June 2021: Graham Dear on managing Greenwich Park and the impact of Covid-19

Graham Dear was welcomed to our meeting. He said he was pleased to talk to some fellow gardeners, though he hadn’t gardened himself for many years, as he had moved from being Manager of Greenwich Park to heading up the Greenwich Park Revealed Project (GPRP).  This is a 4-year project aimed at revealing, restoring, protecting and sharing the park’s unique heritage now and for future generations.

Graham said the pandemic had had a profound impact on Greenwich Park and the way it is managed. From March 2020 all recreational activities and events in all the Royal Parks ground to a halt, which resulted in an overall revenue loss of £20million, some 50 percent of annual spend. In Greenwich, the Pavilion Café, boating lake, tennis courts and even the rose garden had to be closed as its gates needed pushing and touching. There was no income from bandstand concerts, filming or car park fees or catering. The park was also unable to get insurance to cover events in 2021.

It had a particularly devastating impact on the GPRP which originally had had a £10m budget allocated to it.  £4.5m was funded by the Heritage Fund which had already begun to be implemented. Graham said he was faced with the challenge of making economies due to the loss of park revenue. He aimed to save £2m, so the GPRP budget has been cut to £8m. The cuts included the Nursery Yard reorganisation and the Sustainable Learning Centre.

Not all was bad though. Closing the through road and avenues was beneficial to pedestrians. Although the park no longer had tourists, there was a massive increase in local visitors to the park – who often arrived by bike or on foot – and used it for exercise and recreation.

Rubbish overflowing in Greenwich Park

Rubbish was an issue but the staff coped well with the challenge and more bins are now a feature of the park!

Visitors were naturally more spaced out because of social distancing needs. An informal poll showed they were much younger as well.  Ethnic diversity also increased by 5 percent.

Graham then went on to discuss the revised plans they had for the park and showed a range of slides to illustrate the programme. He said the GPRP had now begun again.

  1. They plan to preserve, renovate and manage the avenues of trees which have been decimated by diseases, pests and squirrel damage. The horse chestnuts are riddled with bleeding canker and the sweet chestnuts by ink stain disease.
  2. The area around the grand ascent giant steps and parterre banks is to be renovated. Recreating a series of grass steps on the hill leading to the Royal Observatory following the original 17th century design.
  3. The viewing space in front of the area around the statue of General Wolfe is to be increased and opened up. A café will open in the space behind.
  4. The Old Wilderness and deer park community facilities will be enhanced including a new classroom. The deer herd is to be sent on holiday to Richmond Park for 2 years.
  5. Vanbrugh Yard: The area in the SE corner of the park is to be reorganised.  There will be a cafe aimed at taking pressure off the Pavilion Café. The boundaries of nursery yard, will be shifted and opened up to the public.  It will feature a new glass house, kitchen garden, wildlife orchard, volunteer room and public toilet facilities.
  6. The seating in One Tree Hill will be improved.
  7. Car parking at the pedestrian entrance at Blackheath Gate will be removed and the pedestrian entrance will be improved.
  8. The Victorian bandstand is to be improved and a power supply for community events installed.
  9. The wildlife habitat is to be increased and mowing will use a meadow cut rather than an amenities regime.
  10. The Victorian drinking fountains to be reinstated.
  11. Two self-seeded mature trees are to be removed from Flamstead House to improve the view.

Finally, he discussed the park’s engagement with the wider community, including training schemes that were being introduced  such as three year apprentices  and  cultural events such  as the Tramshed and dance. Graham then answered members questions, and was thanked for such an interesting talk.

Angela


Graham Dear is Manager for Greenwich Park. His management has overseen Greenwich Park Revealed, ‘an exciting multi million pound project to conserve and to enhance Greenwich Park’s historic and natural heritage, putting the community at its very heart’.

A year in the life of the Old Pond Garden, 2020-21

At the AGM a year ago, I nervously stood in front of the packed Long Gallery at Charlton House and gave a talk about the Old Pond Garden walled garden.

Old Pond Garden, February 2020

The Society has been meeting once a month at Charlton House for over 30 years, and yet a large proportion of our members (myself included until a couple of months prior to that) had no idea the walled gardens existed. Local Charlton members knew of course, but our membership is drawn from a wide area of South East London, so this was news for many of them.

We proposed that a volunteer scheme should be set up to help renovate and maintain the gardens, since the RBG gardeners were too stretched to do more than trim and mow. We had the support of Royal Greenwich Heritage Trust, and with their help had applied for some funding from the Greenwich Neighbourhood Growth Fund.

But it was a bit of a leap of faith- CABAHS has only ventured into volunteering once in its history, back in the 1990’s, when members helped run the garden and greenhouse at Greenwich Hospital. So in February we launched the volunteer scheme in the garden, on the weekend of Storm Dennis, with our carefully prepared flyers flying about everywhere, and everyone taking a quick look at the garden and running for cover (and coffee and cakes) in the House. But apart from the weather it was a success as we had 34 interested people sign up on the spot.

The volunteers started work very enthusiastically on a lovely sunny Sunday in late February, tackling the early weeds and brimming with ideas of what should stay, go or could be donated from their own gardens. So many discussions about what is a weed, whether the giant Phormiums should be kept, and whether forget-me-nots are invasive! We developed an Old Pond Garden committee, to administer and run the scheme (and deal with the interesting Health & Safety issues– eg don’t eat the plants). Volunteer sessions were very well attended, even as the nastier weather set in, and a tea and homemade cake routine developed alongside the weeding.

While enjoying our time in the garden, of course world events were catching up with us and we had to close the scheme on March 21st as the first Covid-19 Lockdown hit.

