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Tree planting in urban environments – Francesco Ferrini at Barchams

Tree planting is a process that has evolved. It should perhaps be a simple process that involves a small amount of horticultural knowledge and enough strength to dig a moderate size hole. However, what we are seeing is that there are far more constraints that make planting trees in the urban environment a real challenge. If you look at the diagram below, you can see just how little room trees are left with in our urban environments. Because of this, trees planted in these environments are subject to more stress than trees planted in rural locations. A tree in an urban environment can have its roots squashed by cars, leaves covered in pollution, roots covered by hard standing, less available water, heat scorching and being pushed around by passers-by to name a few things. Therefore trees in the urban environment sometimes need a little more help to establish.


(reference , 2017)

Jayne and I attended an event at Barcham’s on the 22nd of February with presentations given by Francesco Ferrini (supported by Alessio Fini), an urban forestry expert. It was a very interesting day that presented a selection of the scientific experiments that Professor Ferrini and his team have conducted in roughly the past 10 years. To set the scene, the majority of experiments have been conducted in Florence, Italy. Many may think that because of this, the results are not applicable to areas of England, however the low rainfall, clay soils with little topsoil, short sharp downpours of rain and long periods of relatively high temperature are comparable to many areas in east Anglia and the south east of England. It must also be remembered that our climate is changing and we need to look at areas of the world that are warmer in order to inform our plant selections for the future.


(Barchams,, 2017)

In summary, here is a snapshot of some of the things we learned on the day which are the results of Professor Ferrini’s trials. (Please forgive me if I have noted any of the information down incorrectly):

· Root circling – a tree cannot recover from root circling if it develops spiralling roots early on in its life. Nursery stock that develop circling roots will continue to develop spiralling roots even if they are no longer bound i.e. planted in the ground (unless they are root pruned). Therefore it is important that initial nursery establishment of the plant avoids root spiralling of any kind as this will stay with the plant indefinitely (Ferrini, 2017).

· Mycorrhiza – Help to improve access to and storage of nutrients given the correct conditions in which to survive (this varies depending on mycorrhiza). Increase the ability of tree root branching which may help plants to perform better in drought conditions. It would appear that mycorrhiza specific to different tree species and different tree environments produced the best root growth. However, increasing presence of mycorrhiza may not enhance root establishment on all trees (Ferrini, 2017).

· Mulching with compost – Mulching trees with course compost gave better growing results compared to pine bark mulch. Weed growth was significantly reduced in years 1 and 2. Recommended not to use over 10cm depth of course compost mulch extended out to the extent of the tree canopy (Ferrini, 2017).

· Sealing soil on newly planted trees – Different growth rates are seen when identical trees have differing types of hard standing around their root zone. The experiment sampled the effect of no hard standing, porous pavement, permeable pavement and impermeable hard surfacing. Growth rates were lower when a tree is surrounded by impermeable hard surfacing and least impaired with no hard standing around them. Porous and permeable paving surrounding trees showed tree growth rates only slightly lower than no hard standing but growth is expected to reduce in successive years. Permeable paving has an 83% reduction in ability to pass water as it gets filled with detritus (Ferrini, 2017).

From this contemporary research, Jayne and I have increased our knowledge of tree planting and what trees need in order to grow well. Our tree planting proposals at Liz Lake Associates have always been important to the company and are regularly updated to incorporate the most recent scientific knowledge we find and are adjusted to suit the environment in which the tree will be planted. This can sometimes be challenging but we understand that trees are crucial to the urban environment and we will do what we possibly can to ensure that trees don’t just survive, but thrive.

Revisiting Swiss Garden

In the final days of 2016 I visited Swiss Garden for the first time since 2012. I was a part of the design team that helped to restore the Regency garden back to its intended historical design and spent a good year of my career analysing the history of the garden and putting forward proposals that were historically accurate.


The project has always had a place in my heart as it was the first major project that I was a part of as a landscape architect. The garden has a magic about it too. It was designed in such a way that you could quite easily get lost, with every turn you take helping you to discover another section of the garden.




