What we do
River of Flowers has been flow-ing for nine years this December 2017! Here is a brief timeline of what we have been up to all this time:
River of Flowers begins.…..
River of Flowers started as a community project of the Archway Herbal Clinic, which offered clinical practice for Middlesex University’s Western Herbal Medicine degree courses. As Clinic Director, I inherited a magnificent medicinal garden. Since many of the medicinal plants planted were not native to the UK, we decided to develop a small woodland garden of UK native wildflowers at the rear of the clinic, close to Highgate Hill. On seeing a bumblebee attempt to fly across the road to reach our woodland sanctuary and instead get swallowed up in the slipstream of a lorry, the thought came to me that we needed ‘roads for bees’ for our pollinators, 'safe routes' to help them navigate the city to pick up nectar and pollen. However, ‘rivers of flowers’ sounded so much better!
Various local organisations came to River of Flowers’ first meeting at the Archway Herbal Clinic, so we were able to gather enough volunteer support to start the River of Flowers Project and plant a wildflower garden at the Whittington Hospital and help close the ‘nectar and pollen’ gap between the wildflower meadows at Whittington Park and Waterlow Park. Our volunteers came from various organisations, which included schools, art colleges, housing estates, community gardens, parks, libraries, small businesses and Islington Council’s environmental organisation, Greenspace. We developed small projects at many of these sites by donating wildflower plug plants and seeds, and designed a website. The first River of Flowers in London was born!
The River of Flowers Project continued to work with community groups including Byam Shaw Shool of Arts of Central St Martins, Pooles Park and St Joseph's Primary Schools via the schools organisation organisation Plant Environment, Hendon Campus at Middlesex University, Forty Hall Farm at Capel Manor College and the 'Food from the Sky' project at Budgens supermarket, Crouch End.. We applied for and were awarded an 'Awards for All' Grant, which enabled us to donate more wildflower plug plants and seed the community and to run training courses. The River of Flowers Project was awarded a business green award for the Most Promising Green Business in Islington.
River of Flowers became a non-profit social enterprise company in 2011 and I left the Archway Herbal Clinic to become Founder Drector and Project Manager with support from our Creative Director, Peter Lewinson. River of Flowers has never had any salaried staff. We have developed River of Flowers with a wonderful group of volunteer interns, directors and supporters. Any funding that we needed to cover our project management costs, we raised project by project, city by city, across the UK. We mapped wildflower-growing projects in a city so that people can plan to plant urban meadows in between the projects and where to plant next!
Four new Rivers of Flowers started in south, west and east London during 2012, and there was interest from outside of London and from Toronto. We held our Urban Meadows Festival at the Dalston Eastern Curve Garden. For our Chelsea Fringe Festival event: Meadow Up Your Street (2012), we brought individual urban meadows to two streets in north and west London and donated them to neighbours so they could create a linear meadow running through their front gardens!
On behalf of River of Flowers, I was awarded a Winston Churchill Memorial Trust Travelling Fellowship to visit North America and research urban growing projects in five cities: Chicago, Milwaukee, New York, Toronto and San Francisco. Some of the urban growers whom I met, have since started Rivers of Flowers in these cities. For our Chelsea Fringe Festival event: The Meadowline (2013), we brought tubular meadows to ten tube stations, each on a different line, to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the London Tube!
River of Flowers was awarded a grant from Artists Project Earth (APE) to start a River of Flowers in Bristol, Manchester and York. Grow Wild awarded us grants to develop the River of Flowers in Manchester and York respectively. The Savoy and the Fairmont Hotel Group sponsored us to start a new River of Flowers in Central London and to curate a unique wildflower seed mix called 'Savoy Seeds'. Working with Urban Bees and Lambeth Council we created a 'mini River of Flowers' through Clapham Manor Estate called Clapham Greenways. We curated another unique wild seed mix, ‘ Plant Me for Pollinators’, for Urban Bees. Working with Manchester Art Gallery, we created a Pop Up Wild Orchard of crab apple trees and curated an understorey of all-white wildflowers called the Cloud Meadow, which was also planted in Whitworth Park. We made links with the Urban Pollinators Project headed up by Professor Jane Memmott at Bristol University, and planted an all-blue wildflower Sky Meadow at Feed Bristol. At various places in York including St Nicks, York University and York St Johns University, the River of Flowers team plus volunteers planted an all-yellow Sun Meadow. For the Chelsea Fringe in Bristol event in May 2014, we designed the Bee Wheelin' Garden of pollinator-friendly wildflowers planted in a bicycle wheel-shaped planter at the Bristol Bike Project.
At the start of the year River of Flowers linked up with the international artist Natalie Jereminjenko and helped her with data from the National Trust to produce a magnificent Phenological Clock, which was exhbited at the V&A from April until July as part of the the V&A's exhbition 'All this belongs to you'. We also curated a Moon Meadow for Moths for the MothxCinema screening in July at the V&A. Later that month, River of Flowers curated a series of Conversations in the living TreeXOffice in Hoxton Square held by designer Natalie Jereminjenko, which included Alison Benjamin of Urban Bees, Matt Shardlow of Buglife and Chris Romer-Lee of the Thames Bath project. For our Chelsea Fringe in Bristol 2015 event, River of Flowers and Bee Bristol displayed our design for the Honeycomb Meadow, a copyrighted, mobile, modular, interlinking system of hexagons filled with native wildflowers, at Millennium Square and other places in Bristol. Also for Bristol, we designed a wildflower street planting scheme for St Georges in Bloom. For our Chelsea Fringe Festival 2015 event in London, River of Flowers held an Urban Wild Plant Safari Walk through Bankside, London. The Manchester Partnership launched Cycle Flower Power, cycling from Manchester to London, and distributed our uniquely curated 'Cycle Flower Power' wildflower seed mix along the way.
We have promoted the Honeycomb Meadow as an environmental solution to transform the deserts of a city such as grey concrete squares, amenity grassland and bitumen rooftops into luscious foraging areas for bees and other pollinators. It provides a practical solution to growing wildflowers in areas where digging up the ground and sowing seed to create permanent urban meadows would neither be appropriate nor desirable, and where low maintenance is required. The Honeycomb Meadow can be easily disassembled to be moved piecemeal to community organisations or schools where others can increase their knowledge and experience of wildflowers and pollinators. The Honeycomb Meadow has several modular applications for different locations and provides for horizontal and vertical planting. We will sell these on commission to help monetise River of Flowers and enable us to fulfill our social aims.
- Our plans this year is to donate Honeycomb Meadow Octet as a easily-maintained growing space to health care institutions such as hospitals and hospices in our new Grow Your Own Health project where we will be engaging cancer patients and their families in an environmental initiative to create a garden of healing plants including edibles for pollinators and people. More evidence of the value of gardening for the chronically sick is emerging all the time, and so are opportunities of working more closely with this section of the community. Gardening a few times per week or even looking out at a garden benefits people, physically and mentally. The evidence is so compelling that ‘horticultural therapy’ is being used to treat hospital patients throughout the UK, Europe and North America. We will also continue to work as native wild plant consultants in the curation of native wild gardens for wild pollinators in cities around the world.
Although we started seven years ago, all our original principles and social aims still hold true today. River of Flowers:
• works with communities to create trails or ‘rivers of flowers’ or wild flowering trees as forage and habitat for bees and other pollinators in cities!
• designs creative solutions for supporting pollinators in urban landscapes!
• engages with food groups to show how ‘feeding the bees feeds us’!
• planting for pollinators, plants, people and peace!
• aims to inspire or initiate a River of Flowers in every city of the world!
Meadow © Jonathan Billinger