Love Square will be a beautiful year-round city nature garden, full of flowers that will bring joy to people and create an abundance of nectar and pollen for our essential bees and butterflies and other pollinating insects, as well as seeds and food for birds in the hungry months of the year. An inspiring and uplifting place for people to meet and relax. And there will be great coffee at the café!
This is only the starting point for all the benefits that Love Square will bring. Love Square will feature a proper ‘Rain Garden’ and mini wetland that will soak up excess rainwater after a storm or downpour. It will be a perfect example of ‘Water-Sensitive Urban Design’: using the landscape to help solve what is going to be one of the great challenges of the future with our unpredictable and ever-more extreme climate: urban flooding and flash floods.
It is highly relevant that a rain garden is planned for this part of Sheffield. In June 2007, the whole of the surrounding Riverside District of Sheffield suffered catastrophic flooding as a result of several days of torrential rain and the resulting excess runoff filling up the River Don to bursting point. Indeed, many surrounding buildings were flooded out, with severe economic damages to business and the local economy. As is becoming generally accepted, one of the main factors contributing to the increased severity of urban flooding is the dominance by hard surfaces in typical built developments – roads, pavements, car parks and rooftops. All of these shed water during storms, and often there is nowhere for that water to go, or there is too much of it for the drainage system to cope.
The only sustainable answer to this problem is to increase the amount of greening in cities, and to maximize the areas of soils and vegetation, so that the natural processes of capturing rainwater and allowing it back slowly into the soil, reducing both the amount of stormwater runoff, and the rate at which it flows.
That’s the idea of a rain garden: a place where the extra rainwater in a storm can collect temporarily and slowly go back down into the soil, rather than it contributing to more and more flooding. It’s a bit like having a mini-wetland that can fill up with water in a storm, but then empty out again, so that most of the time it is like a normal garden. Rain gardens can be very beautiful things, full of plants that typically like to grow in moister ground. We have so many fantastic native wildflowers that are perfect for rain gardens.
A small corner of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, London, with plantings designed by Nigel Dunnett. The cafe is thriving and is surrounded by wildflowers. At the front is a mini-wetland and rain garden that soaks up all the rainwater running off the paths and the roof of the cafe. It is filled with the beautiful native Yellow Flag Iris. Nigel Dunnett’s ideas for Love Square are very similar, although it will look different.
A rain garden is a simple thing to make – it is a saucer-shaped depression or basin that can collect rainwater, and therefore it needs to be somewhere where rainwater will run into it. Because they can fill up temporarily with water (a bit like a puddle) they can have stepping stones through them, decks, boardwalks, small bridges, and boulders, and are great play features.
A section through the rain garden area in Love Square, with stepping stones and bridges
The location of the Love Square rain garden (taken from the Love Square plan)
We are going to have to use rain gardens and other water-sensitive design techniques more and more as the only sensible way to combat the challenges of climate change in cities. Our public parks and gardens have to become the places where we manage rainwater. And we have to change the way we design and manage our streets and car parks and other hard areas. This is why Sheffield’s grey to green project is such a visionary and inspirational scheme (see a previous blog post).
Love Square will be everything that a new city public garden or park should be. A great resource and place for people. A real asset to an area,that will encourage more people to come to it and be the catalyst for new economic activity and businesses. A place rich in nature, supporting pollinating insects and a wide range of other wildlife. And a place that helps us to make our cities resilient in the face of our changing and unpredictable climate.
Love Square will be an inspirational and leading example of how we must approach all of our open and green spaces in the future. Beautifully and stylishly designed and offering a multitude of benefits and functions. Great for people, great for nature, and great for the city environment.
Find out more about Nigel Dunnett’s Rain Garden projects at http://www.nigeldunnett.info/Raingardens/
Here are some images from Nigel Dunnett’s Rain Garden at The London Wetland Centre, with natural play areas, boardwalks and beautiful plantings