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Welwyn Garden City
In Step with Landscaping
A Report on the Landscaping by the
Author: J. E. McComb (foreword), Louis de Soissons, Lionel Brett
First published: August 1955 by the Welwyn Garden City and Hatfield Development Corporations
7¼" by 5" with 30 pages of text plus 22 black-and-white
IN STEP . . . WITH LANDSCAPING
Under a paragraph heading 'The Architect and Street Trees' the reader will see the administrative machinery which brings about the evolution and execution of landscaping in the new towns of Hatfield and Welwyn Garden City. The reader will note the responsibility imposed upon the consultant planner and with that responsibility there must go credit or blame. Landscaping is slow to mature and thus, whilst Hatfield has not yet had time to mature, the older parts of Welwyn Garden City are beginning to reveal that credit due to Mr. de Soissons who has been the town's consultant planner since its inception.
In writing a foreword to this further publication in the 'In Step with. . .' series, I am conscious that both consultant planners would wish to identify Mr. Malcolm Sefton, N.D.H., the landscape architect, as one man to whom a very large share of the credit is due. Whilst not suggesting that architects when advising upon landscaping are impractical men — indeed it is just another aspect of architecture — it has been Mr. Sefton who has had to give detailed consideration to any proposal and who has advised upon capital and maintenance costs. His immense knowledge of what will grow in the locality has made economical, architects' ideas: he has been responsible in addition to particular housing schemes for all general landscaping. Together with Mr. E. Bird and the men of Digswell Nurseries, Mr. Sefton has anticipated demand and plants have been reared to carry out all the landscaping and garden maintenance.
The illustrations in this book, some dated 1927 and some 1955, show early standards of landscaping in Welwyn Garden City and how quickly vegetation matures. We believe that the present day standards compare most favourably with the past, profit having been taken from past experience. The finished picture in a further twenty-eight years should be remarkable. The purpose of this booklet is to make available to all such knowledge as may have been acquired and to encourage the better understanding by the present and future occupiers of these two New Towns of what was intended. It is perhaps worth emphasising that the central gardens, woods and open spaces, form no charge on the rates, being maintained by the Corporation and financed out of the ground rents and rack rents of the Corporation's properties and leaseholds.
J. E. McComb
Welwyn Garden City . . . Louis de Soissons, O.B.E., R.A., F.R.I.B.A., M.T.P.I.
Hatfield . . . Lionel Brett, M.A., A.R.I.B.A.
IN STEP . . . WITH LANDSCAPING
One asks what it is that has put the 'Garden' into Welwyn Garden City and what it is that will make Hatfield Town different.
In the days when the Welwyn Garden City Company began building their town, whether from economic necessity or just magnanimity of outlook — weltanschaung — various subsidiary companies were formed, each responsible for a particular phase of the development of the town as it was then visualised; the digging of the clay to make bricks; the gravel to form the road surfaces; the growing of trees and shrubs to embellish the finished work. This latter task was the purpose of Digswell Nurseries Limited, which started in 1921. At that time the Nursery occupied some acres of land behind the farm off Digswell Road, now the scene of the intensely active beginning of the North-West area development.
In 1929 the Nurseries were moved to their present position against the busy North Road on Brickwall Hill. In the years following the establishment of the Nurseries in their new quarters, the town steadily grew, and it is due in no small measure to the untiring efforts of that band of gardeners — many of whom are still faithfully pursuing the trade of their calling in the service of the Development Corporation — that Welwyn Garden City has so many pleasant and attractive features that help to distinguish it from other towns. Their activities included, as they still do to this day, the care of the grass lawns, verges, woods, trees and hedges, and the roads and open spaces not actually taken over by the local council. When, as a result of the New Towns Act, the Development Corporation was formed, and took over from the Welwyn Garden City Company the task of completing this town, it was quickly seen how great was the advantage to be derived from utilising the services of an existing organisation, backed by local experience and intimate knowledge of the existing layout and landscape features, especially as at that time, i.e. 1948, there was a great shortage of general labour and materials. An existing force of forty-five men was a valuable acquisition, for how else was the Development Corporation to fulfil its obligations to the residents and the public at large in looking after the 305 acres of gardens and open spaces it had inherited. Accordingly, a year or so later, by agreement, the Development Corporation bought Digswell Nurseries Limited.
About the time of this take-over
it was also realised that the nursery stock needed in the future would
be so very much greater than the existing area was capable of carrying,
so an additional 2¼ acres were added to the Nursery at Brickwall,
from adjoining farmland. Likewise, the gardens at Digswell Park, which
for some years previously had been used by the Welwyn Garden City Company
as a market garden, producing tomatoes and food crops during the war years,
and possessing a useful range of miscellaneous glass houses and frames,
were also included in the acquisition, so that the facilities existing
here for propagation in better soil conditions, added very greatly to
the usefulness of Digswell Nurseries as a whole. Although the 'Limited'
was dropped from its name, Digswell Nurseries found themselves limited
in another sense. During the first years of the Development Corporation's
life a period of 'marking time' was inevitable while the engineering work
on site preparations and building went on ahead.
A broad definition of landscaping is 'the projection of human thought into outdoor surroundings' by means of interplay of land, plant forms, masses and voids.
