Press release

Secret of Olympic Park gnome revealed

All will be explained in book on Britain’s largest new park for more than 100 years.

London 2012's Olympic Park

A smirking garden gnome hidden among the tall grasses of the Olympic Park features in a new book on the creation of what will become the largest new green space in Britain for more than a century.

The foot-tall statuette, which has fondly been named ‘Impkins’ by gardeners, was clandestinely planted among rushes in a tip of the hat to British garden culture shortly before the Games started at the end of July. And with the precise location a mystery, visitors to the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, the legacy name for the area, will be challenged to find the diminutive figure when it reopens from next July.

Horticulturalist Chris Collins, official gardener for BBC’s Blue Peter, said: ‘I think it’s brilliant that amid the creation of Britain’s biggest and best park for a hundred years, gardeners found the time for a great British sense of humour by hiding a gnome in the rushes. Every garden needs a gnome and the Olympic Park is no different. The challenge will now be for visitors in the future to spot Impkins.’

The 287-page book, entitled The Making of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, takes the reader through how the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) created the Olympic Park.

Situated in east London adjacent to Victoria Park, one of the world’s earliest public parks built in the 19th century, the Park provides an innovative blueprint for contemporary urban park design and is recognised as an exemplar sustainable development for the 21st century. As a primary legacy of the London 2012 Games, the Park was conceived as a new piece of sustainable city, transforming a largely neglected, contaminated, post-industrial district, into a new community for up to 20,000 residents, shifting the centre of gravity of London eastwards (see Notes to Editors for a further breakdown of the book).

The comprehensive book is written by those at the heart of the project and is co-authored by John Hopkins, former ODA project Sponsor for Parklands and Public Realm, and Peter Neal, the former Head of Public Space at the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment.

Beginning with a foreword by Director of Tate and ODA Board member, Sir Nicholas Serota, the book contains interviews with those behind the building of the Games. These include Chairman Sir John Armitt, Chief Executives Dennis Hone and predecessor Sir David Higgins, in addition to those that designed and created the parklands, such as Sarah Price, George Hargreaves and professors Nigel Dunnett and James Hitchmough.

Dennis Hone, Chief Executive of the ODA and London Legacy Development Corporation, which is transforming and managing the Park in Legacy, said: ‘Creating a new park within London has been a significant challenge for the project. We needed to clean more than two million tonnes of soil, dredge waterways, create new sweeping landscapes, and introduce thousands of flowers, plants and trees to the site. This book captures the trials and tribulations endured in creating Britain’s largest new urban park and goes some way to highlighting the many teams and individuals that breathed life into this area of London.’

John Hopkins, former ODA project sponsor for parklands and public realm, said: ‘The Olympic Park is a major achievement for landscape architects collaborating with numerous other professionals. It now stands as an exemplar for how One Planet Living and sustainable developments can be delivered both here in the UK and internationally. We have created a new park, the like of which no-one has seen before. Not only did we turn brown to green but we have created a fantastic new park for people and wildlife that will serve new and existing communities for generations to come. This new book tells the story of how we did that.’

More than 280,000 people saw the parklands evolve as they were taken on bus tours around the Olympic Park from as early as September 2007.

The Olympic Parklands contain 4,000 semi-mature trees, an extensive wetland planting programme and more than 10 football fields’ worth of nectar-rich annual and perennial meadows designed and sown to flower during the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

In the south of the Park, the Royal Horticultural Society Olympic Park Great British Garden celebrates the unique qualities of the British garden through 2012-themed Gold, Silver and Bronze Gardens. A riverside London 2012 Garden stretches for half a mile between the Aquatics Centre and Olympic Stadium and celebrates centuries of British passion for gardens and collecting plants, with picnic lawns, timber seating and 120,000 plants from 250 different species across the world arranged into four temperate regions: Europe, Americas, Asia and the Southern Hemisphere.

In the north of the Park, 1,500 trees and more than 300,000 wetland plants have been planted along alongside 15,000 square metres of riverside spectator lawns, timber seating, frog ponds, loggeries, wetlands, woodlands and tree-lined footpaths - creating a haven for wildlife and plants.

Notes to Editors:

The Making of the Queen Elizabeth Park, by John Hopkins and Peter Neal:

  • The Making of the Queen Elizabeth Park is the only authoritative account of the planning, design and construction of the Park beginning with the bid to host the games, setting out its historical, philosophical and physical context; describing the strategic fit within the Thames Gateway, Lower Lea Valley and Stratford City; explaining how One Planet Living principles developed by the World Wildlife Fund and BioRegional underpinned sustainability throughout the project; and concludes with a ‘Walk in the Park’ capturing its essence for both Games and Legacy. Richly illustrated, it is a unique reference for those involved in the planning, design, delivery and management of sustainable urban parks and new communities on post-industrial and other land, and those seeking to host future Games and other large scale international events.

  • John Hopkins DipLA MLA FLI ASLA is a landscape architect, environmental planner and urban designer. He was project sponsor for the parklands and public realm at the Olympic Delivery Authority from 2007 to 2011 and is currently visiting professor of landscape architecture at the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Greenwich.

Note: John Hopkins died in January 2013.

