South Gardens is the first phase of Lend Lease’s Elephant Park masterplan for the regeneration of the 1960’s Heygate Estate in Elephant and Castle. Overall the masterplan will deliver 2,500 new homes of which South Gardens consists of 350 units across three new city plots. Our design role included all the private and residential amenity areas including 3 courtyards, 2 communal roof gardens and 11 biodiverse green roofs.

Our brief was to deliver a liveable, engaging, playful and beautiful residential landscape with intrinsic ecological value. Our response was to embrace a robust planting design that prized native and wildlife friendly plant species and aimed to maximise biodiversity. Architecturally the scheme consists of conventional building typologies; 3-storey townhouses, 8-storey mansion blocks and a 16-storey tower. Our aspiration was thereforedesign to provides a residential landscape that engages with the buildings at multiple levels – from ground up to tree canopies, in vertical surfaces as green walls and at roof level.


The courtyards were envisagedoperate as layered compositions that imitate the complexity of a woodland edge with multiple layers of vegetation from the ground herb layers, shrubs and climbers and into the tree canopy with fruiting canopy, mid and upper canopy trees. The This woodland concept extends to an attitude to movement and permeability with a diversity of thoroughfares that balancing es a sense of liberty with gently curving paths, and planted glades that create a sense of depth and enclosure. These openings also provide for doorstep play opportunities for the under 5’s which feature as conventional play (swings, etc.seesaws) and natural play (logs, planting, boulders). Our aspiration was that this freedom of access and quality of space would encourages residents to use the courtyards as part of their daily route to work or school. Permeability of views in and out of the courtyards provide vicarious greening of the public realm and good visual surveillance inside and out.

The planting design was based rigorously on native species and wildlife friendly plants that offer fruit, nectar, pollen and shelter. Our aim was to maximise biodiversity at all levels and to encourage invertebrates, birds and bats. The palette was carefully composed to extend seasonality with a wide range of plant species ensuring that it offers good visual amenity throughout the year but also provides resilience for the future pressures of climate change and the threat of new pests and diseases. In the courtyards the planting contains nearly 48 different varieties of trees and large shrubs, 27 different varieties of climber and 11 hedge species are included in single and mixed species hedges. Ground cover, herbaceous and bulb planting consisted of over 40 mixes each carefully attuned to differing conditions of light and shade, exposure, competition and moisture and comprise over 100 species of herbaceous, bulbs, ferns, and grasses. We worked closely on site with Gavin Jones the landscape contractors in coordinating the works and indeed much of the herbaceous planting was set out by hand by CLA.

The layered three-dimensional approach extends below the ground as the ‘rhizosphere’. The soil and subsoil layers were carefully designed and managed as the most crucial resource. We used high performance manufactured soils that balance moisture retention with drainage, especially important in rain garden SUDS features, where rainwater flows into sunken areas planted with moisture tolerant species such as Alder and Birch and ground flora such as ferns, Ramsons, Dropwort and Iris. Nitrogen fixing trees and shrubs including Alder, Honey Locust and Comfrey extract nitrogen from the atmosphere and fix it into root nodules where it becomes available via mycorrhizal fungi as a natural fertiliser to nearby fruiting trees such as apple, pear, cherry and quince, helping them to develop healthy crops of fruit naturally. Certain areas in the courtyards lie above a basement car park – in these localised podium conditions a rain water harvesting and dripline irrigation system was put into place to ensure the planting thrives. Each of these innovative techniques contributes to a truly sustainable and resilient landscape.

The roofscape covers an area of just under 0.5 hectare which is larger than the ground landscape, highligting so CLA promoted its potential to be maximised as a meaningful n amenity and ecological resource. Two accessible roof gardens are provided for residents which offer 40 raised bed allotments each with integral toolboxes. A mixture of climbing plants in the vicinity will attract a supply of insects to pollinate homegrown crops and residents have access to harvested rain water on tap for irrigation and a gardener’s store for bulky items.
Our brief called tTo maximise biodiversity ofe green roofs and our design consists of over 50 different plant species that replicate lowland heath and acid grassland ecotypes. These are locally rare and priority habitats in the London Biodiversity Action Plan and it is hoped these plantings will encourage insects and rare birds.

Insect habitat is provided throughout the scheme with a minimum 10m2 of insect hotels required for each of the plots. These are allocated in the courtyards as free-standing features, hung from existing trees or placed on the green roofs. They are designed to host beneficial invertebrates such as butterflies, solitary bees, hoverflies, lacewings, moths, beetles etc and for each a bespoke design was provided.
Our client Lend Lease have been delighted with the results and resident feedback has been very positive. The ecological performance of the landscape will be monitored for several years giving us a unique insight into how it performs as it matures.


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