During that first Lockdown, the weather decided to become unseasonably hot, which was nice for all of us stuck at home, but totally fried the primroses and snowdrops we had planted in the garden. Behind the scenes, the Old Pond Garden committee carried on planning. Melanie and Kay filmed a 2 minute clip of the garden for the Greenwich & Bexley Hospice Open Gardens, which raised our profile tremendously and helped with funding for the Hospice.

June 30th and we were back on track! But by now we had even more volunteers, and they included local garden designer Jason Carty. The very professional and lovely planting plan that Jason came up with was quickly adopted and the Volunteers set to with renewed energy and enthusiasm.

Old Pond Garden planting plan - Jason Carty

After the March-June shortages of compost and seeds, it was great to be able to swap plants again, and the garden became a useful exchange point. We had to add antiseptic hand gel to our Health & Safety rules, but most gardeners wear gloves anyway and we learned all about the importance of hand cream after a grubby planting session! Homemade cakes were replaced with cellophane wrapped biscuits, and work carried on.

By August the garden beds were clear enough to be able to hold a Plant Sale with all plants grown and donated by members (THANK YOU!). There were also displays of the gardens in past times and our plans for the future. The public turned up in droves and we sold out by 2pm. Even the Mayor of Greenwich visited just in time to pick up the last of the plants, and we made over £1,000, for the garden fund and Hospice.

Other creative achievements: Some volunteers cut the remaining lavender in the garden, to dry, and other volunteers made bespoke CABAHS Charlton House Lavender Bags (applying for copyright!) for sale. The old cherry tree stump was dug up, after Herculean effort from David, and made into a wildlife area for the Stag Beetle larvae we disturbed. A leaf store was built, in readiness for Autumn leaf fall, to recycle the goodness back into the garden. A “Grand Designs Luxury Shelter” has been built, unbelievably from old building hoardings though you would never guess, and is now hidden in one corner of the garden. With coat hooks for volunteers’ coats, so practical!

In September we received £6,000 funding from Greenwich Neighbourhood Growth Fund, a huge boost for our planting plans. The committee negotiated a 50% trade discount with Provender Nurseries and went on a shopping spree.

The CABAHS 70th Anniversary bench, Old Pond Garden Charlton House, December 2020

In October we took delivery of a new bench seat, to commemorate CABAHS 70th Anniversary, kindly funded by members subscriptions. We also received interest and some practical help from students from the University of Greenwich Landscape Architecture department. By November the second Lockdown had hit, but this time the weather was being more normal and plants were becoming dormant anyway. We got back to work in December, and carried on planting in the mild weather. There was a wonderful surprise from the Worshipful Company of Gardeners, who awarded us £500 to buy some special plants for the garden (big thank you Melanie for applying!). In the week before Christmas, volunteers fashioned stylish wreath decorations forthe gates from leaves and berries from the garden itself and a socially distanced mince-pie-fest, courtesy Charlton Bakehouse, concluded the year.

CABAHS Christmas wreath and decorations, Old Pond Garden Charlton House, December 2020

January came and brought the Third Lockdown, but the garden is coping fine with two local volunteers a week popping in to check it over. The tree surgeon Amber Treecare paid a longawaited visit in the first week in February to give the garden a haircut. So much better and lighter, with a lot of overgrown Pyracantha removed and the ivy trimmed to the top of the walls. You can see the House properly again!

Tree surgery and pruning in the Old Pond Garden, February 2021. Before and After

As we await the vaccine roll out, lots of virtual planning has been going on, with a new application for funds to extend the Volunteer scheme into the Long Borders garden in 2021. We hope to include the fabulous ancient Mulberry Tree enclosure in our care too, keeping it weed and rubbish free. Such a lot to look forward to and be grateful for.

See you in the garden soon, more volunteers always welcome!

Kathy

Grateful thanks to all our Volunteers, and the Old Pond Garden committee: Vija, Terry, Kay, Angela, Mandy, Melanie, Juli and Jason. Also to Tracy, Edward and the staff at Charlton House.

Living in Greenwich – Tales through Time

The Royal Greenwich Heritage Trust has just launched an online exhibition from the borough museum archive, including a place where residents can record their personal experience of living through the pandemic. Most of the featured ‘tales’ are from Charlton, but the idea is to collect stories from all over the Borough.

There are currently no stories about gardening! Why not submit a story about your experience? https://tales.greenwichheritage.org/

Rachel de Thame: How to beat the Coronovirus blues by getting back to nature (The Sunday Times, 29 March 2020)

Great article, read the whole thing if you subscribe. If not here is an extract:

“While we remain largely confined to our homes, really take it all in during your daily walk or run through the park. Above all, make the most of any outdoor growing space you have, be it a narrow suburban strip, roof terrace, balcony or window box. No matter the size, each can provide an escape from the news and break the monotony of being cooped up. Encourage others in your household to get involved. Especially children, who might just tire of games consoles and Snapchat for long enough to become hooked on this “growing things” malarkey. Gardening teaches that the effort and patience required to achieve long-lasting rewards can feel as good as instant gratification.

Getting out in the garden makes us fitter, and growing our own food can transform our diet. Fresh vegetables and fruit are essential for good health, so if you are sowing seeds now then pick as many edible plants as you can. It’s easy, and if you don’t want to dig up your ornamental borders then grow herbs and salads among your roses and dahlias, and sow curly-leaved parsley as an edging for the front of flower beds.

Gardening engenders a sense of wonder and is as good for the soul as it is for the body; the benefits to our mental health and general wellbeing are well documented.”

I love the idea of parsley as an edging for flower beds!