Stable Bar

The Car Park

You might not think of a car park as a kind of garden, but we do!

When we took on the pub, the large car park was a dusty and featureless space, so we quickly placed a few barrel planters and some rather nice lights to enhance it a little, but this was not really enough. We realised it would take an enormous budget to upgrade the space even a little, as large numbers of containers, topsoil and plants would all be needed to do it.

Then Karen Guthrie (Grizedale Arts’ Head Gardener at Lawson Park) remembered the work of John Little, a rogue horticulturalist who had been championing low cost, insect friendly gardening for years, often using soil-free habitats to make beautiful green spaces with just seed. Having visited his private garden in Essex over a decade ago, she got back in touch and John was enthusiastic to advise on our car park and how it could be enhanced with an innovative and attractive ‘soil-free’ garden. Whilst this would primarily help define parking zones and make the car park more attractive, Karen’s idea was to make a temporary, experimental garden using low carbon footprint local materials and seed only. This means no compost, no topsoil, no plastic pots, no raised beds, no building materials and no haulage costs. But it does mean much patience and time, and – arguably – a new way of thinking about what a garden really is.

After a few successful tests using seeds and locally-available gravels, Karen curated a selection of fifty plant varieties that would be worth trying to grow in this trial project: She had grown many from seed at Lawson Park successfully already; some species originated in comparable climates; some came recommended by John or other horticulturalists working in this growing field of interest. All of the plant species chosen are tough survivors, expected to self seed or endure a winter to re-emerge in spring. Yet — importantly — they’re very unlikely to colonise any area of the wider landscape as unwelcome weeds: They are selected for their capacity to survive in gravel, without nutrient and water-rich soil, and so almost all are unsuited to growing in the regular conditions of our other gardened or wild areas.

John Little made a research trip to us in April, and joined by Karen and our gardener Grace Holland, the team explored local limestone landscapes and wild flora and fauna for inspiration.

In early June, having just received funding to support the project, we raced to have 10 tons each of local limestone gravel (MOT as it’s called) and slate chippings (pipe bedding — a very small grade) delivered in two piles in the car park (we would have liked more, but budget did not allow it). These were raked lightly into undulating shapes, and several jars pushed in here and there to provide water and shelter for insects and invertebrates. Then a selection of seeds was mixed and sparingly hand sown onto the piles (at a rate of 2g per square metre) and watered in well. And watered… and watered (remember that drought?!). Slowly, seedlings are emerging, and we expect that as the years pass, the colour will only get better. However, as it’s an experiment, anything could happen: Most soil-less garden trials have taken place in the south of England, not in the wet and windy Lake District.

The Ungarden (as Karen has called it) will run for two seasons (2023 & 2024) and will be cared for and monitored by Karen and Grace. Fastidious identification and weeding of blown-in species will be needed as well as some sprucing up as winter impacts upon what is mainly herbaceous planting (i.e many will vanish over winter). There’s certainly be a lot of note taking along the way so that we can share the results of this exciting trial.

The Car Park also features a steep bank of wildflower meadow close to the bar entrance, which we have topped with a new native hedgerow on the roadside. We also restored the damaged dry stone wall with a group of walling students. We’ve added native daffodils and wildflower plugs to the grass, and continue to improve this lovely small meadow.

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