The smile that melted a mayor Posted on February 28, 2015

Can you think of a sillier place for a garden than the middle of the Thames? Well, yes; perhaps the middle of the Channel. And that’s only horticultural speaking. Airports, Boris, by all means, but if you have a yen for putting things in mid-Thames, why on earth a garden? What need or question does this project answer – except the murmured ‘Will you?’ of a famous actress?

The Garden Bridge project could not have been proposed by a gardener. A long narrow strip of garden perpetually exposed to all the winds, with a limited depth of soil, and the need for constant irrigation, has little prospect of happy plants. Of tall and flourishing trees, I suggest, none.

Being planned as a popular spectacle the planting would have to be colourful – which inevitably means exotic. The computer-made prospectus shows something not unlike the Chelsea Flower Show crossed with a right of way: which wouldn’t work at Chelsea. But is it a right of way? Apparently not – which puts its status as a useful bridge in doubt.

What is its purpose? To add to the tourist attractions that make, for example, Bridge Street at Parliament Square a squalid jam of people and pushchairs and cameras. Picture the steps up to the Garden Bridge lined with hotdog and postcard stands. Picture the squads of Chinese tourists we must apparently encourage if London is to prosper. And shudder.

The bridge is proposed to join the Temple to the South Bank. The Temple is the only serene space on the embankment (ironically the site of the RHS Great Spring Show before the First World War). The South Bank is already a tourist circus. In a successful city, presumably, serene spaces are just unmarketed opportunities.

What is worst, though, is the impact of the bridge on London’s greatest view, the one Wordsworth celebrated: the great grey tideway itself. Nothing is more elemental and nothing more urban than the Thames passing between its embankments and foreshores and under the monumental bridges between Westminster and Tower Bridge, and the ceaseless water traffic using it. To interrupt it with a line of greenery would be like putting window boxes on St Paul’s.

Meanwhile the budget of Kew Gardens has been cut so deep that fifty botanists have been ‘let go’. If there are millions to spend on gardening the actress and the mayor must not be allowed to waste it.

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