Project: Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park

Client: Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA)

Requirement: 12,000 semi-mature trees, 2,000 multi-stems, 50,000 shrubs and herbaceous plants

Date: 2010-2015

Deliveries Made: 250

Hillier Nurseries won the highly contested plant contract to supply all the London 2012 Olympic Parkland trees, commissioned by the Olympic Delivery Authority. The first phase of the project was successfully completed prior to the London Olympics 2012.

As a result, we secured a second phase of work, known as ‘The Transformation’, which saw the creation of the permanent Queen Elizabeth Parklands for the client London Legacy Development Corporation.

Today, the park is fully open to the public and covers 111 acres. It is a perfect example of Great British plants for a great British project that all parties are proud of.


For the Olympic Parklands projects, all the field grown trees used had to be containerised. This allowed for an extended planting programme as trees could be planted all year round. Also, container trees establish more quickly on-site with little or no check to the growth of the trees.

The trees were selected at a suitable size from the field and then containerised on our Container Nursery. They were kept in an area of the Nursery reserved exclusively for Contract Growing projects. The specific plot was clearly marked, so the client could inspect their trees and know they were secure and ready to be called off the site as required.

The trees were containerised into air pots. The air pot’s designs enabled the trees to produce extensive fibrous roots, which are vital for the exchange of air and water, enhancing the success of transplanting trees into their final location on site. As a result, there were no losses of trees (0% failure) thanks to the quality of the trees, the containerisation and the professional maintenance at the Olympic Park.

A broad range of shrubs and herbaceous plants were also produced at our nursery to the client’s exact specification. All tree production at Hillier Nurseries is 100% peat free.


We were encouraged to innovate by the client to guarantee the traceability of the trees. We devised the following approach:

  • All trees in the field were tagged with the plant name (botanical), size of tree and total quantity in the group
  • A second plastic identification tag with the client’s name and tree security ID number was placed on each tree. Each tree on the Olympic Parklands Planting Plan had a specific number and this corresponded with the trees unique security ID number.
  • This numbering system provided a full audit trail and was used on all databases and schedules to identify species, size, field location, container location and supply dates. The trees were ‘called off’ by their unique numbers with 100% success of correct tree to correct location


The Olympic Park site was recognised as being one of the most complex construction sites in Europe, requiring a number of challenging delivery needs:

  • Multiple call-offs throughout the year, often requiring a rapid turnaround
  • A large number of deliveries (more than 250), with some large trees only able to be carried one to a lorry
  • Special requirements, including weekend deliveries and abnormal loads
  • All lorries conformed to the highest Cross Rail safety standards
  • Three landscape contractors were used just to the size of the Olympic Park with each contractor working in a slightly different way
  • All deliveries had to be booked in with the Olympic Delivery Management System and be in line with their requirements

The key to successful delivery was effective ongoing communication, particularly between our Project Manager and Despatch Manager. We took great care and pride over every tree. Martin Hillier commented during the process: “Every Olympic load will be perfect and nurtured as if they were our Show plants going to win a gold medal at the Chelsea Flower Show.”

Horticultural Skills

The Olympic plant supply contract had challenging production requirements that required considerable horticultural expertise:

  • All trees were containerised in air pots
  • The Arts project team required 15 ‘special trees’, all at 12-15m high and specially pruned with artworks in the canopy. The trees were selected, shaped and delivered as abnormal loads at one per lorry
  • Over 1,000 of the trees were produced as multi-stems and shaped as specified
  • Phil Hall visited the Olympic Park at the client’s request to train one of the Landscape Contractors on bespoke pruning on 10m high Platanus hispanica

Lessons Learnt

Supplying the Olympic Park was a major project that continually evolved and developed. We learnt very quickly that every obstacle can be overcome horticulturally and effective communication is key.

Hillier Project Team

Project Director – Hossein Arshadi

Project Manager – Caroline Swann

Assistant Project Manager – James Hillier

Plant Production – Phil Hall (Field Trees), Martin Hillier (Container Trees) and Dave Hooker (Shrubs)