Landscape gardening, as an everyday term, has a wider following and is more comprehensive in the United States of America than this country, where nevertheless, the art can truly be said to have originated in the work of the eighteenth-century landscape gardeners: Bridgeman, William Kent, Lancelot Brown and Humphrey Repton. Each year now sees more and more of the beauty of this land's fair acres swallowed up by development of some sort or another — housing, new roads, airfields, open-cast mining, even the mass planting of conifers and for various other causes, one by one the hearts of the great famous gardens have stopped beating. Whilst the life blood has percolated into smaller gardens of limited scope, landscaping in the true sense, is now left to the public authorities, whose regard for posterity does not always match that of the patrons of the great gardeners of the past.
Sir Francis Bacon's Essays.
The English Personality
No one will question that the English countryside is considerably influenced by the hand of man, the farmer, and to an infinitesimal degree the gardener. Only the old forests, moors and commons are as nature would have them, though even some of these display some evidence of the human hand. What is not so widely appreciated is that the countryside, the trees and flowers of the hedgerows and the inevitability of the seasons, in turn affect the character, the personality and lives of country people, so that they become unruffled by trivialities and patiently aware that whatever may be the urgency, the seasons will still arrive, and arrive in the same order and time.
How much better if the working lives of the town dwellers can also be spent in placid surroundings made beautiful. Far-sighted businessmen, at the beginning of the century, with a thought for their workers' well-being, were not slow to see the value to their staff and to their business, of the contentment found in the British soul when this condition of life is satisfied. The problem then is how best to bring the peace of the countryside into the life of the town. In most cities, areas of repose and recreation are to be found as green oases scattered about the desert of bricks and mortar. Is this enough?
The average citizen going about his daily life, by force of circumstances, may rarely be able to enjoy the natural beauty to be found only in parks and gardens; the busy housewife going to and from shopping, may be completely unaware that it is lilac time! Children grow up unaccustomed to green sward without a railing around it and a prohibitive notice. Something more than the park and recreation ground is needed. In Welwyn Garden City it has been the aim to bring the beauty of trees and flowers and the refreshing contrast of well kept grass, into the main thoroughfares, so that natural beauty shall not be concentrated in one spot here and another there, but spread like a network over the whole town, to be enjoyed by all as they pass on their separate ways. In Hatfield the planner has attempted to make it possible to walk from one end of the town to the other and have green areas on one or other side all the time, and so bringing into daily life the country and its seasons, even though the streets themselves may have a more urban character than at Welwyn Garden City.
A beautiful town, therefore, is a
synthesis of natural and architectural form, and to fulfil these functions
and not be just buildings made pretty by gardens being tacked on, it must
be planned throughout, each part fitting with the next. But in addition,
landscape planning calls for thought along four dimensions. The three,
height, breadth and depth, visualised as they change in the fourth dimension
of time, extending beyond the span of a man's life. On occasion, the mind
mistrusts the inevitability of nature and the future, so that short cuts
are attempted; temporary quick-growing material is introduced at some
risk to the more worthy idea which depends on slow-growing things. But
a man's life, unlike time, is limited, and quick-growing poplar trees
may be accepted, for example, pending the slower-growing native trees
reaching maturity. Tulip trees have been planted by the Corporation in
certain streets, the full effect of which will certainly not be seen by
Light and Shade
In agriculture, plants are grown for their produce, their food or material value. In landscaping, plants are fulfilling other requirements peculiar to human society, from beautifying our surroundings to emphasising or even laying down the pattern or siting of the buildings. If an area is to be developed in such a way that it merges into the natural setting as though it really belongs there, then the existing mature trees and field hedges should be built in, and their presence too absorbed into the plan of development. Never need there have been houses set in row after identical row, but rather should they have been arranged around these landmarks, always remembering that mature trees through the centuries have built up a delicate balance between root and branch. Unfortunately, drains and underground service excavations do immense damage to root systems, and it is not to be wondered at that some years later the branches die back and the erstwhile object of great natural beauty has, of necessity, to be pruned or felled.
There is little more satisfying than an attractive tree or clump of trees to form the centre piece or focal point of a particular layout, for example, in The Quadrangle or Oak Tree Garth or Guessens Court, Welwyn Garden City, or where the outline of magnificent trees stand out against the distant skyline as in Russellcroft Road, Welwyn Garden City, as seen from the station entrance, or the fine trees at the foot of Bishop's Rise and in Roe Green Close, Hatfield. The colour, form and outline, of different tree species in their relationship to the architectural façade, is considered in more detail on later pages.
Sunshine and shadow add to the setting and make our thoroughfares more pleasant, so carefully located planting with this factor in view, can add tremendously to the appearance, and the fullest possible use should always be made of this contrast between light and shade. It is one of the most valuable elements in landscape design. Few would deny that in this climate sunshine is much sought after; yet the restful shade of trees materially adds to our enjoyment of the sun on a hot summer's day. Tall trees help very considerably to create upward air currents to relieve what might otherwise be a most oppressive atmosphere, and the shadow pattern must surely delight the eye.
Besides the decorative value of mature trees located among the buildings, it is not generally appreciated the way they soften and diffuse the wind, as distinct from being windbreaks. On exposed situations the protection afforded by belts of trees is obviously important. Short periods of buffeting by strong winds are tolerable, but prolonged exposure to high winds is most uncomfortable, making women bad tempered and pigs to squeal! Walls and solid structures only deflect air currents, so that streets may become wind tunnels; they cannot break up and lessen the velocity of air streams like trees and hedges do.
