Shirley care home celebrates the garden legacy of Rev Wilks

Shirley poppies: this week’s ceremony saw knitted poppies laid around Rev Wilks’ grave

A special ceremony has been held at the MHA Hall Grange care home in Shirley to make the centenary of the death of the leading horticulturalist, and the person who created The Wilderness garden, Rev William Wilks.

Rev Wilks arrived in Shirley as Vicar and was given the seven acres of land northwest of the vicarage in 1904 by the Royal Horticultural Society.

Upon retiring, he built a new house, The Wilderness, and today it is situated within the grounds of MHA Hall Grange, a care home that offers residential and dementia care for up to 86 people.

Wilks was curate of Croydon before taking the Shirley appointment. He is best-known now for serving as the secretary of the RHS and for hybridisation It was at one of the RHS conferences organised by Wilks that the word “genetics” was coined.

Legacy: MHA Hall Grange staff laying out the poppy decoration at Wilks’ graveside

Wilks’ most famous horticultural work concerned the breeding of the Shirley poppy. Wilks noticed an unusual poppy in a corner of his garden (“abutting on the fields”). This was a minor variant of the wild poppy, in which the petals were bordered by a strip of white. From this slight variation, by patient crossing and selection, he bred the varied and ornamental “Shirley poppies”.

Wilks died in 1923, and to remember him, MHA Hall Grange arranged an open community event which involved a visit to his grave, where a poppy display was showcased and then concluded with an invite back to the Wilderness for refreshments.

Susanne Haynes, community coordinator said: ”We wanted to mark the 100th year of Rev Wilks’ passing by celebrating his life and what he gave to the people of Croydon.

“Without Wilks, The Wilderness would not exist, and we are most grateful to him and MHA for conserving this space and allowing so many people to enjoy it.

“The garden is open to everyone and with the help of our Green Care strategy, which is all about promoting health and wellbeing in nature, we want to echo what Rev Wilkes wanted for his community.

“There are still plenty of people unaware of such a beautiful space around them, and we are always looking for ways to integrate with the community.”

And Lucy James, the gardening services manager said, “Rev Wilks opened the garden to those from disadvantaged backgrounds and I’m pleased to say that we are now able to open the garden to echo his ethos, promoting sustainable gardening practices for the 21st Century.”

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