Never mind the council cutbacks, some Bath communities are doing up their gardens for themselves, says Jane Moore
The Bath in Bloom judging week always falls at a tricky time in the gardening calendar, and this year has been no exception. Tricky because it’s that mid-July point where the early stars of the garden have gone over and the late bloomers are yet to show. This year, of course, just to make things even more difficult, it fell slap bang in the middle of the heatwave to end all heatwaves.
It’s been a long, hard summer for the gardens and gardeners of Bath, but there is nothing that gardeners love more than to swap stories with others. Seeing this in action is one of the lovely things about getting out and about doing a spot of judging for Bath in Bloom.
This year my duties consisted of ‘the battle of streets and squares’, those business and local groups having an impact on the city centre, and local community groups and projects. Neither category had many entrants – really, there must be more of these things going on so please do enter next year – but what they lacked in numbers was made up in sheer enthusiasm. Talk about heart-warming. So here’s a little snapshot of Bath 2018 through the lens of Bath in Bloom.
In the city
You simply can’t miss Wild Walcot and Kingsmead Square if you’re a regular shopper. Walcot Street continues to be the home of innovative ideas and colourful character, and Wild Walcot is a wonderful celebration of the quirkiness of the street’s inhabitants, both business and domestic. I especially love the shopping bag planters and the little oasis of a garden that makes me smile and breathe deeply every time I pass. Kingsmead Square may be more conventional and subdued but I really hope the local businesses get fired up by Wild Walcot and build on what they have already begun. With her boundless enthusiasm and obvious drive, Emma at Grace & Ted is leading the way and hopefully things will only improve.
St Stephen’s Church
The church on Lansdown Hill is an absolute icon of the city at Christmas time when it’s often beautifully lit, but it’s a lovely place in the summer, too. The parishioners and locals have taken on the planters on the road island on Lansdown Hill, filling them with spectacular bedding plants while the garden around the church is also an absolute credit with new tree and shrub plantings, as well as annuals such as sweet peas and poppies.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of all lies behind the church. Who would have thought that tucked away here is a lovely little patch of mature woodland? Stately beech and yew trees create a magical dingle dell which is great fun to explore.Bob Carlton-Porter at St Stephen’s
“We’re actively raising money to develop this into an outdoor meeting area,” says Bob Carlton-Porter, a mainstay of the St Stephen’s gardening group. “We have a good bedrock of very reliable people but whenever we get someone new in it inspires everyone so watch this space – we’ve plenty more to do.”
There is little that escapes the attention of Weston Village gardening club, and I have yet to meet a group with more energy and enthusiasm for their home patch. Not content with talks, garden outings, the flower show and the annual potato day, the club have turned their attention and funds towards the streets of Weston itself.
“We’re really hoping to kick start some of the local businesses into getting involved,” says Christine Brook. “We really want to expand on what we’ve already done and make Weston lovely – but to do that we need reliable helpers.”
The group is off to a promising start, with new containers filled to the brim with bedding plants adorning the high street, along with planters decking the barriers near the nursery. A local grant paid for the containers while the roundabout planting – a triumph of colour even in its first year – came from close to home. “The roundabout cost only £400 to plant with money raised from the annual flower show,” says Stephen Brook. “Though I say it myself, for that money, it’s by far the best roundabout in Bath!” Weston roundabout
Still in Weston, the next stop is the retirement complex of Sheppards Gardens which consists of 37 flats with a live-in manager. The gardening effort on this village site is spearheaded by the indefatigable Margaret Grant. She has been living here for 18 years and every year the community has entered Bath in Bloom. In fact an entire wall in the entrance is given over to their framed certificates and awards, of which the residents are understandably proud.
“The gardeners come in once a fortnight to cut the grass and do any pruning and so on, but we do everything else,” says Margaret. “Lots of the residents have a little bit that they look after and it definitely keeps you fit – especially doing all the watering this summer.”Margaret Grant at Sheppards Gardens
It’s a deceptively large site with front doors opening on to quiet little spaces and courtyards which many of the residents have adopted as their own, filling them with pots and planters, bird tables and rose bushes. What with the benches and garden seats dotted about it is plain that Sheppards Gardens and its gardeners are a lovely little community.
Dotted around the city are these little pockets of floral enterprise and expertise, improving the city for all of us in little but highly remarkable ways. While I take my hat off to the people of Weston, Walcot, Kingsmead and Lansdown, I can’t help but feel there are more of these villages and communities in the city that could get behind Bath in Bloom. It would seem a small step for places such as Widcombe and Larkhall, vibrant, lively communities with so much to offer, to rise to the challenge of Bath in Bloom and go floral.
Jane Moore is an award-winning gardening columnist and head gardener at The Bath Priory Hotel. Twitter: @janethegardener