Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park – flowers after The Games

By Andy McIndoe

I recently paid a visit to the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park to take a look at how the planting was faring after the first stages of transformation following London 2012.

I must admit I have been a little sceptical about the prairie and meadow planting in the longer term.

Lovely idea, but will it work in a space that’s extensively used for recreation? How many will actually use the space? Will it be embraced by the people?

The only way to find out was to go and take a look and see what it looks like in late summer after a few weeks of the summer holidays – and warm, dry weather.

I have to say that overall the Park is amazing and the people love it.  I think it has taken everyone by surprise just how many flock to the park for the day.

Children playing in the water jets, in the play areas, families picnicking, joggers, walkers, tourists. The atmosphere is vibrant, happy and there is a real feeling of ownership.

And the planting – well, it’s impressive and looks good.

Some is only recently planted, in its first season. In parts it has had a tough start from compacted soil, a wet winter and being trampled as youngsters take the direct route, rather than following the pathways.

However the maintenance and care of the team on site is evident and rescue measures are well in place to help.

Rudbeckias and prairie

The themed areas along the canal park, now in their third year look fantastic.

The North American prairie featuring rudbeckias, asters and other prairie daisies looks terrific. I particularly like the use of the tall and bizarre Rudbeckia maxima with Verbena bonariensis. Both with absurdly long flower stalks rising high overhead.

The rudbeckia remains weirdly beautiful even as the flowers are fading with its dark seedheads. The foliage, way down near ground level is a striking shade of blue-green; almost marine in character.

Rudbeckia maxima

The ‘Asia’ themed planting is a mass of Anemone japonica in late summer. This is a really practical choice to fill what is a semi-shaded sloping space.

I imagine the foliage looks good through the early part of the season and the flowers are fantastic through the summer holidays.

I really loved the introduction of Lilium speciosum ‘Rubrum’ amongst the anemones. This does add an exotic element which works brilliantly with the anemones. I was told that this was not the chosen variety but if that is the case this is a happy accident.

Anemone japonica and Lilium speciosum

The Great British Garden is a more peaceful space alongside the stadium. Featuring a naturalistic pond with bulrushes and reeds and an arbour of woven willow it is a tranquil country garden set against the backdrop of the futuristic stadium structure.

As in other areas of the park grasses are the dominant plant; punctuated with drifts of flowers. The prairie giant hyssop, Agastache foeniculum looked particularly impressive here.

This is a good garden plant which is becoming increasingly popular for its late season and its attraction of butterflies and bees.

Agastache foeniculum

I didn’t particularly read the brief of this area titled The Great British Garden.

Personally I didn’t think it was very British, but that’s not a criticism. I liked it and I liked the contemporary touches that contrast so brilliantly with the soft, naturalistic planting. I loved this marble orb which I could see sitting really well in my meadow. Bet I’m not the only one that wants to take it home.

Marble orb

There are several areas of meadow using annual flowers that seed themselves. Late summer is past their peak but the coreopsis varieties were still blooming and shining brightly.

As often happens these areas have suffered an invasion of annual weeds: a labour intensive job ensues to grub out the invaders. The overall effect is very pleasing and these flowers certainly deliver great blasts of colour in this big green space. They also have a softness and lightness which few other plants could add.


A series of prairie plantings designed by Piet Oudolf snakes through Canal Park and the various recreation areas. This is the most used part of the park by regular visitors.

Grasses and prairie flowers combine to deliver a soft, subtle landscape with short of stronger colour. Panicum and other grasses do a wonderful job at veiling, moving and changing the picture from every angle. I loved this panicum with the soft bruised pink flowers of eupatorium.

Eupatorium and panicum

Again rudbeckia feature, but more subtle varieties such as Rudbeckia subtomentosa, a multi-headed variety with sparkling flowers on tall stems that rise above other subjects.

It worked well against the eupatorium which would never have been my choice for a planting partner, But that’s what is brilliant about this planting; it is so subtle but full of surprises.

 Rudbeckia subtomentosa

The plants have been carefully chosen to balance the weight and the lines of the surrounding structures.

This is a good lesson in how well planting can soften hard landscaping, even when that hard landscaping is creative and abstract, as is much of the playground structure. These grasses work so well with this grouping of upright wooden poles.

Grasses and play area

I could continue with lots more plants, and I haven’t even mentioned the trees. Another time. I do look forward to returning to the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, Stratford, London.

I think it will be interesting to see how the new planting matures and have the established fares through the years. One thing is certain: there is plenty of great plant content, isn’t that great to see in a landscape project of this magnitude?

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