Photographs: Charles Francis
July 2013: When the gardeners at Truro’s Victoria Gardens unlock the gates at 8am each day, they always find a few early risers waiting outside, eager to begin the day with an energising walk in one of the city’s best-loved green spaces. Created to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897, the gardens offer walkers a network of paths bordered by beds bursting with colour and overlooked by majestic trees.
Well over a century after Victoria Gardens welcomed its first visitors, a very different garden has started to take shape on the other side of the city. Furniss Island was once the site of a biscuit factory, and more recently was known as a commuter cut-through during the day and a magnet for anti-social behaviour at night. But thanks to an enthusiastic group of local volunteers, it is now a delightful spot where ornamental plants thrive alongside peas, beans and courgettes which people are welcome to pick as they walk past.
This garden is just one of the fruits of a partnership between the city council, Totally Truro – which oversees the city’s Business Improvement District – community groups and local traders. Together, they have brought Truro consistent success in the South West in Bloom competition, and last year, gold in the national Britain in Bloom contest.
“Achieving national gold far exceeded our expectations. It was a phenomenal success,” says Richard Budge, Truro City Council’s parks manager. Last July, the city staged its first horticultural festival, Garden Truro, centred around a giant marquee on Lemon Quay, and featuring show gardens, plant and produce stalls, a children’s painting exhibition, talks and workshops. The event was such a triumph that it is being held again this month.
For Richard, Garden Truro is an opportunity to highlight the hard work and commitment of the council’s gardeners, and the residents who play a vital part in bringing schemes like the Furniss Island garden to fruition. “We couldn’t have achieved our success in Britain in Bloom without the help and drive of the community,” he says. “And when people become physically involved with a project it promotes community pride and gives them a sense of ownership.”
He describes another new community garden, now blooming in a former car park behind Truro Library, as “an absolutely fantastic space”. In this haven in the heart of the city, people can relax among the palm trees, or learn to grow their own food: like Furniss Island, the library garden gives pride of place to edible plants.
A short distance away is the Chantry Garden created in the shadow of Truro Cathedral by verger Robert Preston and his wife Haley. After outgrowing their own tiny, flower-filled garden, the couple cleared and planted the long-neglected, overgrown space beyond. By this spring, it was transformed by tulips, daffodils and camellias.
In addition to overseeing these community projects, the city council is responsible for the lavish floral displays around the city — every year, more than 1,000 hanging baskets and containers are planted up. It provides polytunnels for primary schools, with the aim of sowing the seeds of a new generation of gardeners, and has set up a community allotment group so that people on the waiting list — there are currently more than 140 — can learn gardening skills in readiness for the day they take possession of their own plot.
Richard and his team also look after Boscawen Park, which as well as being home to the nursery which supplies all the gardens in the council’s care, provides a variety of sports and recreation facilities. There is also a packed summer activity programme at Victoria Gardens, ranging from Punch and Judy to brass band concerts. And bordering the gardens is the city’s skatepark, one of the largest in Britain.
Head gardener Barry Cooper is well aware of the important role Victoria Gardens plays in the life of the community. “People always say they love the blaze of colour which begins with camellias and magnolias in spring, continues with rhododendrons, and goes on all summer,” he says.
“We try to keep the park as clean, tidy and safe as we can, so it’s a nice place for families and people who come here to enjoy their dinner hour. We start the day by doing a complete litter sweep, and making sure there’s no broken glass in the skatepark from the night before. We then check the water levels of the leats, which start off in the gardens and run through the streets of Truro.”
High on the list of jobs to be done in late spring is the planting of the stunning seasonal displays. “We try to have different designs each year,” says Barry, adding with a smile: “And as we’re planting, we like to think of the long, hot summer we hope we’ll be having!”