Conversely, when an area is completely shut in, air movement becomes difficult and stagnation can result, a fault which may be felt to exist by some observers in certain parts of Welwyn Garden City, where the thinning out of intentionally close planting in the past is now overdue. Trees and hedges can also directly influence the 'climate' of a particular area by preventing the downward movement of ground frost towards the lowest spots, whilst an accumulation of leaf mould keeps the ground warm. Careful planning can ensure that trees and hedges promote this movement to the benefit of the higher ground rather than presenting a series of frost pockets over a whole area.
Just as the larger mature trees and the planned tree belts can effectively break up the strong winds, so do they also serve to filter and cleanse the atmosphere of dust, smoke and impurities, especially when in leaf, and what is even more important to a residential area, they do muffle the external noises of rail and road traffic. Due to the benefits derived from softened wind, less noise, dust and smoke, there is less reason for the windows of our homes to be kept always tightly shut, and outdoor life is made more comfortable over a longer period of time in each year, thanks to this considerable practical aspect of landscape features. All this is what is generally referred to as amenity.
'Dreamthorpe' by Alexander Smith.
The Architect and Street Trees
It is very rarely that existing landscape features, field trees and the like, are sufficient for the various purposes outlined so far, and each scheme of development calls for further additional planting, and the associated open spaces laid out in some suitable manner. During the thirty odd years Welwyn Garden City has been in existence, a wide variety of plants and styles of layout have now been tried, and the stage is reached when their suitability or otherwise can be reviewed.
It is worth mentioning here that
the practice of these two New Towns is for first the consultant planner
to indicate an area and its land use; then for an architect to be appointed
who is provided with a tree survey and who, in conjunction with the engineer
and public service authorities evolves a layout. The architect is then
asked for any particular ideas which he may have in mind for landscaping.
Thereafter the landscape architect produces his proposals to the architect
and after the consultant planner has approved or amended the scheme, later
supervises their translation into the practical work of landscaping. All
schemes are of course, studied by and receive formal approval of the Development
Corporation's Board. The maintenance of these works continues to be the
responsibility of the landscape architect from the moment they are completed:
this is vitally important.
From what has already been written
it is plain that trees play a very important part in landscaping. It has
always been recognised in Welwyn Garden City that other than in the exception,
the natural shape of trees should be preserved. It has been possible to
ensure this by reason of a control through the individual leases by the
Ground Landlord, first of all by the Garden City Company and later by
the Development Corporation, on the cutting and pruning of all trees.
It is one reason why freehold interests in land are not granted. The unsightly
lopping met with in other areas is disallowed, excepting for the purpose
of ensuring safety in certain large mature specimens, or for obtaining
an effect in one or two streets. If a tree has outgrown its position it
should be removed and usually another put in its place. Thus, considerable
care should be exercised in the initial choice of the tree to be planted.
This choice should be influenced by the character of the buildings and
their layout, and the presence or absence of other indigenous trees or
landscape features. As an example, if a number of native trees are coming
into the finished picture, then the more fanciful horticultural hybrids,
such as Japanese cherries and the like, should be used with discretion.
The choice must also be considered in relation to the proximity to the
building and the degree of shadow the tree will cause, and the obstruction
to sunlight and to street lighting.
As so often is the case, trees are planted in the grass verges of the highways, where the underground public services are also usually located. Occasional trouble must be expected from roots finding their way into shallow sewers; some of the vigorous kinds of trees are bad offenders, but no species is clear of this charge — 'no cat is averse to fish'. The Welwyn Garden City Urban District Council take an enlightened view that this risk is justified by the amenity value accrued from all the other aspects, and is unavoidable in development at normal urban densities.
Overhead telephone lines, if they must exist at all, also require consideration, and it is gratifying to record the ready co-operation shown by the General Post Office in Welwyn Garden City, over pruning matters, and frequently in re-siting of lines to avoid spoiling the shape of trees.
It has been found that the two best positions for trees in the highways are close up to the edge of the paved footpath where there is a grass verge next to the carriageway, or when the position of path and verge are reversed, at the back of the latter, close up to the front boundary hedge or fence. In fact this is the better position. Alternatively, the trees can be set just inside the front boundaries, when this is not likely to cause complications or inconvenience to the tenants. Siting the trees outside the property boundaries when the public footpath is adjacent thereto, necessitates leaving a narrow strip, some 12 inches wide, at the outset, needing weeding or treatment in some way other than grass — creeping rock plants are a possibility — till the overhang of the front hedge covers up this strip. In all these cases the trees cause the least obstruction around which mowers have to be manoeuvred, and the cutting of grass around their base is reduced to the minimum.
Regular spacing of trees along a
roadway, from end to end, gives it a strong repetitive character, which
in many cases creates monstrous monotony, but much depends upon the architectural
treatment, which in all cases should dictate the tree pattern by the same
analogy that large existing trees influence the layout as a whole; setting
them in groups related to the buildings rather than stringing them along
each side of the road, gives more scope for light and shade, and glimpses
of what lies beyond, and makes for a very much more interesting picture.
There are, however, occasions where the curve of a street is enhanced
by the regular planting of silver birch, the white trunks of which act
as a safety measure at night to motorists, by indicating the line of the
The use of trees which provide autumn
colour, as well as spring flowers, is commendable, but those producing
fruits can become a source of embarrassment in the future, from the efforts
of young people climbing them seeking to pick the fruits, or from the
mess they make when lying rotting on the ground. Frequently, the suggestion
is made that fruit trees, i.e. apples, should be planted in our streets.
