Thursday, 5 July 2012

A Very Victorian Fantasy in Bournemouth

The dark side of Bournemouth Borough Council's planting scheme

Before you ridicule me for adoring this garden, stick with me and I will explain why. Although firstly, having spent some time talking with the ladies on the stand on Monday, who seemed genuinely amazed and entralled that the garden looked so great, I need to explain a little about the garden.

Bournemouth, the land of holidays at the beach, donkey rides and ice cream, has a darker literary side which I for one knew little about. Mary Shelley wrote "Frankenstein" there  and is buried in a graveyard there, where the sculpture in the centre, by Bournemouth artist Andy Kirkby, will end up after the show is dismantled. Robert Louis Stevenson also wrote "Jekyll and Hyde" there and the two planting schemes are mirrored by those characters in ways which will become apparent.

The garden is split into two halves. In the half shown in the photo above there is very typical Victorian seaside parks and gardens planting, with Coleus, Ricinus, Cannas and countless more annual bedding varieties that the Victorians loved. The colour is deep and rich and screams of bedding schemes in the days where parks and gardens departments trained the horticulturalists of the future(it's where Alan Titchmarsh amongst others began his career), and draws the eye into it. It has a tropical feel that today can be seen in places such as The Exotic Garden at Great Dixter, but has been refined for today's taste, whereas this is true Victorian bedding at its best.

Both sides of the planting scheme
The opposite side of the bedding, or the opposite bed, is entirely white in its flower colour, calling in the lighter side of the Victorian arts such as Aubrey Beardsley's Art Nouveau works. It is gentle and innocent, with huge drifts of Cosmos, Orlaya grandiflora and Antirhinums amongst other species. The quantity of plants used gives the illusion of a huge billowing drift of white cloud atop a green background and is almost heavenly in appearance.

In both beds are willow sculptures by Stephan Jennings. In the sub-tropical, dark bed these are in dark willow figures, demonic in their appearance, whereas in the white bed they are of pale willow and are fairy like and innocent.

Victorian style bedding at its best

So why then, do I think this garden worthy of a blog post? Well its really simple. I stood in front of it saying"Oh look, seaside bedding" long before I knew that the garden had anything to do with Bournemouth Borough Council. It dragged me back to childhood holidays and days out at the seaside. The planting was stunning and all of the plants were produced in Dorset, continuing the tradition of producing your own plants for display. In essence, it was honest. And very beautiful.

These peacocks were planted with amazing succulents

My feeling with this garden was also that the gardener could get planting ideas from this garden that are actually steeped in the horticultural history of this country. Unfortunately due to budget cuts the vast majority of Parks and Gardens departments no longer exist in the way that they used to, meaning that our industry now really struggles to find young people good training schemes and has lead to a real lack of skills in horticulture in the UK. So this garden not only talks of the Victorian history of Bournemouth, but also of the horticultural history of the UK both in the history of gardeners and gardens. And when you look at this garden it is truly apparent that the loss of the Parks and Gardens departments throughout the country has lead to our outside town and city spaces being  poorer and sadder places. It was amazing to see this piece of horticultural history displayed in such a fantastic garden. Thanks Bournemouth.
Drifts of white

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