The Greenwood Theatre has taken on a new presence, thanks to the latest Pocket Park in Weston Street, London SE1. First-time visitors no longer walk past and have to retrace their steps to find what was a dull brown building with no distinguishing features.
The Pocket Park, wrapped around two sides of the theatre - which is used for lectures for King's College, London students during the day and for performances at night - replaces drab strips of tarmac and is the result of a design collaboration between fashion guru Dame Zandra Rhodes and garden designer Joe Swift.
Rhodes' influence hits you in the eye. Renowned for her colourful clothes and hair, she chose the pink, yellowy-orange and blue for the walls. She painted Swift into a corner, so to speak, on planting. "I've often painted walls," he said. "It's an economical way of changing mood and feel in a garden, but here would probably just have painted it magnolia. The colour completely influenced the plant choices."
To match Rhodes' vivid colours, he's chosen strongly coloured and architectural plants. Currently, red-and-yellow tulips fill the beds, magenta still shows on fleshy bergenias, and perennial wallflowers have just begun blooming in their strong mauve.
Scent will also be important, especially in winter when powerful colour will be replaced by powerful scents like jasmine. "I had a lot of scope to get in a lot of interest throughout the year," said Swift. "The idea is to be a full experience. The most important thing is it's outward-looking, increasing people's engagement with horticulture. In London, there's so much opportunity to get green space into works but you want quality horticulture where people can see someone's designed some plants and put plants together quite interestingly."
Balancing the powerful scents and colours, Swift produced what he describes as a "very neutral layout". The raised beds are rendered in pale grey, topped with a matching steel angle. Not only offering a foil to the bright tones, this allows planting right up to the edge of the beds and positively discourages anyone from sitting anywhere but on the wooden seats incorporated in the recesses that punctuate the planting.
Swift gave height, not only with unusual shrubs such as pomegranite, but by adding steel frames that arch over the beds, connecting the garden to the building and creating shadows and a strong profile in keeping with the architecture. It's a design that will continue to develop as climbers clothe the walls and make it, as Swift says, "quite jungly".
The Pocket Park proffered a new experience for Swift, who hasn't collaborated with anyone before on a design and who avers that he "doesn't do committees". Committees remained off the agenda but he would certainly consider collaboration again. "It's important to know which bit you're doing and which roles. And for people to let me do what I want within what I feel confident with. I really enjoyed it," he said.
The project was the brainchild of Cityscapes, a not-for-profit limited company that aims to inject a cross-disciplinary approach into design. What with Richard Roger's colour-coded design for the Cancer Care Centre opening at Guy's Hospital in 2016, just down the road from the theatre, and the orangey and pink Fashion and Textile Museum (founded by Rhodes), in nearby Bermondsey Street, this area is fast becoming the Colour Quarter and it's no wonder that Rhodes was considered a perfect choice for the collaboration.
The park sits along what will be an important approach to the new London Bridge Station and transforms the junction of Weston Street and Snowsfields, helping to make a connection across the SE1 area from the station to Bermondsey to the east. Joint funding from Network Rail, King's College, London (on whose land it sits), the Mayor of London's Pocket Parks Programme and Team London Bridge (the local Business Improvement District) furnished the £260,000 cost. Team London Bridge continues to support the teams who maintain the beds from Putting Down Roots, a horticultural training programme run by nearby St Mungo's, a charity for the homeless and those at risk.
Greenwood Theatre Manager, Catherine Sharman loves the new exterior. The garden has gradually become part of the community since the walls were finished last November. Children from the neighbouring Snowsfield Primary School planted the tulip bulbs that are now so colourful and workmen are taking the opportunity for a sit-down in the their tea breaks. Students, after recent revision classes, flooded out to sit and enjoy the good weather. "Often," says Sharman ruefully, "I can't get a seat myself!"