James Hitchmough designs master garden - and launches China’s first planting design conference - at Beijing Horticultural Exhibition

The New Silk Road Garden

Professor James Hitchmough has designed one of five ‘master gardens’ at the 2019 Beijing International Horticultural Exhibition, as well as organising China’s first international planting design conference at the same event.

The Beijing Expo 2019 - billed as the world’s largest ever gardening show - was opened on 28 April by Chinese President Xi Jingping and aims to showcase ideas for transforming Beijing ecologically, under the theme 'Live Green, Live Better'.

Professor Hitchmough has designed one of the five master gardens that mark the entrance to the site, which will be visited by an estimated 16 million people between April and October 2019.

James, who worked in collaboration with Tom Stuart-Smith on the 1500m2 design, said: “the garden is designed to start a conversation and ask whether the constant season change and literal disorder of nature-like plantings is acceptable within intensely urban Chinese cities. It poses a question to which visitors will respond with their own narratives.”

The garden – New Silk Road - is comprised of a woodland glade formed by closely planted trees and under-planted with a complex mix of woodland herbs and dry meadow grassland.

The New Silk Road The New Silk Road
The New Silk Road The New Silk Road

James said: “I was asked to design a garden at the Expo to explore new types of planting design because of my involvement with the Beijing City Government as an international expert. I wanted to collaborate with Tom on the garden; he has so much experience in doing show gardens, and we have worked together on many projects over the years. He had never designed anything in China, and my extensive experience of working in China and having access to support nurseries such as the Green Garden Group made for an excellent partnership.”

“We jointly generated the conceptual ideas and then Tom and Frank Wu worked up the hard detail, whilst I designed all of the planting with support from Dr Ye Hang Hang and Jingyu Cao.”

Department of Landscape Architecture PhD student Kewei Chen will visit the garden, as well as other sites around Beijing during 2019 to asses visitor, management staff and government officers’ responses to this eco-landscape.

As part of the Expo, James helped to organise China’s first international planting design conference, inviting a stellar cast of planting designers - Piet Oudolf, Tom Stuart-Smith, Cassian Schmidt, Thomas Rainer, Claudia West and John Greenlee - to Beijing, to explore how the design they undertake elsewhere in the world might be successfully translated into the Chinese urban context.

The sold out conference, which was held in the Beijing Museum of Flower Arrangement and organised in collaboration with the Beijing Green Garden Group, was introduced by James, who drew on his extensive research activity in the use of natural planting schemes within Chinese cities.

Former Department of Landscape Architecture researcher Dr Ye Hang also addressed delegates, focusing on improving the quality of urban planting design in China.

The New Silk Road The New Silk Road
The New Silk Road The New Silk Road

Following the conference, the speakers flew to Chengdu to undertake a six-day, fully-funded road trip to explore Chinese native vegetation in the mountains of Western Sichuan.

A documentary of the trip, filmed by Ron Zimmerman, will be available to view in the near future.

James added: “I hope the film will be both a fantastic record of the event and something of an entertainment to boot!”

Watch James discuss 'New Silk Road' on Chinese state television