When the Chinese city of Quindao decided to stage an International Horticultural Exposition, it turned to the landscape architects behind Sheffield’s Winter Garden to help it create the permanent centrepiece.
Its giant glass house will be five times bigger than the Winter Garden and has to be able to cope with 15 million visitors during the six months the expo runs – that’s 8,000 people an hour.
Weddle Landscape Design was also asked – at the last minute - to create the British garden, which will be five times bigger than all the show gardens that make up the Chelsea Flower Show and have to look good for six months, compared with the five days Chelsea lasts.
Landscaped gardens are also a key element of China’s housing boom.
“Chinese housing is tower blocks and tower blocks are going up all over the place because of the speed of urban expansion,” says Mike Browell.
For many residents, it will be their first experience of city living and developers want them to have the best experience possible.
“Developers want to give them a high quality garden experience, with shared gardens and high quality landscaping,” says Mike Browell, whose company has been involved in more than 15 such schemes.
While providing homes may be the catalyst, the scheme will also include other properties – more often than not a shopping mall and office towers with roof gardens and a top quality hotel, which may have its own special “photography garden” for weddings and other events. New Chinese planning standards are also forcing municipalities down the green path.
The historic city of Pizhou, half way along the ‘Grand Canal’ that connects the capital, Beijing, to the port city of Hangzhou, almost 700 miles away, is one such location.
The mayor of Pizhou called in Weddle to draw up a master plan to create no fewer than 52 new parks of varying sizes.
“There is no-one in the city of Pizhou who has designed a park because two or three generations of expertise was wiped out by civil war, war with Japan and then the Cultural Revolution,” says Mike.
“I have been in Sheffield for 35 years and we have done parks in Mosborough and a little bit of park improvement, but I’ve never done as many parks!”
Weddle’s master plan includes parks of different sizes – “from Chelsea Park to Norfolk Park, Graves Park and Endcliffe Park” – says Mike, and with different themes – a botanical garden, heritage park, sport park, agricultural history park and an ecology park, among others.
Weddle is already involved, bringing its Sheffield-based skills to housing, commercial, heritage and cultural projects in cities across China, but Mike Browell sees further scope in the countryside.
“Everyone is rushing to the cities, leaving the countryside and its heritage behind. It is time to start planning the countryside for the next generation of city dwellers to spend their leisure time,” he says.
“China has an incredible countryside, incredible mountains, scenic areas and significant opportunities for water developments. International tourism is an absolute must for China in the future.”
Come what may, Mike Browell and his colleagues at Nether Edge-based Weddle can take considerable satisfaction in what their small Sheffield firm has already achieved in the world’s most populous nation.
“These are the most significant projects of my life,” says Mike.
“I’m experiencing a culture completely different to anything I have ever experienced before and I am being treated royally.”