First, let me make
the distinction between ‘big’ contractor and third party supplied
planters and little planters, often made by individuals and small
Hated is probably
too strong a word, they have their place, but their place is not
‘everywhere’. Let’s list some of the reasons and then dig in, where
necessary, to each one in turn, they are:
obstructive for disabled
So let’s go.
As far as we can
understand the big planters are in the region of £1500 each. I’m not
sure whether that includes earth, mulch and delivery to site or not?
That will buy a couple of mature fig trees (good shade but
they like water), tens of various kinds of saplings or bushes.
They also, judging
by the ones on our streets, don’t last very well, so maintenance or
replacement will probably be required at between 5-10 years.
Require constant maintenance
This is not
always true, if we choose plants and herbs that don’t require
much watering, lavender, mint, rosemary for example. Unhappily,
because of tokenism (see next), appearances etc. there’s temptation
to choose something pretty and annuals. Bloomin’ Forest Gate, the
mini version of Newham in Flower (or whatever we call it now?) is an
example. Calendula still busy drying out and dying, here and there
round where I live.
Recently I’ve met
and talked with a subcontractor circulating with a large water tank
mounted on a van, watering some of the large planters. So this point
Also, of course,
some of the structures themselves are beginning to split and show
Oh look! We’ve done something with plants, it must be green,
mustn’t it? Incidentally, I can accept a certain amount of argument
about mental health and brightening up, but that can be done without
this expensive tokenism.
So often/usually plantered (sic) plants do not contribute to air
quality, removing pollution, are small (of necessity, see next
Species Limited) and arguments about shade. The most egregious Forest
Gate site, so far (though I should make a hit parade) is Kuhn Way,
school entrance with its small pretty flowers. Also featuring a few
sycamores (as if there weren’t enough in FG already?) in flexi-pave
or on the carbon positive (probably) ‘amenity deck’ in planters.
A planter is, unlike bare earth, is finite. So the size of roots
and root balls is always limited. Nothing big, shady, substantially
pollution negative or particularly fruitful can grow in a planter.
Such as a decent sized ‘tree’ for example.
However, in Amsterdam, here is an example of dwarf fruit trees and
(a polite notice about taking fruit) at a station entrance. Really
nice, but really unambitious.
Does Not Provide Shade
Since anything and everything in a planter is ‘small’, this type
of planting is not providing the sustained shade that will be useful
as the planet warms up. Research gives 2-3 degrees of reduction
Worse, without fairly regular watering, ill-considered planting is
likely to shrivel and therefore need replacement. Lavender and the
herbs that will survive do not need ‘big’ planters either, so there’s
a certain illogicality about all this.
Obstructive for Disabled
I’m not sure how much of a problem this is, but it’s mentioned in
academic discussions. The profile, positioning and bulk of these
create an obstacle to bump into.
ASB and Litter Magnets
Admittedly litter is a pervasive Newham problem, so one
shouldn’t pick on the planters. However, we have two or three at the
edges of ‘our’ LTN and they are constant recipients of cans, bottles
and cigarette butts.
In some cases they serve as late-night convenient level bar tops
as well, resulting in loud conversations in the early morning. This
last can probably be fixed by making the top edge an angle, rather
Maintain the Heat Island
Planters leave paving or (worse) tarmac in place. So part of the
storage heater for the city heat island is maintained. There’s a
slight improvement because there’s no direct sunlight, but removing
paving (and especially tarmac, since it’s more or less a black body)
is a great deal better. It may even provide a little carbon
One of the measurements that I believe to be useful is square area
of paving and tarmac removed, each year. We can invent a factor for
tarmac since it’s a great deal worse. It’ll melt soon anyway.
The good is the
enemy of the best, but these aren’t even particularly ‘good’.
Especially if you believe, as I do, that every decision and
micro-decision should have a climate component.