This is being tried out as an experiment in one or more of the areas in
these two New Towns, using one or two varieties of cider apples. In certain
schemes vigorous varieties of apples, as standard trees, have been planted
at the ends of rear gardens to form a tree screen. As long as children
delight in conkers, and it is hoped they always will, the common horse
chestnut should not be used as a street tree; the double flowered chestnut,
however, is to be preferred, as this is sterile.
Trees in Open Setting
In the various open spaces and communal
centre greens associated with house development, usually referred to as
'incidental open spaces', greater scope is given for the use of trees
growing to larger dimensions and including those species typical to the
locality, or whose weeping or spreading habit precludes their use elsewhere.
Trees of some particular shape may be chosen, in order to contrast or
possibly support visually, the adjacent architectural pattern. In all
these cases, where tree planting is in open setting, it is very desirable
that they be sturdy, strong standards, with clean stems six feet high.
This is an essential requirement when they are set against footpaths,
so as not to obstruct passers-by.
Strong staking is essential, the
modern belt or strip ties being vastly superior to the tarred string so
often used. In the endeavour to make the tree secure, commendable in itself,
the ties can easily be overlooked, and in two years damage is caused by
strangulation, or the strings break and the trees sway in the wind and
fall a prey to some mischievous citizen whose simian ancestry is not sufficiently
far removed. It has not been necessary to use tree guards so far in either
New Town. Some occasional damage is met with and the tree is promptly
replaced. It is considered better to rely on a keen civic pride, and trust
in the citizen. Tree guards admit defeat, and by seemingly acknowledging
a lack of faith in the responsibility of the average citizen, in the long
run, make matters worse.
Reference has already been made to the importance of tree belts: (a) to break the force of the wind in exposed situations; such wind breaks should be as wide as possible, at least 40 ft. to 50 ft., and (b) to screen factories and deaden industrial noises, trains and traffic. Wind breaks often prove difficult to establish, especially on poor soil, and the best results in this case are undoubtedly achieved by using very small saplings, closely spaced together. It is best to plough and cultivate the whole strip and continue surface cultivation during the first two years after planting. If spaced at 6 ft. x 6 ft., mechanical cultivation is not costly, and the young plants benefit by not having to compete with rank grass and weed growth, which rapidly dissipate the soil moisture through their transpiration. After a year or two the saplings' root hold is adequate for them to fend for themselves, and the close spacing encourages more rapid upward growth, which in time, gives ground cover and smothers the lesser surface vegetation. It is interesting to note the growth made by birch, beech and pines and larch, on the exposed slopes overlooking the Lea Valley, where the soil is of the very poorest and driest. Sturdy growth, 9-12 ft., has been established in seven years with no attention beyond the early surface cultivation referred to. On better soils, growth of 12-15 ft. has been achieved in four years, using small saplings. It is a fact that the larger the tree is at planting time the slower it is growing away again, unless special preparations are made.
In those belts designed to screen
rather than protect from winds, larger trees may be planted, and there
is a good case here for using poplars, willows and similar fast-growers,
as temporary fillers, alternating with more desirable but slower species.
The poplars and willows to a great degree must be cut out before they
grow to such a size as to damage the more permanent planting. Screens
of this type should always provide at least three lines of trees, and
mixing the species gives sufficient variation of shape and colour or texture
to break up the regular planting pattern necessary for economic maintenance.
Open Spaces and Open Fronts
The treatment of the open spaces themselves, including the fronts of the houses, leads to sharply divided opinions. There is the view that a better result is produced from open-front gardens merging into the larger open spaces; alternatively, there is the more usual front garden enclosed by a hedge. The technical advantages of the open-front treatment are clearly the opportunity of setting buildings in attractive surroundings and keeping them so, and creating a sense of spaciousness in high density development, by running the highway verges into a very considerably reduced front garden, as has been done over much of the Roe Green layout at Hatfield. Harmony can be preserved with just the right floral colour and greenery to balance the architecture without the offending lines of hedges cut to various heights and into fantastic shapes. The shortened front garden permits higher density of housing and the shortened distance between fronts of houses on each side of the street produces an urban cosiness in the street. The distance apart of the fronts of houses has some bearing upon whether there shall be enclosed front gardens or open-front treatment. The one thing to avoid is a street with houses set far back, as if intended to have front gardens and yet have open- front treatment instead. The result appears draughty and unrelated.
Building and landscape can be more readily married together by the retention of natural features. Trees and hollows and other features of the landscape can be brought right into the homes of the people through the use of open treatment and the planting, in suitable numbers, of additional trees and shrubs of the right size and contour. Such details are as vital to the layout as a whole as the style of brickwork and decorative work on the buildings themselves. Finally, the open treatment with its absence of hedges, gives a greater measure of safety to young children moving about in the vicinity of their homes, for they can see and be seen from a greater distance along the carriageway. The disadvantages, apart from the need of the most careful planning to avoid short-cutting across corners, are in the difficulties which may be experienced in efficient maintenance, and combating wilful destruction and abuse, and the fact that the youngest children must be confined to the back garden.
This uncertain climate of ours demands a considerable flexibility in the essential gardenwork to be performed month by month, and during certain rush periods, mainly in the springtime, a garden staff limited in numbers, may find difficulty in meeting the peak loads. To be a success, the maintenance must, however, be met, for the whole open-front system fails lamentably when the upkeep is inadequate. If any semblance of orderliness is to be preserved it is desirable that there should be some satisfactory working arrangement with the local authority, to avoid the roadside verge being cut by one party and the remainder of the open-front treatment by another. For this reason too, it is considered better that the open front shall be maintained by an authority rather than that it be left to the individual tenants to do the necessary mowing and weeding, as this results in a ragged and disorderly appearance, and defeats, in part at least, the harmony of the setting.
There is naturally, a certain amount of wear in the open grass layouts at certain points, and there seems to be no answer to what has become known as the 'postman's track', from front door to front door, except to put some definite obstruction in the way, such as a rose bed or shrubbery, or acknowledge the need for this traffic and introduce stepping stones or something of the sort along some convenient route.
In the incidental open spaces the purely decorative flower beds are generally planted with perennials rather than bedding annuals, as these need less attention, except in the town centre and sub-centres, where the need for bright coloured flowers over a long period can be satisfied only by bedding out, and where the cost of this operation is justified. The only protection which has been found necessary is from dogs, and a low lonicera hedge, 12 in. to 15 in. high, around the beds, has proved to be adequate. Tulips and daffodils, in clumps, between shrubs, also provide a touch of welcome colour during the first years while the main plants are growing to full size. By including a number of species producing good autumn-tinted foliage, and some of the latest hybrid roses, the attractiveness of shrubberies, which at one time tended to be dull and uninteresting, can be further enhanced; but one should guard against too great a diversity of material at the expense of loss of architectural form and outline.
Even though in many of the open-front layouts maintained by the Corporation, some area of flower bed is provided, usually against the front of the house for the tenant to care for and plant up with things of his own fancy, the majority at present seem to prefer to have the whole front garden to themselves. This was indicated by a recent questionnaire sent to tenants in Welwyn Garden City and Hatfield, when one of the questions asked was: 'Do you like open-front treatment?' Out of those whose houses were of this type, 49 per cent. answered 'Yes' and 51 per cent. 'No' or were indifferent. In Hatfield 39 per cent. answered 'Yes' and 61 per cent. 'No' or were indifferent. Out of those whose houses did not have open treatment, in Welwyn Garden City 16 per cent. answered 'Yes' and 84 per cent. 'No' or were indifferent, and in Hatfield 46 per cent. 'Yes' and 54 per cent. 'No' or were indifferent.
Another question asked was: 'Is your garden a convenient size?' which was replied to as follows: In Welwyn Garden City twelve people stated that the garden was too small, five people stated that the front garden was too big and the back too small and ninety-four people were satisfied. In Hatfield where gardens tend to be smaller fourteen people stated that the garden was too small and seventy-eight people were satisfied.
It is nevertheless, noteworthy that in the older parts of Welwyn Garden City, where people are used to the idea of open fronts, many have in recent years, of their own volition, removed their front hedges to obtain an open-front effect. Of all the admired open-front layouts in Welwyn Garden City, that of Brockswood Lane is particularly good. Being individually owned properties, it is also a lesson as to what can be done in this way by common consent.
It would, therefore, seem that individual front gardens are preferred by most tenants, for their own home, and when this is the pattern of layout being adopted, front hedges are planted and a low wire fence provided to give some temporary protection until the hedge is thick and strong enough. These hedges are not usually continued down the divisions between the front gardens, as frequently, tenants work their respective front gardens in harmony with each other, to the advantage of the general appearance. Quite a number of different species of hedge plants are used, chosen and related to the grouping of the houses or their colour. Here and there polyantha roses are used by the Corporations for the front hedges, where bright colour is desired. The hedges are also varied in height and texture, so as to be complementary or supplementary to the trees; in short, they too are an integral part of the architectural whole.
Along the flanks of gardens, that is, when they are sideways on to a road, effective screening of untidy backs is essential. The use of small flowering trees to add to the immediate height of the hedge, is one way of achieving a quick screen to washing lines and adding to the privacy of the garden. The same applies when gardens back on to a main thoroughfare. Brick walls are sometimes necessary, however, and on occasion, low front-garden walls, some 18 in. to 2 ft. high, but built from the same bricks as the houses, are used for architectural emphasis. Brick walls, however, do produce a certain drabness and unity of colour, whereas the texture and looser form of a hedge of suitable height, softens and diffuses the lines already adequately emphasised by the footpath. Screen walls of some extra cost can, on occasion, be made a feature of special design, so as to enhance the picture.
The cost of maintenance of various species of hedges vary considerably. Generally, the cheaper and more rapid growing kinds need more clipping than the better slower-growing varieties: Privet for example, as against beech for high hedges; but then again, a beech hedge, 6 ft. high, will be at least 2½ ft. thick, and when planting such a hedge, allowance must be made for this by planting at least 15 in. to 18 in. away from the edge of the footpaths, if their effective width is not to be restricted in future years.
Front hedges are looked after by
the Corporation's maintenance gardeners, in order to establish the required
pattern, for so often the composition of a layout is spoilt by hedges
being cut to all different heights and fanciful shapes. Eventually, it
is hoped tenants will see for themselves the point of this and come to
accept them without the need for irksome height regulations.
