Bowles & Wyer

Feature Project: Lambeth Palace Library

Written by Rosa Hinton

Our construction team share their insights into the build of the impressive new landscape at Lambeth Palace Library, designed by Dan Pearson.

Lambeth Palace Library is one of the oldest public libraries in the UK, housing the most important ecclesiastical collection of rare books and manuscripts outside of the Vatican Library. A new home for the collection is currently being built within the grounds of Lambeth Palace and Dan Pearson has designed a garden to connect this new building with the medieval palace buildings. Working with contractor, Knight Harwood, we are undertaking the construction of this nature-inspired landscape.

Dan Pearson designed the landscape to enhance the existing habitats of the space, creating an area for rich and diverse wildlife. The naturalistic planting scheme is made up of native plants – such as woodland trees and shrubs, and they were all chosen to have small or cut-leaved canopies, allowing light to reach the garden area. A key feature of the space is a large wetland glade in front of the building, offering a rich opportunity for local biodiversity. The scheme also includes a native wildflower meadow, creating even further habitats.

We began construction in earnest in October 2019 and have taken an agile approach to work around the main contractor, beginning small works projects as far as 12 months before the main construction even began. The landscape is built within a large retaining brick wall and the key element of construction was to sculpt out a new lake, lining it with aquatic soil. Working with Fairwater Ltd, we are using their knowledge of aquatic ecosystems to design the lake and then supply and plant all the aquatic plants. We’ve also built drainage gullies to carry rainwater from the library roof, down stainless-steel chutes to the lake, which over time has filled the lake with natural, untreated rainwater – the best option for the ecosystem.

The rest of the landscape involves carrying out all soiling works, tree planting and also planting the wildflower meadow. As Pearson’s planting style is unique, it’s an unusual mix of naturalised plants specified and we had to grow quite a few key plants from seed. Throughout the construction we were also contending with foxes who consistently were digging up liners, amongst other things, and also the challenging winter weather conditions – which saw our site severely waterlogged on a regular basis!

The Covid-19 pandemic of course has been the latest challenge to add to the list, but construction is now complete and we’re delighted to see this impressive ecological landscape finished.

May 30, 2020