Wimbledon a living English country garden


London (AFP) - Keeping the Wimbledon tennis championships looking like an English country garden is a year-round task for a green-fingered crew that keep the grounds in pristine condition.

Some 20,000 plants are brought in for the two-week tournament, plus another 15,000 petunias in hanging baskets dotted around the All England Club in southwest London.

The three weeks before the Grand Slam tournament are the busiest in preparing the site, while the Wimbledon fortnight itself is a relatively calmer maintenance job.

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"From late April to early May, the workload ramps up," head gardener Martyn Falconer said Thursday.

Doing his 19th championships at the club, he runs a full-time team of seven gardeners.

"We've tried to hit the 'tennis in an Englsh garden' brief a lot more in the last five years. Before that, it was more evergreen shrubbery," said Falconer.

"We've definitely upped the game."

The effort is proving a hit with Wimbledon visitors, some of whom come as much for the flowers as for the tennis.

"We get lots of feedback from visitors and players," Falconer said.

"A couple of players have said how peaceful it makes the grounds feel because it's so green and colourful.

"If they feel they need more to make them less stressful, we can always add more!"

- 'Splash of colour' -

This year, two new living walls have been affixed on the outside of Court One, flanking the giant screen infront of the Aorangi picnic terrace where thousands of fans gather.

The soil-free, hydroponic system is automatically irrigated but provides the gardeners with a challenge as they have to use lifts to do some vertical maintanance.

"All around London they're popping up on all sorts of buildings. It's great for biodiversity. They have so many benefits. Anything from insulating buildings to taking the carbon emissions down," said Falconer.

"It's not just for decoration. Goldfinches were nesting in it a week after it was installed. Walking along there, you can see all the bees.

"Wimbledon is full of wildlife. We had ducks walking around last week. It's crazy, you don't realise you're in a 42-acre (17-hectare) Grand Slam sometimes!"

There are between 80 and 100 different types of plants dotted around the grounds.

The flowers mainly stick to the club colours of purple, green and white, though yellow and red make the odd appearance in the colour pallette.

"It is a good splash of colour," said Falconer.

The club pays for hanging baskets around the Wimbledon area and at Southfields London Underground station so tennis-goers immediately get the feel of the event.

After the championships, unused additional plants are donated to local community gardens so none go to waste.

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