Council gardeners are now an endangered species in Croydon

CROYDON COMMENTARY: While the new Mayor announces the restoration of some services, such as the graffiti-cleaning team, other parts of the fabric of the borough are still vanishing, like red-list endangered species, in this year’s £38m round of cut-backs.
PETER UNDERWOOD, right, is concerned for the state of our parks and green spaces

Going to pot?: council gardens and parks, such as at Coombe Wood, could soon lose the services of specialist gardeners

Sadly, we are getting used to hearing of species disappearing from our environment.

In Croydon, that could soon include the council gardeners.

In the latest shake-up of Croydon’s grounds maintenance team, a new set of job descriptions has been drawn up for roles in that team.

Specialist gardener isn’t one of them.

Croydon once had a fantastic team of gardeners based in parks and gardens across the borough who were responsible for the glorious displays we were used to seeing. Those with longer memories will remember when the Croydon Nursery was in operation and held open days so visitors could see how we grew our own bedding plants and shrubs that we planted, not only in parks but also on traffic roundabouts, street planters, and a variety of other spaces to beautify our public areas.

In the past Croydon’s public gardens have won awards from Britain in Bloom and Coombe Wood was awarded “Best Garden in London”. Only a few years ago, Croydon had 10 sites that achieved the Green Flag award based on a number of tests including “horticultural standards”.

We know that has long gone and the grounds maintenance team now has only three specialist gardeners left. Those gardeners used to be responsible for just one site, but are now having to cover two each. One covers Coombe Wood and Heathfield House, another covers Haling Grove and Wettern Tree Gardens, and the third covers Coulsdon Memorial Ground and Waddon Ponds.

Flower beds in other places have now been abandoned by the council and replaced with low maintenance shrubs that can be periodically cut back by other grounds maintenance staff. In other parks, volunteers have taken on responsibility for some of the beds and tried to maintain them as best as they can, with mixed results.

We know that Croydon Council is in a financial mess and I would be the first to argue that helping people facing the cost of living crisis is far more important than tending flower beds. However, we all hope that the current situation is temporary and we will at some point return to a situation where our public services are properly funded.

So the question is, what is the council’s long term strategy for looking after our parks and gardens and all of those planters and flower beds that used to make our town look better?

Have they now been abandoned forever?

If the job roles in the grounds maintenance team don’t include specialist gardeners, then we risk losing that expertise completely.

It will be interesting to see what our new Mayor has to say on this, particularly as two of the sites that still have a specialist gardener are in the South Croydon ward that he used to represent as a councillor and where there is now due to be a by-election.

Will council gardeners go the way of the dinosaurs, or will they be given the chance to bloom again?

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8 Responses to Council gardeners are now an endangered species in Croydon

  1. Pauline Fidler says:

    Getting all the roadside grass verges cut would also be a move in the right direction – they make the borough a great mess!

    • paul kozousek says:

      #Nomowmay is extremely important for our local ecosystems. It may look scruffy but it’s how nature intended it.

    • Lewis White says:

      Like many, I have enjoyed seeing longer grass and wild flowers in our grass verge areas, with wild flowers popping up on most sites ( I even saw a native pyramidal orchid locally) , but………… the council seems to forget that after the end of the growing season, in mid -late October, the grass needs not only to be cut but raked off. Just like a hay meadow. The wild flowers will then be able to grow happily the next year without being smothered by coarse grasses.

      If this essential late Autumn cut is not done, in the next season, the grass will be thicker, longer and matted. Wild flowers will soon get choked out. Then the grass will collapse, and get even more matted. On a wet, clay-soil site, the process will be quicker than on a dry chalky site.

      In addition, long grass soon gets filled with drinks cans and bottles, and in some cases people start to dump rubbish. It all looks scruffy, and can soon end up a health hazard.

      The notional “savings” of not cutting the grass in year one might look good for the first year, but in reality are probably illusory by the end of year two, as the resulting mess will eventually have to be cut and cleared up. It will then probably end up actually costing more to clear up than the mowing every 2 or 3 weeks during the season would have cost. A clsssic case of “spend £5 in an attempt to save £ 4 and fifty pence”, overall.

      Grass doesn’t stop growing because Politicians or Council officers want to save money !

      Unfortunately, every site is different, due to soils, sun and local issues like the amount of litter and fly tipping.

      I certainly wouldn’t want to see all sites returned to short grass, as there are many suitable for a true “conservation regime”, where wild flowers and grass can look really beautiful– if managed properly with this Autumn cut and rake. They have done this in places in Holland for over 40 years…. so why not here?

      The council will need parks officers and ground maintenance workers who have the knowledge and commitment as well as time and budget, if we are to see good results. it is achievable, if people understand how to do it, and it is easy to do.

  2. Well done, this needs a shout out. We’ve got one of the worst records of species loss in the world but only the Brazilian rain forest tends to get mentioned. I don’t think I’ve seen a butterfly so far this year. We need gardens and flowers, not concrete tower blocks for those who move to them because it’s less cost than in other London Boroughs. I didn’t see any mention of the local environment in J.P’s election blurb. Be interesting to see where he stands on this, if at all.

    • Perry has made very few and then only very vague promises about protecting our environment, which he and the other Croydon Tories obviously don’t see as a priority.

      For example, he tweeted on the subject just once: “I commit to developing policies that will help Croydon become carbon neutral by 2030”. Not long to wait then, and perhaps assuming he’s returned to power in 2026.

      The subject doesn’t feature in his manifesto, but on his website he gives himself plenty of wiggle room with this statement, “Any environmental schemes introduced by me, if I am Mayor of Croydon, will have evidenced based social and environmental benefits for residents and businesses, whilst not disproportionately impacting the poorest in our borough”.

      If he cared to look at what the Tories are doing in government, he’d notice that their policies “disproportionately impact the poorest” not only in our borough but across the nation.

      He also said “I am also pleased to commit to implementing most – if not all – of the 23 Climate Recommendations detailed in the Climate Crisis Commission Report”. Which begs the question, which ones is he not going to bother with? Over to you, Councillors Ria Patel and Esther Sutton (I’m assuming that, like the Tories, Labour and the lone LibDem can’t really be arsed about tackling climate change – they can always prove me wrong).

  3. James Seabrook says:

    I used to be quite proud of the Borough of Croydon when I moved here in the 1990’s. In fact we had our wedding photos within one of Croydon’s wonderful parks. We also saw greenhouses where the flowers for the gardens were grown.

    Some of the building were, and still are, utterly hideous, but the parks and gardens have been a great balance. It would be a massive shame to lose the skilful gardeners who do such a good job and possibly the parks and gardens as well.

    In addition to all that, it is well know that parks and gardens give a real sense of well being. There isn’t much opportunity for that in this relatively built up area, so we need to get them back.

  4. Hazel swain says:

    gardens dont make money .. concrete rabbit hutch flats do ..

  5. Rosalind Upton says:

    There really isn’t a Council gardener covering Wettern Tree Gardens. The Council cut the grass a couple of times a year and cut the hedges in January. 100% of the actual gardening is done by the Friends of Wettern Tree Garden – volunteers alway welcome!

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