What I find unusual about this garden is its composition. The garden was never intended to be a collection of flowers to please the eye. Instead the garden was designed using six key elements: mounding, water, evergreen vegetation, lawn, path and ornamentation. Lord Ongley wanted the garden to have the feel of a Swiss landscape (hence the name of the garden), but in particular wanted his guests to feel transported to the foothills of the Swiss Alps. For more history on the garden click here:


The garden is created, it is thought, to be viewed in the form of a journey with vistas opening up that are framed by carefully placed mounding, evergreen vegetation and water. None of the vistas direct your attention to points of interest outside the boundary of the garden and all views are inward-looking. I think that this contributes to the fairy-tale feel of the space, as mentioned by a guest to the garden in 1832. Many historic landscape designs encapsulate long distance views to ‘borrowed landscape’ but here, even the country mansion has been blocked from view.




By following the intended historical route around the garden, every folly or ornament will be seen up close. Your first sight of many of the large follies will often be a long distance framed view across a lawn or pond. The landscape discourages you from walking directly to the points of interest, teasing you with long distance views first and then distracting you with ornamentation that is close by, thus leading you around the path. In Lord Ongley’s day, the Swiss Cottage would have been the dominant feature of the landscape and commands views from 3 directions. Arguably the best feature in the garden, the Grotto, is in the centre of the garden but is hidden behind moulding and vegetation. Only its protruding glass cupola can be glimpsed through gaps in the vegetation as you walk around. The delight of entering the Grotto is reserved as one of the final surprises the garden gifts to you. This really is a garden designed for entertainment.


When you take a long look at the design itself, it is a stroke of genius. Ornamentation is key to the success of the design and makes your journey worthwhile and special. You can see in the adjacent plan that 4 features (Duck island, Aviary, Night and Morning vase and Swiss Cottage) are arranged in a near perfect diamond shape that works around the long established Oak trees. Mounding and/or vegetation has been added between where there would be diagonal viewpoints. However, between opposite points a view is established over flat ground and is often framed by metal archways or carefully placed trees.




The paths meander through these points of interest and you will notice that as you follow the path, you are treated to a long distance view and then subsequently a view of a feature up close. The plan below shows some of the key views in the garden. You will notice that there are views to the west and the east of the Swiss Cottage and up to the terrace. Similarly there are views that link the glass cupola of the Grotto, the Indian Kiosk and the Overlook. Vistas link the garden together and make you want to find the next jewel the garden has to offer.




No original plans of the garden have ever been found, so we cannot say if this was all intentional or if there are any elements that are missing from the space. We know that there are elements that were added later in the garden’s history by Joseph Shuttleworth and subsequent to this, but we cannot know exactly what Lord Ongley’s Regency garden design was like or if the previously mentioned features were brought together on paper or directly proposed on site between 1824 and 1832. I would have taken considerable work and vision to be able to create this large and complex garden in only 8 years. Even Alan Titchmarsh would struggle with that…




I must admit, it was lovely to visit the garden again and to see that the restoration has been a success. 26,000 plants have been planted to restructure the shrubberies and a number of overgrown or diseased trees have been felled. But most importantly, the garden is in safe hands and has been restored by the people that know the garden best. Kevin Hilditch and his team know the modern day challenges of the garden as well as the depth of history that makes the garden what it is today. As such, the management of the garden is structured over a long timescale and takes into account the mounding, water, evergreen vegetation, lawn, path and ornamentation to ensure that anticipated views are correct and remain open. Some big decisions had to be made during the time that the garden was closed for refurbishment, but all decisions have been made to ensure the history of this, the best preserved Regency style garden in the UK, is structured as it was intended, as a playful space designed for entertainment, enthrallment and enchantment.

Play for All – Accessible Play Areas

During my undergraduate degree I was given the opportunity to choose any topic I liked to study for my dissertation. I researched a few different topics, but ultimately there was one area in which I am passionate about. Play. In particular accessible play, or play for all. The passion for improving the lives of both adults and children with disabilities first arose when I worked two different Special Educational Needs (SEN) Schools in Chelmsford. There was a particular focus on getting the children to play outside and promoting interaction between the pupils. It is a well document fact that social skills are developed through interaction, and play is a positive and effective way to increase this knowledge.

