the early morning, around a beloved patch of earth, being greeted by new shoots, or buds, or flowers, or fruit.

The new stuff; the surprise plants in unexpected places: it all comes together this Summer,  in the most glorious movement around our capital city. It’s called “Pimp Your Pavement.”

This is what you do: find somewhere ugly, and plant things which will grow there.

It’s not the grand gesture of the ornamental garden: rather, it is the Cornish wall act of finding a crevice, or a patch of concrete, and sowing something beautiful, just for the sheer joy of it.

It is one of the mainstays of the very first Chelsea Flower Show Fringe Festival. All round London PYP plantings are happening. They are not targeting whole gardens but barren patches of pavement, the lost crevices of urban life everyone looks past.

It’s edgy. It’s beautiful. It’s almost irresistible.  Take a look.

Its values are bursting out all over, and BBC’s Farming Today programme of May 23rd featured Writtal College’s stand, which bucks the posh Chelsea trend by making veg containers out of old doors.

Compost, says PYP, compost and seeds: they rock our world. Writtle Lecturer Simon Watkins told FT’s reporter: “Anyone who wants to transform their community can get involved. In community gardening you’re getting people who literally are guerilla gardening and pimping bus stops, turning up in the middle of the night with a bag of compost and some plants, and doing things like filling the ash trays up and putting plants in them instead, encouraging people to be much more healthy.”

The planstmen and women are taking over the urban landscape. We know what will survive where: we’re gathering the right flowers and veg: and then, beware. No bus stop, no concrete crevice is safe.

It’s time for urbanites to green up.


41 thoughts on “Hanging Low and Pimping Bus Stops

  1. oooh, Green OccupyMovement!

    What a delightful idea. We need more and more green in our cities.

    Its winter so going out to look for shoots is somewhat less rewarding over here at present

  2. Firstly, I hope Nebuchadnezzar II’s garden did exist.
    Secondly, PYP idea. And it’s great that people are really rolling with it.
    Finally, wishing you much success with your charges seeds.

    1. I hope the garden did exist, too, Sarsm. I expect the concubine was very happy walking its raised paths. I know – PYP is such a perfect idea: start small, plant plants in crevices and look after them. The results are gorgeous too…and thanks for your wellwishes for my seed-gardeners: their joy seems so great because one dry seed jumped into life!

      1. I can imagine. Such moments really make an impact on a child. I still remember watching my first seed grow with my teacher (I went on to kill it – oops). Then I remember hearing my own children joyfully talk growing seeds in school. An important moment in education.

  3. I live on daily fear that my neighbour who controls the purse strings for our garden will oik very plant from between the paving stones and line everything up in straight lines.

  4. I’ve been aware of this type of greening and beautification project (http://nativeplantwildlifegarden.com/reviving-abandoned-lots-with-urban-agriculture-and-wildlife-gardens/) for a number of years. Then, reading here this morning led me to another new concept–public food forests (http://grist.org/urban-agriculture/into-the-woods-seattle-plants-a-public-food-forest/). Both of these ideas are wonderful, but possibly beyond the pocketbook of everyman; PYP seems something to which even the least of us could contribute, if only a small spot at our own curbside. Thanks!

  5. Dear Kate – for some strange reason I cannot read this post only the comments which is rather frustrating. I wonder what I am doing wrong?

      1. Thanks Kate – I think possibly Diarmuid Gavin’s tower garden at Chelsea this year must come a close second to the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. I have always hoped that they were real, and one day archeologists would find their remains. I have tried to replicate nature in our drystone walls, but usually without success. I like the idea of “Pimp Your Pavement”.

  6. It has been one of my dreams in life to attend the Chelsea Flower Show. The closest I’ve ever come was the remains of the tea in its honor at the Connaught Hotel.

    Whether Neb II’s garden was real or myth, it has certainly inspired people through the ages, imagining what it must’ve been like and planting what they could to create their own worlds of wonder. Right now, the most I can do is coax my violets to bloom. 🙂

    1. I know what you mean, Andra. My garden is a disgrace, it’s going to take a little attention to that before we embark on the pavement outside…. hope the violets bloom beautifully for you 🙂

  7. Of course Nebuchadnezzar’s garden existed. I’ve been believing in it for half a century. It must be so, and Pimp Your Pavement is a splendid movement! Love it. As you may know, I love volunteers; the kind that clean up litter and the kind that grow between the rocks and stones and are of a greenish nature. Right now, ferns are blocking my garden path – and I’m leaving them right there they be!

      1. Several years ago the south end of our town was flooded, houses had to be removed and no new building permits will not be issued for that area. A couple who lived near (whose own house was flooded but deemed repairable) started the idea of community gardens in that area. People sign up for a plot (a small fee if they can afford it,I think it is waived if they cannot). It is interesting to drive by and see what everyone has planted. Certainly much better than looking at weedy empty lots! More and more plots are planted every year.

  8. Of all my plant friends, it is usually the lone ones pushing through pavement that I love the most.

    Lovely new design, Kate. Although it actually may not be all that new. Who knows? Maybe I’ll even make the blogroll someday… ¦-)

    (Yeah. Been a while since you’ve heard from the guy with no cooth, I know…)

    1. Thanks Brett. Needed a change. And yes, it’s been a while! Only FB updates to catch up on how you are doing! Does this mean there is another post? I hope so…. off to investigate…

  9. I dearly love those grand-scale gardens, I must admit. The vistas, the planting, the follies, are sheer delight from Blenheim to Stourhead, and even Mottisfont, are sheer delight. And I don’t want my ashtrays converted to planters, thank you very much!
    I am greatly in favour of greening urban areas, though. Not, however, to the extent we are getting it -with weeds springing up in the middle of neglected suburban roads!

    1. I wondered when someone would raise the conversion of ashtrays question. Seems a bit cheeky to me: but what a quote! Who could resist that, Col! Love all the aforementioned gardens but still adore the little tiny ones, window-box delights down narrow London alleys and suchlike 🙂

  10. I choose to believe they were there, the hanging gardens. And I love the idea of guerrilla gardening in urban spaces. Perhaps therein lies the antithesis to the pos-tapocalyptic vision of an empty city reclaimed by nature. We invite nature back in while we are still able and grow more beautiful together?

  11. I prefer gazing on a few gorgeous blooms to vast expanses of formal gardens, so PYP appeals to me. Thanks, Kate!

    We have a “volunteer” marigold at the moment. It is enormous. The largest marigold plant I’ve ever “owned” . . . with at least 20 orange and yellow blossoms. And it’s blooming where it planted itself. 😀

  12. I spent some time with the links, Kate, and really enjoyed! What a wonderful effort. It’s such a creative plan and a delightful way to incorporate civic engagement with beautifying the landscape! I so endorse! Debra

    1. It’s very exciting, isn’t it, Debra…there’s nothing illegal about planting something beautiful or useful: so gardeners can take the law into their own hands. It makes me wonder what miracles must be achieved by making gardens in the midst of housing projects at the lowest end of the socio-economic scale: it’s good for the wallet, and for the soul…

  13. This is such a fabulous idea, Kate – we have a TV program here called ‘Gueriila Gardeners’ where a team goes out and transforms a crummy urban space into a garden (without consent from councils etc) – it’s compelling viewing.
    PS – this link at ‘Take a Look’ is broken.

  14. this is such an appealing idea!
    In our little close we have joint responsibility for a samll green with a flower bed and two trees. I have had great fun adding things to it,

    surreptitiously on my turns, so we now have lavender around tree, with a curry plants and a rosemary bush….

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