FoRP had asked for a place in the Park to design and maintain. The spot given to us was on the site of a small zoo demolished many years ago. It had lovely stone walls on two sides but was cut off from the rest of the Park by iron railings on the Jubilee Rose Garden side and on the other by a stagnant water course which exited Canal Gardens to a drain under Old Park Road.
The whole area was choked with unwanted plants, enormous Phormiums, Day Lilies and seedling Hollies 20ft high. But also, two beautiful Acers and a weeping cherry struggled to survive in the crush. The soil was full of old bricks, large stones and other debris.Obviously this was not going to be too easy
Judith thought she would have a go at designing the Garden and retired to her studio to do some drawing. A few days later she showed a design to Jon and Debbie , which they liked. A meeting was arranged with the Park Management and they also approved the design. It was based on an idea of the Dales countryside with a rocky outcrop over a stream, crossed by stepping stones leading to woodland beyond. Although later the paths became very wide to enable pushchairs and wheelchairs to have easy access,and the planting became more formal than rural, the garden to-day is as outlined in that first drawing. But next the plan had to become reality and to achieve anything you need a committee. At first Jon, Debbie and Judith struggled alone but soon others were co-opted; an architect, a builder and an engineer, and everyone lived within about 50yds of each other. This wasn’t planned, it just happened. Monthly meetings, fortified with a glass of wine and nibbles, took place in committee members’ houses. For the utmost challenge and satisfaction everything was to be done by FoRP volunteers. No commercial builders were ever involved and anyway it was soon realised that the site was too tight for any heavy machinery to be used. All the heavy work was done by committee and working party members, who came when they could. Enormous stones for the rocky outcrop were dumped over the wall and had to be manhandled into position. To move them involved methods and skills not seen since the stone ages!
Cages called gabions were filled with stone to consolidate the ground beyond the stream and permission was obtained for stepping stones across the stream, subject to the provision of a handrail.
For the next stage, BCTV – The British Trust for Conservation Volunteers (sic) – gave a course in dry stone walling which helped the workers to place each stone correctly in front of the gabions.
The traffic on Old Park Road was held up to allow the wheel-barrowing of 60 tons of topsoil. A grant of £10,000 obtained from ‘Living Spaces’, a government funded programme, helped to pay for this and other materials. The application was successful thanks to the good record keeping of the committee, efficient paperwork and presentation After a couple of years shifting and digging a garden began to appear. But so far without plants! A planting plan was devised and plants were planted. The emphasis was on those that worked hard for their place in the garden. They had to have Spring and Autumn interest or flower late or early in the year, so that there was always something interesting for visitors to see. The last part of the Garden was the south end where the tarmac path into Canal Gardens bordered the Friends’ Garden. This was to be paved but no available paving seemed quite right. Eventually it was decided to have something more interesting than commercial paving. Small slabs of stone usually used to fill gabions in motorway construction were laid in a curving pattern, by hand, onto a sandy base. Everybody knelt down and did it like a jigsaw. It was a very satisfying end to all the previous hard work.
So, now everything was looking very good, but as I’m sure you’ve guessed, there was more to do. Plants need a lot of care as I’m sure everyone who has a garden knows only too well. In the Friends’ Garden we have a small group of loyal, hardworking volunteers who come every other Tuesday morning to tidy, weed, prune, cut back, plant, clear leaves… I could go on but my word count is mounting. But we really need more helpers in what is called the Friend’s Garden Maintenance Group (FGMG). No-one is forced to do work they don’t want to but every little helps. Jobs that seem too skilled can be learned. Tea and biscuits and a chat are often provided if Lynda comes.
Hope to see you there soon!