Work is underway to restore an historic and scientifically important seven-acre garden which became known as “The Wilderness” long before it became quite so overgrown.
Tucked behind the MHA Hall Grange care home on Shirley Church Road, the area once formed the garden of the Rev William Wicks, the botanist who a century ago first cultivated the Shirley poppy.
Croydon’s Conservation Volunteers have been hard at work there this week, cutting back overgrown bamboo, brambles and invasive rhododendron as part of a restoration project for the benefit of the care home’s residents and the local community.
The conservation work includes protecting and enhancing an area of rare sphagnum bog, one of the last remnants of the moss to still be found in London and as such is designated as a Site of Metropolitan Importance for Nature Conservation.
The project is being funded through grants from the Heritage Lottery Fund and Garfield Weston Foundation, along with additional money from MHA.
Work on clearing out dead trees and undergrowth at The Wilderness began last autumn, with the hope of recreating something like the gardens as they were when Rev Wilks was the vicar of Shirley and lived there around 1912.
Wilks was the secretary and Fellow of the Royal Horticultural Society from 1888 to 1920.
The Wilderness was the original home on the site and Rev Wilks created the garden on his retirement. His approach to gardening was non-interventionist and he sought to accentuate the natural beauty of the landscape rather than impose upon it.
Restoration of the garden not only includes bringing the garden back to life but also making sure it is accessible by care home residents and their families as well as the local community, as it will be open to them at weekends to visit once work is completed.
Hall Grange residents – some of whom remember The Wilderness from their early years – will be involved in green activities such as helping create homes for wildlife and planting. Part of this will be done in the green classroom that is being created in the garden for the home, local schools and community groups to use.
Once dead wood and trees have been removed, landscaping to form circular pathways in the garden will be undertaken.
Alice Henry has been appointed as head gardener. “Restoration of The Wilderness will bring back a unique historic and horticulturally important site in south London, not just for Hall Grange but for the wider community,” she said.
“Residents will benefit from being able to use the garden as an extension to their existing grounds while at the same time enjoying a wide range of gardening activities alongside volunteers.
“I am delighted to be working on the restoration as I love the way Rev Wilks is recognised as being ahead of his time in adopting an ecological approach to gardening. It would have been quite a task to have kept the heather and other heathland plants in the garden in the lifestyle they thrived upon. And it’s this task that I’ve taken on – I am quite literally stepping into Rev Wilks’ gardening boots.”
To keep up to date with what is happening in The Wilderness, follow them on Twitter @MHA_Wilderness or visit their Facebook page.
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