  • Peter Neal BA (Hons), DipLA, MDes, Dip Ecology, FLI is a landscape architect, environmental planner and urban designer. He was head of public space at the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment from 2003 to 2011 and has acted as an adviser to the Olympic Delivery Authority for the Parklands and Public Realm since 2006. He currently runs his own landscape planning and design consultancy specialising in urban parks and the public realm.

Parklands fact-file:

Features of the Olympic Park parklands during and after the Games include:

  • 4,000 new 4-7-metre-high semi-mature trees, with over 2,000 trees grown in Hampshire already planted in the Olympic Park, including Wild and Bird Cherry, Hazel, White Willow, Crack Willow, Alder, Aspen, Holm Oak, English Oak, Rowan, Lime, field Maple, Sweet Gum and Silver Birch. The trees will provide shelter from wind and sunshine across the Park. Willow, Poplar and Alder have been planted in river areas to withstand flooding and species vulnerable to climate change have been avoided.

  • More than 10 football fields’ worth of nectar-rich annual and perennial meadows were designed to flower during the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

  • Wetland bowls and rare wet woodlands in the north of the Park create habitat and help manage floodwater, protecting new housing and venues and 5,000 existing properties from a 1:100 year storm.

  • 300,000-plus wetland plants, grown in Norfolk and Wales, have been planted as part of the UK’s largest ever urban river and wetland planting. Over 30 species of native reeds, rushes, grasses, sedges, wet wildflowers and irises have been grown initially on the Gower peninsular in Wales, with around a third grown from cuttings and seeds collected from the Olympic Park before construction started. The plants were grown-on coir mats sunk in waterbeds in Thetford and were transported and planted on the Olympic Park riverbanks.

  • The riverside London 2012 Garden stretches for half a mile between the Aquatics Centre and Olympic Stadium on land that has been cleaned and cleared of railway sidings, contamination and Japanese Knotweed. The garden celebrates centuries of British passion for gardens and collecting plants, with picnic lawns, timber seating and 120,000 plants from 250 different species across the world arranged into four temperate regions: Europe, Americas, Asia and the Southern Hemisphere.

  • A riverside Royal Horticultural Society Great British Garden overlooking the Olympic Stadium, featuring Bronze, Silver and Gold areas with matching colour wildflowers and grasses, features and running-track inspired spiral paths. The Garden also includes a ‘de Coubertin oak’, currently being grown at Kew Gardens from an acorn collected from the tree that Baron Pierre De Coubertin planted in 1894 to thank the citizens of Much Wenlock in Shropshire for inspiring the founding of the modern Olympic Games.

  • New habitats for species including: otter, kingfisher, grey heron, bee, house sparrow, bat, song thrush, starling, toadflax brocade moth, lizard, black redstart, flower and fungus beetle, frogs, newts and toads, eel, water vole, slow worm, grass snake, linnet, sand martin, swift, and invertebrates.

  • Feature planting designed by the Klassnik Corporation, We Made That and Riitta Ikonen - an art collective based in the Host Boroughs - and the University of Sheffield to represent the industrial heritage of the Olympic Park site.

  • 250 benches and more than 3,300 seats built into the parklands so that people are never more than a 50-metre walk from a seat.

Further legacy features of the Olympic Park green space:

  • The southern part of the Park will focus on retaining the Games spirit, with riverside gardens and areas for markets, events, cafes and bars in legacy.

  • The northern area of the Park will use the latest green techniques to manage flood and rainwater while providing quieter public space and habitats for hundreds of existing and rare species.

  • A six-metre-wide, one mile road cycle circuit built into the parklands around the Velodrome, with lighting for year round and evening use but low level UV values to protect bats. Also, 6km of off-road mountain bike tracks and a network of cycle paths across the Park including National Cycle Network Route 1.

  • A large oval lawn with an amphitheatre setting in the north of the Park suitable for games, picnics and other leisure activities.

  • More than two hectares worth of secure and accessible allotments the size of four football pitches.

  • 5km of restored and accessible previously neglected rivers, including the original Carpenter’s Lock restored in a riverside bowl in the centre of the Park, connecting the northern and southern areas.

  • Mounds and hills across the Park for tumbling in summer and sledging in winter.

  • Temporary tree-lined daffodil, bluebell, clover and primrose meadows that vary through the seasons created on the development land on the northern entrance to the Park that may not be developed for many years. Rather than traditional construction hoarding which would deter people from using the Park, this unique use of parklands also reduces long-term security costs.

  • Hanging gardens’ thirty feet above ground on the huge footbridge from Stratford City with meadows, lawns, shrubs and rows of trees welcoming people over the main walking entrance into the Park.

  • A tree-lined ‘park road’ into the north of the Park modeled on The Mall and Birdcage Walk next to St James’s and Hyde Park, with distinctively designed surfacing, lighting and bollards and traffic management so visitors feel like they are in the Park.

  • A new regional sports club set in parklands with a tranquil garden square centered on the original Eton Manor Boys’ Club war memorial and lined with Sweet Gum trees which turn red around Remembrance Day.

  • Large concourse areas reduced in size in legacy and broken up with ‘islands’ of plants, trees and meadows.

  • Parklands around the Aquatics Centre including planted hills with seating providing views across the river to the 2012 Gardens.

Published 26 November 2012