Who's Frank?: An east London community project is making a horticultural hullabaloo of unsung heroes

Seemingly arbitrary names have been springing up in flowerbeds across east London. Except there's nothing random at all about artist Joshua Sofaer's dazzling community project, says Emma Townshend

"So, who is Frank Whipple?" asks yet another puzzled passer-by in Bethnal Green's Victoria Park Gardens in east London, and the gardeners exchange wry smiles over the elaborate flowerbed that spells out his name. Bethnal Green is a hotbed of old-fashioned Britishness these days: the youngest, hippest WI in Britain holds its knitting and sewing meetings there, as "the Shoreditch Sisters"; and now, carpet-bedding is making a comeback in the borough, thanks to the impetus provided by local art project Create.

Carpet-bedding is one of those old British art forms practised now in only a few places. There are still spectacular displays in seaside towns such as Penzance in Cornwall, and Kew Gardens has run to a little carpet-bedded extravagance this summer to celebrate its 250th anniversary. But in reality, the cost of creating these tightly planted, heavily maintained displays is beyond most local councils these days.

So when artist Joshua Sofaer proposed huge carpet-beds of flowers to spell out names chosen by the local community, Create was happy to award him its inaugural prize. Funding has been provided by the project's sponsor, Bank of America, in five boroughs from Greenwich to Waltham Forest, to honour unsung local heroes; as Sofaer explains, "people who would never be celebrated like this any other way". Whipple is one of these, a 101-year-old Millwall supporter who is still an active carer for his own disabled daughter.

And while we are in the park taking pictures, another of Sofaer's "names" actually walks past; an easy candidate for Hackney's most glamorous granny, this is the gorgeous, friendly Fatima Roberts, who works with vulnerable homeless women and was nominated by a work colleague. "When I read what had been written about me," Roberts explains, "I was totally choked up. I was so elated, so honoured."

The plants alone for Sofaer's project run into thousands of pounds, and then there's the laborious cutting, trimming and planting that goes into producing the blocks of colour that light up the park today. Even Tower Hamlets' area manager Michael Hime is pitching in, with black plastic bags tied round the knees of his jeans to stop too much mud getting on them.

But the effect is spectacular and crowd-stopping. Everyone passing, from packs of schoolchildren to old ladies, wants to know who Frank Whipple is. Sofaer's project comes to life, just as he intended, as the gardeners patiently answer their questions. As one of the horticulturalists, Simon Willems, sighs: "If we'd closed the park while we were putting in the plants, we'd have done it in half the time."

Joshua Sofaer's 'Rooted in the Earth' project ( www.rootedintheearth.co.uk) will be on display in parks across London from 13 July

A beginner's guide: How to make your bed

Keep the plants short for legibility

Trim to 5cm high before planting. Plant so that foliage is touching, to create an instant effect. Plants mustn't be allowed to flower, and need a weekly trim.

Use sedums and sempervirums

Slow-growing but pricey. Tower Hamlets uses Pyrethrum "Golden Moss" for lime-green foliage and Echeveria glauca (above) for a bluey-green touch. For its scarlet infill, they went for Alternanthera "Bright Red". (Try www.kernock.co.uk).

Scale is everything

Conspicuous displays were the designer bags of yesteryear. Victorians reckoned 20,000 plants for a baronet, 30,000 for a Duke and 40,000 for a Rothschild.

Discover more property articles at Homes and Property
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine