2012 Gardens

The 2012 Gardens pay tribute to Britain's long history of exploration, trade and plant collecting and their impact on the great horticultural diversity and variety of British gardens. 

They are a living timeline celebrating the influences of British trade and commerce on the nation's rich gardening heritage adding a contemporary appreciation of the form and structure of diverse plant habitats from across the globe.

Featuring 70,000 plants from 250 different species across the world, the Gardens are divided into four climatic zones, each draws upon the ecological character of habitats found in the wild:

Europe

This Garden is based on a traditional hay meadow, but includes more robust species that flower for longer. From the 14th century onwards, the influx of plants from Europe that were already a key source for most garden plants from the classical civilisation increased with the growth of trade and exploration.

North America

Flowers in this Garden are found in North American prairies. Plant collecting from North America was at its height in the 1800s, and it is still a key source for summer flower colour in British gardens today.

Southern Hemisphere

This Garden was inspired by the exotic species found in South Africa's Drakensberg range. Flora from South Africa are quite dramatic in colour and form, and the Drakensberg range is a prime example of this. With the warming of the climate, many South African plants are increasingly suitable for British gardens. Plants from South Africa were all the rage in the 19th century.

Asia

This Garden focuses on structure and foliage from the edges of Asian woodlands. Most of Asia was closed to trade and exploration until the 19th century, and when their ports opened for commerce, botanists found a long-established tradition of horticulture in many Asian cultures that outpaced much of what was being practiced in Europe.

  • The Gardens are a unique fusion of formal and informal plantings. Stretching almost a kilometre, the contemporary, perennial plantings combine and are interwoven with structural strips with wide-swathes of intermingled plants set out in a more naturalistic style. Bold blocks of repeating colours and textures provide a sense of continuity. 

    The planting is highly structured, designed for dramatic, year-round effect. The plants themselves were carefully selected not only for their beauty but also for their durability and value in attracting bees, butterflies, hoverflies, and other species for increasing biodiversity.

    Creating the 2012 Gardens was quite an undertaking)  . Rare seeds, cuttings and bulbs were tracked down from across the UK and abroad. These include hundreds of South African plants grown from a small collection in Ireland and seeds collected in South Africa; thousands of rare white chrysanthemums; as well as Asian lilies grown from clumps provided by specialists in the UK. 

    The British nursery Palmstead based in Ashford, Kent had the task of growing these plants for planting in  summer 2011 to allow one year to establish before Games.  Other rare plants include the compass plant, used by Native Americans to navigate the North American prairies, and Summer Beauty, an unusual flowering onion from Europe.

  • During the creation of the 2012 Gardens, a number of people involved in their creation were asked to record their thoughts.  The result a selection of discussions, recollections and thoughts which are guaranteed to inspire amateur and professional horticulturalists alike.  

    Sarah Price, planting designer:

    Dr Phil Askew, who headed up the project:

    Professor James Hitchmough from the University of Sheffield:

    Professor Nigel Dunnet from the University of Sheffield:

  • Download detailed planting guides here for:

    You can also access the full plant list here.