Every time I make my way down Broadway I thank the people who live in Central Park for their generosity. Their eye-watering strata fees help pay for the maintenance of one of the city’s most exciting gardens.It’s a vertiginous cliff face aswirl with colour and texture. It embraces a tension of fragility and strength, looking in need of nurturing while at the same time seeming robustly oblivious to human concerns. It looks as ancient as a rainforest, and as modern as tomorrow and it makes pedestrians and those caught in the awful bus-shuffle of Broadway look up for a minute and smile.
At 150m the vertical gardens at Central Park are the tallest designed by world-leader in the form, Patrick Blanc. Four full-time gardeners work across its expanses in the winter, supplemented by another pair as soon as the weather warms up and spring growth takes off. The work is continuous. “It’s like painting the Harbour Bridge,” says Jock Gammon, whose company, Junglefy, has the maintenance contract. “As soon as you finish it’s time to start again.”
Gardening on the vertical involves the same kinds of jobs that anyone’s backyard demands, plus a few extras required by the hydroponics-based watering and fertilising system. Plants need to be pruned, climbers tied into their supports, pests and diseases identified early, and rubbish collected. Many of us complete these kinds of garden tasks with tools and a bucket. At Central Park the gardeners and the tools are in the bucket, specifically a three-metre wide Building Maintenance Unit, like those used by window cleaners. Most of the gardens are accessible by the BMUs, and those bits that aren’t are gardened by horticulturists on ropes.
A year in, of the 350 different species planted on the walls only a few have failed to respond to the conditions, a tribute to the testing that went on in the St Peters wind tunnel before the garden was installed. “A zamia species didn’t make it and a tibouchina was a wholesale failure,” says Gammon, “but everything else is flourishing up there.”
Also flourishing is the city’s attitude to green walls and rooves. Lucy Sharman is the City of Sydney’s green roof and wall project officer. While she says that a Central Park effect is impossible to measure, she believes the scale and beauty of the project have stretched the boundaries of what is now imagined. On average the council receives a DA each week for new green wall and roof projects. It’s good news for Gammon, who says the Central Park gardens have inspired followers. “The naysayers out there were waiting for things to go wrong, and it’s a living wall, it will go through cycles, but it has opened people’s eyes up to what can be done.” Central Park is only the beginning of an increasingly gardened city.
On October 30 Tim Jackson, from the Friends of the Botanic Gardens Sydney is leading a tour of the gardens of Central Park with Darren Mason of Andreasons Green,the company which managed the supply of plants for the project. The walk starts at 10am, and the cost is $20 for members and 25 for non-members. More details here.