Sheffield expert designs unique new rain garden

An academic from the University of Sheffield has designed an innovative new rain garden at the WWT London Wetland Centre in Barnes, south west London. The garden will be officially opened today (15 September 2010) by Alan Titchmarsh.

Dr Nigel Dunnett, from the University of Sheffield's Department of Landscape, has designed the new garden which features a cascade of 'rain gardens' running down a gentle incline to a stream with lush, bold vegetation along its edges. The rain gardens emanate from water collected on the green roof of a pavilion, one of the central attractions of the garden.

The pavilion is made from a recycled shipping container and is, in itself, a mini garden with a green roof and wildlife habitats installed on both ends designed to provide environments for insects to live in. The pavilion provides shelter not only for insects but visitors too, with seating where they can relax to enjoy the garden and also pick up tips on how to manage rain water in their own gardens to reduce dependence on the mains supply.

A Rain Garden allows rain water run-off from surfaces such as roofs and driveways to be absorbed and used. Efficiently managing the run-off from impermeable surfaces prevents erosion and flooding and also conserves water as it reduces reliance on mains water supplies.

Dr Nigel Dunnett has designed the RBC (Royal Bank of Canada) Rain Garden with water management as its key focus, a vital message at a time when water conservation will become increasingly important as the climate changes. The Landscape Agency's Matthew Wilson worked with Dr Dunnett on the garden's design and together they have created a visual feast with a pictorial meadow, a rocky 'dry' stream and creature towers sited throughout the landscape to provide habitats for insects and small mammals.

Dr Dunnett, a Reader in Urban Horticulture, is an expert in sustainable landscape and garden design, and naturalistic planting. The Landscape Agency is one of the UK's foremost landscape consultancies and their Associate Director of Design, Matthew Wilson, has just finished filming a new series for Channel 4.

Dr Dunnett said: "All areas are planted to give a long season of flowering display, with the main focus on late spring to autumn. As befits a garden in a wetland nature reserve the key message of the garden is water management, but I have also made wildlife habitats a priority, including in and on all the built structures, and wherever possible we have used recycled materials throughout such as reused tiles and bricks for the wall copings and claddings."

Simon Rose, project manager for WWT, commented: "The new Rain Garden is a marvelous example of sustainability - here visitors can walk through a garden and see simple things they can do to help reduce flooding and encourage wildlife whilst creating a beautiful place to live."

The design is aspirational and influential but also practical and intimate so that people feel they can achieve the same effect at home. As an urban garden it will show how gardens can be integrated with buildings and the cascade of rain gardens, fed from the roof of the pavilion – with a foot pump for visitors to use – will make the water cycle visible.

The RBC Rain Garden is a joint initiative between the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT) and the RBC Blue Water Project, a multi-year programme that helps foster a culture of water stewardship worldwide. WWT won an RBC Blue Water Project grant in 2009 to build the garden at their Wetland Centre in London.

Notes for Editors: Dr Nigel Dunnett is a Reader in Urban Horticulture, and Director of the Green Roof Centre, University of Sheffield. He is one of the UK's foremost planting designers and originated the concept of 'Pictorial Meadows'. He is the author of the standard books on green roofs, rain gardens and naturalistic planting design, and writes widely on garden and horticultural matters. He is a consultant on horticulture and planting design for the London 2012 Olympic Park, working for LDA Design and Hargreaves Associates, landscape architects for the Olympic Parklands. His first Chelsea Flower Show garden in 2009 won an RHS Silver-Gilt Medal.

The Landscape Agency is one of the leading consultancies in the restoration, conservation and future development of historic landscapes in Britain. Associate Director of Design, Matthew Wilson, worked with Dr Dunnett in developing the design. Matthew Wilson, Head of Creative Development for the Royal Horticultural Society, is also a respected garden writer, lecturer and broadcaster – he has just finished filming a new Channel 4 series, 'Landscape Man'.

The RBC Blue Water Project is a wide-ranging, 10 year programme that helps foster an international culture of water stewardship and strives towards a future of sustainable water resources. The grant to WWT London Wetland Centre is the first RBC Blue Water Project grant in the UK and the garden was considered a suitable scheme as one of the fund's aims is to support watershed protection.

WWT London Wetland Centre is a 105 acre wetland visitor centre in Barnes, southwest London, an international award-winning visitor attraction and a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). 2010 is the 10th anniversary of the centre, which was opened by Sir David Attenborough in May 2000. It is home to a wide range of wildlife species including birds, water voles, bats and amphibians. Facilities include six wildlife hides, Water's Edge Café, Water's Edge Room, Observatory, a gift shop and cinema.

The Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT) is a leading UK conservation organisation saving wetlands for wildlife and people across the world. With over 60 years' experience of wetland conservation, WWT is committed to the protection of wetlands and all that depend on them for survival.

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