Plantation Garden: 40 wonderful years of Norwich’s green oasis

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Generations of children knew it as the secret garden, but now this secret is shared by all. Derek James visits the plantation in Norwich


Plantation Garden, Norwich. 1980. Photo: Allan Sewell / Plantation Garden Preservation Trust
– Credit: Allan Sewell / Plantation Garden

40 years ago, a trust was created to save wilderness and transform it into a place of beauty and tranquility near the city center.

And what a great job they have done and are doing. This is a large scale garden rescue we can all be proud of.

Tucked away off the busy Earlham Street near St. John’s Cathedral, we have a lot to thank the members of the Plantation Garden Preservation Trust. They have taken on the endless task of taking care of this wonderful place with enthusiasm.

Several events were planned for June to celebrate this anniversary. They have been postponed for a year but the story of the enchanting garden and its story is worth telling now.


Volunteers admiring the fountain at the Plantation Garden, Norwich.  1980. Photo: Allan Sewell / Plan

Volunteers admiring the fountain at the Plantation Garden, Norwich. 1980. Photo: Allan Sewell / Plantation Garden Preservation Trust
– Credit: Allan Sewell / Plantation Garden


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And yes, it is OPEN every day for visitors in these days of isolation and confinement.

The adjoining Plantation House, the home of the original owner, welcomed newcomers when it was a maternity hospital and over the years many nurses, parents and children have returned to rekindle such fond memories.

Trust chairman Roger Connah explained how a number of local residents ventured into the garden and decided to start the restoration. There was a rally at the House of Assembly in May 1980 and 30 people joined.

“Since then, the organization and most of the work has been given to volunteers of all ages and backgrounds. Donations from local charities and individuals as well as bequests have made it possible for the larger works to be carried out by local contractors, ”he said.


Volunteers having a break Plantation Garden, Norwich.  1980. Photo: Allan Sewell / Plantation Garden

Volunteers having a break at Plantation Garden, Norwich. 1980. Photo: Allan Sewell / Plantation Garden Preservation Trust
– Credit: Allan Sewell / Plantation Garden

The arduous task of cleaning up the neglected jungle began later in 1980 and quickly progressed, particularly around the fountain which is the iconic structure of the garden.

A report from the time said: “We have removed several hundred sycamore trees and yards of ivy. The bones of the garden are revealed and many more trees are planted.

Key information came from details of the 1897 auction shortly after the death of the original owner, cabinet maker Henry Taylor, and the 1883 town map gave a clear overview of the structures, paths and some of the beds.

Roger says the clear intention since 1980 has been to preserve the site as much as possible while respecting the final design upon the death of the owner. He had taken on a 99-year lease in 1855 and built his house next to what was a deep and craggy chalk pit, almost in open countryside but with the town jail (now St. John’s Cathedral) as a neighbor.


The Jardin des Plantations today.  Photo: Plantation Garden Preservation Trust

The Jardin des Plantations today. Photo: Plantation Garden Preservation Trust
– Credit: Plantation Garden Preservation T

It is clear that he immediately began landscaping the garden and took it forward over the next 40 years, with walls, greenhouses, walkways and a large palm grove. Could it have been Boulton & Paul’s?

Volunteers fought hard throughout the 1980s, discovering up to 400 yards of trails, including woodland walks favored in Victorian times.

Membership grew to 100 in 1985. The health authority moved out of Plantation House and became a hotel.

Slowly but surely, thanks to a lot of backbreaking work, the garden came back to life and people came back.

In 1987, it had attracted a thousand visitors during open days. Confidence continued to grow and spring flowers were planted on the long border and summer bedding on the terrace of the palm grove. The vases on the Italian-style terrace have been replaced.

The rock garden with a waterfall was discovered and today houses a collection of more than 30 species of ferns.

The famous 1988 bus wreck on Earlham Road was almost in front of the gates, and this coincided with a sag under the tool shed.

The walls built by Henry Trevor have an unusual facing with a mixture of flint, stone, clinker and many fragments of multiple panel bricks. These were traced at the Guntons brickyard in Costessey.

Roger explained that the rest of the main lawn was leveled and seeded, 1,000 plants were planted and the garden took the shape we see today.

Charitable status was granted to the trust in 1989 and the fountain was brought back to life with water lilies, goldfish and frog spawning added to the fountain pond.

Events were taking place, a performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream took place in the garden. Electricity has been added to the shed and the fountain. Teas during two open days in 1995 were served on the lawn with some members in period costume.

Work has started on the rock garden which has been reconstructed and planted. The palm grove was demolished in the 1920s which is not surprising with the cost of maintenance and heating. It is said that the two saddle boilers served 1,000 feet of piping and that labor and cost alone would preclude any future replacement.

A beautiful young palm tree in its place, surrounded by flowers, grows well. A fitting tribute.

The rustic bridge was restored as a replica in 1998 with a substantial grant from the Norwich Society to commemorate their 75th anniversary and the first publication of a garden guide was a great success … the third edition is still in use today .

General improvements continued and as the public began to enjoy frequent visits an honesty box contained the entrance fee, and a few years later the post office donated a Victorian mailbox which was installed in a secure brick post.

In the new century, the garden is marked with a brown tourist sign on Earlham Road and Trevor Page’s store sign is refurbished and highlighted in the entrance.

Restoration work continued at a brisk pace and the plantation was transformed into a picturesque floral display amidst a splendid setting with renovations using as much as possible the original materials.

The old tea shed has been replaced by a new larger building specially designed to improve facilities for all volunteers and the entrance to the garden is improved by the addition of new large wrought iron gates.

Work on the old chimney was completed in 2013 with financial support from The Preachers Money Charity during the 400th year of its founding in Sir John Pettus’ will.

New drains and sumps were installed to prevent flooding and a section of the wall adjoining the nearby cathedral was repaired with help from the Heritage Lottery.

Many more people – well in normal times – are enjoying the wonders of this garden and the number of public events continues to grow.

As Roger puts it: ‘The Plantation Garden is open to the public daily with an honest box charge of £ 2 and attendance in 2019 was almost 40% higher than the previous year.

“The Trust is committed to encouraging visitors to the city and the local population through a strong social media and website presence, and through the many people who enjoy the events,” he said. .

The income to allow the work to advance and continue comes from the subscriptions of the 750 members, the honest box and many activities such as summer Sunday snacks, cinema sessions, jazz picnics. , the fireworks …

Today it is a team of around 80 volunteers of all ages who volunteer their time to come to a place with the peaceful charm of an oasis of calm so close to the bustling city center.

“The HLF grant allowed us to create a primary school program that we make available free of charge for schools to access the garden,” Roger said.

“We have printed booklets of a children’s guide and math test that fit into the curriculum and provide an opportunity to teach in a peaceful outdoor setting.

Of course, we hope that the children will come back with their families to see the garden, ”he added.

While the anniversary celebrations have been postponed for an audience, the Jardin des Plantations remains open daily from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. All they ask is that people respect social distancing.

The perfect place to relax in this difficult time.

Thanks to Roger Connah and the rest of the preservation team.


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