Urban greening: what it is, why it matters, and how we’re contributing

Access to nature – to its beauty, its ability to restore our sense of calm, and its constantly-fascinating range of animals, plants, trees and fungi – is a right that everyone should enjoy, no matter where they live. This is especially true for children, families and individuals living in cities like London, who may lack access to gardens of their own.

‘Urban greening’ is all about making sure green elements are properly integrated into our towns and cities, viewing them as an essential part of the infrastructure, rather than as a ‘nice to have’ extra. It also means thinking about sustainability and ensuring that this infrastructure lasts for generations, protecting our planet and committing ourselves to achieving net zero carbon emissions.

For everyone at Chiswick House and Gardens, our contribution to urban greening means protecting the historic green space we care for and keeping it open and free of charge for everyone, every day of the year.

Situated between the A4 and A316, the 65-acre green oasis we look after is much loved by 825,000 visitors each year. It is home to 1,600 trees, established bat and hedgehog populations, significant and interesting populations of bees (bryony bees), wildfowl that live on the lake and a multitude of insects, including Stag beetles.

The 65-acre green oasis we look after is home to 1,600 trees,

Our mission

We are on a mission here. We believe passionately that we must provide for communities that do not have access to high quality green spaces, providing them with spaces for picnics and play, and with a sense of community and connection with nature that can help those experiencing social isolation and poor physical and mental health.

We are told every day by all our communities how important the gardens are to them. Whether it’s someone walking their dog, coming to an event, engaging in one of our programmes, being a volunteer, or even getting married here, we are a part of local people’s lives.

But when we say ‘everyone’, we need to be sure that we mean everyone, and that we are removing barriers for underrepresented, underserved communities who can’t or don’t regularly access green space. That is where our many community programmes come in.

For example, a recent two-year schools project with one of our local schools, funded by Kusuma Trust, saw every child in the school come several times to find out about trees and plants and the role they play in mitigating air pollution, and to learn practically about plant lifecyles in our 2-acre Kitchen Garden (designing a bed, choosing the trees, shrubs & plants, planting the seeds, caring for them and then planting out).

A recent project saw schoolchildren come several times to find out about trees and plants and the role they play in mitigating air pollution

Over the last 3 years we have also been experimenting and piloting an impressive number of community, schools and outreach projects, co-designed with our community partners, and encompassing everything from our collaborative Grains Project, to the silent space initiative, to the ongoing Black Chiswick through History programme.

What lies ahead?

We are currently in the process of improving our ability to deliver our outreach and learning programmes, via the development of an exciting new community and creative campus.

The challenge here is to strike the right balance – providing access to people for a range of activities, conserving the historic character of our gardens, growing organic produce, gardening for biodiversity, and-future proofing our gardens for climate change, so that they will be here for future generations.

We also need to address our long-term financial sustainability. We do our best to fundraise, but keeping the gardens going costs a lot, especially as we need to raise over 75% of our income ourselves, without support from English Heritage.

We wouldn’t have been able to reach the stage we have without generous support from a range of funders, including including the London Borough of Hounslow, the National Lottery Heritage FundThe Linbury Trust, the Foyle Foundation and the Architectural Heritage Fund. But even with this support, we couldn’t survive without the generous support of our members.

If you’d like to stay in touch and hear more about how our work is progressing, and about our commitment to urban greening, please do sign up to our newsletter to keep in touch.

CHGT Director Xanthe Arvanitakis recently spoke on a panel at ‘GROW FESTIVAL – Making it Happen: What’s Needed to Make the Grey, Green?’, an event held by the Environmental Funders Network Global Generation and the Kusuma Trust to explore urban greening, its impacts, how to fund it and the funding needed to make these projects thrive.