In Helsinki, a former power-station grew a garden overnight! Built in the shape of a roller-coaster, the mobile garden was stacked with plants donated by the city’s residents and collected on a special ‘Plant Tram’, combining two iconic elements of Finland’s capital.
In September 2012, people in Helsinki, the capital of Finland, were invited to travel on their city tram line and bring along something special – a plant or two. This special tram service (‘The Plant Tram’), collected hundreds of plants over three days, all donated by the residents of the city.
The destination? Suvilahti, a former power-plant and gasworks, located in the North-East of the city. Dating to the early 1900s, the facility was closed in 1976. It was resurrected in 2008 in a new, residential avatar and is presently being used by artists and for cultural activities.
The Helsinki Plant Tram is a project that used the city’s local transport system to build an urban garden, with plants donated by its passengers.
The British Council commissioned London-based landscape architecture firm Wayward Plants to create an urban garden in Helsinki for the Everyday Discoveries exhibition, part of World Design Capital 2012 (featuring design from 26 countries).
“As visiting artists, we sought to recognise and celebrate the existing urban gardening practices in Helsinki, and create a garden utilising local skills, materials and energy. To this end, we built a partnership with the local environmental organization, Dodo,” says Heather Ring, Creative Director at Wayward Plants.
The creatively-named ‘Wayward Plants’ professes to do just that – they transform derelict sites into thriving community gardens populated with recycled materials and make formerly disused spaces into new venues for creativity and celebration.
The award-winning firm also has a Wayward Plant Registry, sets up halfway homes, pop-up shops, adoption events and ever-evolving community gardens for these unwanted plants, bringing together people and plants through spaces and stories.
Back in Helsinki, the special trams had plants hanging around creating a cheery atmosphere. Passengers donating plants were greeted by team members who collected the gift and helped the giver to document the offering. Team members also spoke about the project with fellow passengers (catch the video on www.planttram.org).
“The urban action on the tram served to mobilise people, and facilitate an exchange of plants, stories and knowledge,” explains Heather.
After the collection drive, the plants were destined for display at Suvilhati, in an unusual, mobile urban garden that was installed and subsequently dismantled easily.
All materials used were recycled or free, making it a true community project. “The garden was built with a combination of skilled carpenters and local Dodo volunteers, ones who would benefit from the legacy garden; the timber was recycled from previous events on the site. We had a wonderful response,” says Heather.
So what was the inspiration for the project? “We were inspired by the trams that circled the city, and envisioned a mobile garden and plant exchange that would strengthen the local network of growing spaces along the route,” says Heather.
The structure for the garden was inspired by the iconic wooden roller coaster at the Linnanmäki Amusement Park in Helsinki designed for the 1952 Olympics.
The form was designed to weave through the area like a rollercoaster would. And instead of seats for brave rollercoaster riders, boxes stuffed with green plants and flowers in vibrant hues, brought life and colour to a space with a decidedly industrial edge.
A shipping container was converted into a temporary tram station next to the garden. Lining the walls were maps detailing the journeys that the plants had taken to get to their destination and also documentation for the ‘Everyday Discoveries’ exhibition project.
The garden was earlier previewed at the Flow Festival in August 2012 and most of the plants were exhibited there before being moved to the Suvilahti site.
At Suvilahti, once passengers and visitors arrived at the garden, they were able to relax amongst the “extraordinary raised beds”. Visitors could walk around, have a picnic or a drink with friends, or as many chose to do, skate amongst the display.
After the exhibition in September, the garden has now been dismantled. “It will be reconfigured into new, permanent community gardens for Dodo. It was designed to be modular and to have this lasting legacy,” says Heather.
Wayward Plants are at work on several such projects promising to bring life to city centres and unused spaces. The world could certainly use more of that!
Text By Chryselle D’Silva Dias
Photographs Courtesy Plant Tram