Recurrently rising wages made it necessary to adopt every possible form of mechanisation of the work both in the preparation of the soil and in the maintenance of the open spaces afterwards. It has always been the practice to adhere to a very high standard of upkeep, for otherwise the capital expenditure in layout in the first place is pointless. Furthermore, it encourages civic pride and that very necessary degree of respect for the features intended for the enjoyment of all, and it is firmly believed that it is just this fastidiousness in appearance which protects open treatment and the garden atmosphere from the vandalism prevalent elsewhere. The fact that various societies arise to protect those amenities from damage by the very people who created them, may at first seem a little ludicrous. It is, however, well that there is the interest shown.
The lion's share of maintenance work is grass cutting of one kind and another, and until 1954, the perfect lawn mower had not been produced. The new Ransomes' verge cutter may be what we have been waiting for, and further tests this year will confirm or deny this. Unquestionably the cheapest way of keeping grass in trim is by regular cutting with a triple gang mower, fitted to a light tractor through a hydraulic lift, so that transportation from area to area presents no difficulties. For the fine lawns, closely cut, the roller type of machine is supreme, but when it has to be driven over roadways, up and down curbs, there are obvious drawbacks. The present trend in mower design is to substitute two rubber-tyred wheels for the roller, but this arrangement makes it difficult to cut close up to the edges of beds, walls or obstructions, and moreover, in wet weather the wheels cut into the soft ground. Cutting the grass around the base of trees and lamp columns is always a problem, and so far, no better tool has been devised than the scythe; but men who can wield this implement are yearly becoming more difficult to find. Mention has already been made of the care needed in properly locating trees in roadside verges to avoid these difficulties.
Providing the surface is large enough and reasonably smooth, regular cutting with the gang mower is less costly than cutting only two or three times a year with a reaper, due to the work involved in gathering up the hay or long grass afterwards, and the appearance of close cutting is far superior; but on a rough field surface the reaper attachment to a tractor is more satisfactory than the old type of reaper. This practical aspect of grass cutting is an important factor in modern landscape design, and dictates that grass areas should be as unbroken as possible, with few banks, cross paths and other obstructions. Small awkward corners should also be avoided; banks and edges of steps both introduce a large proportion of hand work.
The cutting of front, flank and boundary hedges is another heavy commitment where mechanisation has been helpful in reducing manhours. A Clipgear hydraulic hedge cutter, used by one man, will do more clipping than six men with shears, and will tackle thicker stems too, but the clearing and sweeping up is still a manual operation, as too is digging over shrubberies and rose beds. No satisfactory machine has yet been devised for this latter type of work able to operate in other than straight lines.
Roto-cultivation goes a long way towards reducing the hand digging in the Nurseries and the preparation of the ground for the seeding of open spaces, and the planting of tree belts. So too is the weeding of planted areas still a problem, but in this case close planting of suitable shrubs to grow into a mass, and the growing of low spreading plants as ground cover, are the most satisfactory ways of reducing the labour used on weed control.
Our mechanical equipment used to be kept at the Nurseries on the extreme west boundary of our development areas, but the increased stock of machinery meant additional buildings, and a new depot was built almost in the centre of Welwyn Garden City, so as to effect more economical marshalling and distribution of machinery to the different areas of work. The smaller hand tools, barrows and the like, used manually, are stored in small lock-up sheds dotted about the whole town, which also serve as assembly points from which the daily work begins and ends. It is considered uneconomical for men to have to walk more than half a mile from tool depot to working point, and on the larger capital laying-out jobs, temporary transportable sheds serve this same purpose.
When the development of Roe Green, Hatfield, began to make strides, a separate division of Digswell Nurseries, now eleven strong, was recruited largely from men moving out of greater London, who are supervised by one of the foremen who had performed good service in the Garden City. This has meant duplicating much of the mechanical equipment needed, but obviously avoided waste of time and money, moving men and machinery from town to town. The same technical and administrative staff control both Welwyn and Hatfield divisions of Digswell Nurseries, just as the Nurseries also provide the plants for both towns.
Second only to a satisfactory design for economy in landscaping is that each operation should be methodically and thoroughly carried out under suitable weather conditions. Soil conditions play a vital part in the success or failure of any particular layout, and as a corollary, the plants used should be not only carefully chosen and of good quality, but the interval between lifting from the Nursery and re-planting on the site, made as brief as possible. As Digswell Nurseries handle the great majority of the trees and plants used in both towns, the losses are very few. Another example of how economy can be exercised in the landscaping of incidental open spaces, is to grass them over first, omitting any contemplated footpaths until it has been seen from the tracks made, the routes the people use most. At the outset, it may not always be clear where bus stops, telephone kiosks, pillar boxes and the like, will actually be, and their ultimate position controls the movement of the people. Such an arrangement does mean having to bring back a contractor to put the paths in at a later date, unless the developer has his own organisation like Digswell Nurseries, when this problem does not arise.
The wise choice of surfacing material
is also a contributory factor to economy. Pre-cast paving slabs present
a better picture, but tend to slip about on clay soils, so that re-laying
is usually necessary after some years. In situ concrete is much
more enduring, and tarmacadam, which can be dressed with various coloured
chippings to form a pattern, may be preferable where larger areas are
being dealt with and the garishness of concrete is unacceptable.