Disability Discrimination Act:

The Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) was first established in 1996 but was fully enforced in October 2004, it states that provisions had to be made to allow for equal opportunities for people with disabilities. The act means that it is now illegal for any disabled person to be treated in an inferior manor to those who are non-disabled. It is important to mention that the act does not mean that all play areas must be accessible, but they should take measures to ensure it is suitable for the use of disabled children. In 2004 I was 10 and too young to understand or in fact know anything about the DDA. However I vividly remember seeing new, larger swings that looked like car-seats complete with safety straps pop up in many of the play areas I was visiting as a child.


Why is play so important?

I think in today’s society the act of play is taken for granted. Play teaches children what risks are acceptable and what risks are not – ok there are bumps and bruises along the way but they have learnt something. Play encourages the vital skills and knowledge needed for a child’s physical and emotional development. It doesn’t matter what ability or disability you may have, you the right to be able to develop these skills. It is sad to say that there are a number of children with disabilities who are not able to develop these skills in a playground the way a non-disabled child is able to. Playgrounds should be promoting interaction between all children and not creating a segregated way of playing. It should not be forgotten that the rate children develop at is never the same, everyone develops at different stages. Just because some children sadly may never develop to maturity it doesn’t mean that they are not entitled to the same opportunities as everyone else. As difficult as it may be for non-disabled children to understand why a disabled child may not be able to do certain activities, it is heart-warming to see that they will always try and find a way to include everyone. Just think of how many videos have gone viral in 2016 of school races where groups of non-disabled children would hold back and encourage a child with a disability. Now why do many play areas not promote accessibility and inclusion?


What is inclusion in play or accessible play?

Inclusive play does not mean that the play area has to be mundane or boring; it purely means that you have to consider elements for all abilities. A child with a severe disability still has some level of ability, they are still able to experience fun, risk and play just as much as a child who is not disabled. It is wrong to assume that a child with a disability needs protecting from perceived risks more than children without disabilities.


How do you make a play area accessible?

Play areas should cater for all abilities and disabilities. As designers we should not forget that there are all shapes and forms of ability and disability, including learning, emotional and behavioural difficulties, visual and audible impairments, as well as mental and physical disabilities. It should also be remembered that a person can have more than one disability. Due to the large variety of disabilities it is near impossible to design a play area which caters for all abilities and that is fully inclusive. It is important for a child’s self-esteem not to make it obvious that a piece of equipment has been designed specifically for inclusive purposes, the child does not want to stand out as being ‘different’.


What makes a play area and makes it accessible?

ROSPA have identified 10 basic types of activities for child’s play. These are;

  • Swinging
  • Rocking
  • Rotating
  • Climbing / Crawling
  • Balancing
  • Sliding
  • Pretending / Role Playing
  • Training
  • Experimenting
  • Gathering
The above activities are aimed to be included in all play areas, children will naturally experiment with different ways to find a solution to a perceived problem, just as much as they will use role playing in play without many prompts from supervising adults, naturally training and gathering will be a part of this role playing. It is the other items listed that designers should be building into the play areas. It is not always possible to include all of these 10 activities, or to make all 10 fully accessible to all levels. From my point of view accessible design is about creating an environment which aims to design out segregation in play areas and creating a play area that challenges every level of ability. For the most severe disabilities sensory points around the play area may be the most inclusive way of allowing the children to interact.


Hylands Park in Chelmsford is a great example of how a non-inclusive play area has recently been converted into a highly inclusive play area. Wide, long ramps allow for wheelchair users to access high points they might not have been able to access previously. It creates that sense of fear and risk which would have been harder for them to experience. Having seen this play area in use a number of times it is very effective and fully inclusive, able-bodied children race round the ramp system, stopping at sensory points to explore how they work. For more detail see here:

From my point of view accessible design is about creating an environment which aims to design out segregation in play areas and creating a play area that challenges every level of ability.


LLA have worked on a number of accessible play areas. This is a plan of a recent play area we have worked on.