Daydream, I fell asleep amid the flowers, for a couple of hours, on a beautiful day.
From crisp white snowdrops to blousy magnolias to your local park’s answer to ‘Sakura’ – a few tired looking cherry trees – people never seem to tire of the pull nature has on them.
London has always had a West/East divide when it comes to nature. You only have to look at the levels of greenery on or around the streets to see the profound differences between, say, Chelsea and Hackney. People associate trees and vegetation with wealthier and more premium areas.
Nearly half of English neighbourhoods have less than 10% tree cover, with lower-income areas having far fewer trees than wealthier ones, analysis by Friends of the Earth has found.
Luxury retail landlords and developers have noticed too and ‘greening’ elements are fundamental to any new plans. More than a few token trees cemented into the ground, these are generous and often lush arrangements or planting schemes designed by some of the world’s most prominent garden designers or landscape architects. It gives an area that premium feel.
From McArthurGlen’s Bicester Village to Argent Group’s Coal Drops Yard to Shaftesbury Capital’s Covent Garden, any recent reinvigoration of retail areas has involved plants, and lots of them.
Cadogan Estates, owner of large swatches of Chelsea and Knightsbridge, has just unveiled its final plans for Sloane Street (main image). The two-year £46 million transformation of one of London’s premier luxury streets includes introducing over one hundred new trees along with elegant, ornamental planting to help absorb airborne pollutants, provide a buffer between pedestrians and traffic and create a better, more welcoming environment.
Touted as the most significant streetscape improvements since it was originally commissioned by the 1st Earl Cadogan in the 18th Century, the project – funded by Cadogan and delivered in partnership with Kensington and Chelsea Council – will “transform and enhance the vibrant neighbourhood and globally renowned home of luxury retail”.
Multiple Chelsea Flower Show award-winning garden designer Andy Sturgeon is planning a “royal” colour palette for the street’s new planting. The scheme, originally scheduled to start in August 2019, will conclude in autumn 2024.
Over the years, research institutes around the world have studied the importance of having trees in shopping areas, proving that the presence of healthy mature trees positively influences shopping behaviour. One study done by the University of Washington examined the connection between trees and people’s response to shopping locations. The research found that shoppers respond positively to retail areas with trees, demonstrating that healthy trees planted for long-term success is an important investment for retail communities.
Other analysis has linked spending more time walking in nature with reduced blood pressure and improvements in anxiety and depression symptoms. One in three people in England, mainly in economically deprived communities, do not have access to a green space within 15 minutes of where they live. Doctors are even prescribing nature, sometimes described as ‘green prescriptions’ or ‘blue prescriptions’ – they advise patients to spend time in green spaces or near bodies of water.
Luxury streets and developers are understanding the importance of nature in retail environments and allocating sizeable budgets to the foundation and maintenance of these schemes. Greened areas help people to switch off, zone out the city/traffic and it also doesn’t hurt how Instagrammable well-maintained planting schemes can be. Many people want to be surrounded by natural elements and will no doubt spend longer and return more frequently to these areas. You could almost forget you’re in one of the world’s busiest cities for a minute.
But, planting schemes, like these, are labour intensive and require frequent maintenance to keep them looking in tip-top condition. Tackling the disparity between wealthier areas – often owned by historical landlords – and less well-off areas will be much harder than popping in a few well-chosen amelanchiers. Any scheme requires time and investment from local authorities, but only a private landlord, on this scale, will be able to justify the expensive on-going costs.
Many of the stores on Sloane Street have already announced intentions to expand, no doubt happy with the promised Eden arriving on their doorstep. They, together with the landlords, are hoping to prove money does grow on more trees.