The provision of playing fields and children's playgrounds is also delegated to the landscape department. The Welwyn Garden City Company had already provided, on the Handside playing fields, four football pitches and a cricket table, and a football pitch off Hollybush Lane, and eight tennis courts which were let to four clubs. The Urban District Council, at Hatfield Hyde, have also seven football pitches, together with a cricket table, hockey pitch, five hard tennis courts and a number of grass ones, and a putting green, for a present population of 25,000. A further football pitch has been formed from a suitable field at the Twentieth Mile, to replace one absorbed in the South Parkway development, and another has been created on a re-claimed gravel pit. From controlled tipping of surplus soil and excavations from all the development work in the area into a large disused gravel pit, it is hoped to lay the beginning of a sports stadium for the whole district. The sides of the pit, after being suitably graded, will provide a ready-made stand for a very large number of spectators.
As the position in Hatfield was far
less satisfactory, it has been possible to get Ministry of Housing and
Local Government approval to the laying out of an area of twelve acres
on Roe Hill, as playing fields, which will include three football pitches
and a cricket table, and an area set aside as a children's playground.
Two jungle playgrounds for smaller children are being provided in Hatfield,
one in Oak Grove, where there is a small natural wooded dell, and where
a few climbing frames and other apparatus are to be provided, and in Meadow
Dell, in an area enclosed by the backs of houses, there is to be another.
In Welwyn Garden City a playground for small children has been provided,
adjacent to tennis courts owned by the Corporation, whose users belong
to a family club, and the members bring their children with them when
they play tennis. On the whole, however, our experience has been that
the small children's playgrounds have not been a great success, because
we have been unable to make them sufficiently attractive, and the small
size and inadequate width of access makes them costly to maintain. It
is proposed to make a super children's playground, on Continental lines,
in the Hatfield Hyde area of Welwyn Garden City. A fairly large space
is required for this purpose to create the right atmosphere and to allow
a tree screen around the perimeter, but it remains to be seen whether
it will be a success or whether the smaller children will become excluded
by larger children, and they in turn, by the largest children, for whom
the encampment was not designed.
One of the more difficult problems
in urban landscaping is that of water as a feature, and the treatment
of the field ponds when houses are built up all around. With the cutting
off of their natural water channels, these ponds usually become pools
of stagnant mud and a depository for miscellaneous ironmongery. If some
alternative source of water, adequate to flush them out periodically is
impossible, it is better to partially fill them and plant them in a suitable
manner to form an attractive hollow or depression. It cannot be denied
that streams of running water, fed from subterranean sources, as at Burton-on-the-Water
in Gloucestershire, or Carshalton in Surrey, are the landscape architect's
dream; but alas at Welwyn Garden City and Hatfield they do not exist,
and the cost of artificial water is impossible. Circulating the water
by an electric pump, as done with our Queen's Fountain, is a possibility
for the future. Nevertheless, a small-scale paddling pool, relying on
main water, is to be tried out this summer on one of the Welwyn schemes.
In providing this for children local to the nearby houses, we are not
unmindful of the type of character who throws a broken bottle into the
pond or a packet of detergent into the fountain. It would, however, be
a dull life if one must always deprive the whole population to deal with
the fool or the criminal.
Hopes for the Future
Just as scientific research is devising new methods and new ways of doing things and providing new materials for use in other walks of life, it is hoped that one day new varieties of grasses will be raised, capable of withstanding harder wear and requiring less cutting. Already we have Maleic hydrazide, a preparation which may slow down the summer growth of lawn grass. So far we only know its action on rough grass. It may well be that similar preparations may be used in the near future on fully grown hedges, to reduce their annual growth and thereby the clipping needed. Here again, plant breeding may produce new kinds of hedge plants of the vigorous constitution and utility of the ubiquitous privet and yet be of the character, quality and distinctiveness of yew, neat, compact and evergreen.
New trees and plants are constantly being introduced and tried out, and progress during the past twenty-five years has been tremendous.
If only a cheap plastic or other
material in various colours could be devised to replace concrete, for
constructing footpaths and pools, so that greater use can be made of shallow
water in landscaping, an entirely new range of possibilities could thereby
be opened up.
The demand for allotments in any particular area is difficult to gauge, and seems to depend on several factors, which are: (a) income group; (b) enthusiasm prompted by changed environment or local interest or national emergency; (c) size of home garden; (d) nature of the land to be cultivated ; (e) distance away from home.
The general picture in Welwyn Garden City at present shows a distinct slackening off in the demand, except in the new areas. Of the Urban District Council's 318 plots, temporary and permanent, there are ninety-four vacant (approximately 29.5 per cent.) for a population of 25,000. But on the 125 plots east of The Ganetts, ninety are let, plus a further fifteen possibles, giving a potential demand of 105. This is new property with new tenants from London. As distance from the home is one of the factors in this problem, it may be assumed the catchment area comprises a total of 612 households. The allotment requirements for such a new area are, therefore, slightly under ten acres.
The Lea Valley project is making a bad start, and this on excellent soil. Only ten of the thirty available are taken so far. Distance from home may be the difficulty here. The other two small permanent allotment centres — Knella Road and Brockswood Lane — are fully used; but these always have been so.
From a recent visual survey of most of the allotment areas in Welwyn Garden City, it was noted that generally not half of the available plots had been worked during the past nine to twelve months.
In summing up it can be said the main demand is in the newly developed areas, and is in the order of one per six houses.
