Cowley’s mini “Lavender Fields”

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As part of the creation of three Cowley Low Traffic Neighbourhoods, large planters have been installed as traffic filters allowing people cycling and walking to pass through and restricting private cars. These have been planted up with lavender plants by Oxfordshire County Council. There are now 30 mini “lavender fields” of 1 m squared each helping to attract bees and other insects during the summer and bringing colour and scent to our neighbourhoods.

Helen with the planter she looks after

Residents working as part of Liveable Cowley have recruited a fantastic team of 40+ volunteers to care for the plants in the planters on behalf of the county council. They may also add further plants to create colourful mini gardens. The volunteers range from children to older people and from complete novice gardeners to professional gardeners. They are organised under the Royal Horticultural Society’s “It’s Your Neighbourhood” scheme.

As soon as they were given the green light, many have added more plants or planted seeds to bring extra colour and interest through the summer.

The traffic-filter planters have made a huge difference to our street which was a really busy short-cut before. It is so much quieter, safer and cleaner. We’ve planted marigold and nigella seeds and are about to plant some mixed wildflower seeds. By making the planters more attractive we are hoping that the local community will feel more of an ownership of their nearest planters. We were really pleased that several people came to talk to us to find out what we were doing when we were planting the seeds.


It is sad to report that not everyone has welcomed the arrival of these mini-gardens in our neighbourhoods. Some of the lavender bushes have been stolen out of the planters, much to the volunteers and local residents’ dismay. Many of the planters have benefitted from extra interest in the form of cheerful “Vocal Gnomes”, with messages to us all about the degradation of our environment, from the anonymous artist Athirty4. They are also helping to put across messages about the LTNs.

Our experience of living near a planter has been very mixed. Initial eager anticipation and plans to turn it into a small colourful oasis for birds and insects turned very quickly into a daily battle to retain the reducing number of lavender bushes planted by the Council. We understand that any traffic calming method will arouse feelings, but to vent them on plants seems a particularly miserable thing to do.


During the Corona virus pandemic green spaces, nature and gardens have become much more important to many more of us for our wellbeing and our health. We have also become aware of the climate and environmental crises which we need our attention and action. Cowley is lucky to have several green spaces like Florence Park, Marsh Park and Iffley meadows along the Thames. Even small spaces like these planters provide important resources for insects moving around between gardens which are also very important habitats for wildlife from insects and birds to small mammals, like hedgehogs. There are so many reports of declining insect numbers that it is more important than ever to do what we can to help.

We are very grateful to all the volunteers looking after the planters and improving our local environment. It would be great if the increased interest in gardening since the pandemic could lead to more people turning their gardens in to sanctuaries for wild life. In their Greening Grey Britain campaign, the RHS encourages people to green-up their front gardens for nature and wildlife.

If you know of a green space near you that could be improved with little work, please do let us know. Perhaps we can plan to create a “parklet” out of it in the near future.