As regards Hatfield, there are known
to be extensive areas of allotments cultivated to a fairly high standard
in the Old Town, which seems to indicate a demand of long standing. In
the Roe Green Area provision has been made for 153 plots, forty-two have
been let to date and some start has been made on them. There are a further
sixty-three waiting to start as soon as the plots are marked out, and
it is anticipated the remainder will be let without difficulty. This gives
a ratio of 1 to 7.87 per household, and the area is 9.4 acres. It must
be remembered that the plots are a little smaller in size than those in
Welwyn Garden City and the soil is very much better. It is hoped to carry
out a more detailed survey of the demand for allotments and the standard
of their cultivation, coupled with the standard of cultivation of private
gardens, during the next six months, when a more accurate and reliable
picture will be obtained.
W. Thompson, 'Popular Lectures and Addresses, l889'.
This is equally true to-day, but there are so many variables in landscaping that to compile figures accurately to any degree, necessitates a great deal of research, otherwise they are purely relative to a given set of conditions or circumstances. With this reservation it may be of interest to set out below certain costs and comparisons relating to landscaping and the maintenance of open spaces in Welwyn Garden City and Hatfield.
First and foremost it should be noted that the cost of maintenance of the town centre gardens, playing fields and major open spaces, not taken over by the local authority in Welwyn Garden City, is regarded as a part of the administration costs met from the ground rents as a whole, and is thus not a direct charge on rent or rates. The upkeep of open-front gardens, however, which average £2 18s. 0d. per annum in Welwyn Garden City and £3 13s. 2d. per annum in Hatfield, is allowed for in the rents levied. The greater cost of upkeep at Hatfield is due partly to the work being new — maintenance is always more expensive the first year or two — partly to the contours of the land and partly due to the smaller areas to be mown, this being caused by the contours and higher density of development resulting in smaller open-front gardens.
The present town centre gardens, Parkway, Howardsgate and The Campus, cost £1,000 per annum or £138 per acre, inclusive of all the bulbs and bedding. It is of interest that until 1950, there were no daffodils planted in the open spaces and gardens of this Garden City.
Open-front gardens can vary between the elaborate types including shrubberies and flower beds, which in maintenance cost £5 per house or £240 per acre, to just plain mown grass at £2 2s. 7d. per house or £57 17s. 6d. per acre.
Whereas straightforward mowing of areas with a 30 in. machine costs £80 per acre, steps and banks, awkward corners, small areas and sundry obstacles, can put the cost up to as much as £200 per acre. The importance of levelling out to a mowable surface, vacant unused plots of land which have to be looked after for a number of years, is well illustrated by a comparison of the cost of bi-annual scything over and tidying up, costing £95 per acre, against mowing with a triple gang mower unit at £10 to £15 per acre. Similarly, where verges and other areas are large enough to be cut with this triple gang unit, the saving in cost can easily be seen.
The maintenance cost of shrubberies can vary between 2s. 6d. to 1s. per square yard, as they thicken up progressively, requiring less attention.
Since the Corporation began, landscaping has been completed on twenty-four schemes, and has entailed the planting of 10,141 shrubs, 1,573 standard trees and thirteen miles of hedges, in addition to which forty-five acres have been grassed down, using twelve tons of grass seed and fertilisers. As the landscaping follows the completion of the various housing schemes, this good work will be continued in the future, and as time goes on more interesting facts and figures will become known.
This does not pretend to be an exhaustive or technical publication upon the vast subjects of landscaping, horticulture or silviculture. What it does set out to do is to try and relate these subjects to planning and architecture, and at the same time indicate from experience the reaction upon a towns' inhabitants. It tries to draw attention to the practical purpose and difficulties of landscaping, and if the reader profits in any way from our experiences so that they are used to advantage elsewhere, then the publication has paid for itself.
'But the Glory of the Garden lies in more than meets the eye' — Kipling
|Footpath approach with open-front gardens contribute to "village green" intimacy.|
|Parkway Close in 1927 (top) and 1955 (bottom)|
|Valley Road in 1927 (top) and 1955 (bottom)|
|Small sloping areas of grass, broken up by stepped paths, make mowing difficult and expensive.|
|An old lane with hedgerow and trees retained.
The footpaths running behind the hedge line.
Parking bay in the foreground.
|Development around mature trees in a cul-de-sac. No footpaths are necessary and the central grass serves as a common garden and playground. This picture also illustrates sunshine and shadow.|
|Trees planted at the edge of a narrow grass verge create the minimum obstruction to grass mowing.|
|Large flat grass areas provide the cheapest mowing. Note also the grouping of houses around existing trees.|
|High Grove in 1927 (top) and 1955 (bottom)|
|The bleak inhospitable appearance of a road with buildings too far apart
for open-front treatment.
Also an ugly lamp column.
|An example of a narrow road made to look wider by placing footpaths next to the carriageway, and with the grass verging forming part of the open-front treatment, also elegant lamp columns.|
|Brockswood Lane in 1927 (top) and 1955 (bottom)|
|A screen wall of brick, flint and timber rails, avoids a prison-like effect of a wall in one material.|
|Youngs Rise in 1927 (top) and 1955 (bottom)|
|Corner of Russellcroft Road and Valley Road in 1927 (top) and 1955 (bottom)|
|Note the alternative position for street trees
between footpath and front boundary hedge,
leaving an unobstructed verge.
|Verges placed behind footpaths make a narrow road
look wider and reduce mowing costs
and also the wear on narrow strips of grass verge.