The amazing story behind the walls of an historic Warwick landmark which has been restored to its original splendour after falling into despair
To date, and after more than 34,000 volunteer hours, the site is a popular visitor attraction, and is developing its potential as a community and educational facility
The team behind a heritage garden in Warwick are celebrating its seventh anniversary.
This Easter marks the seven-year anniversary of when Guy's Cliffe Walled Garden, a Grade II-listed Walled Kitchen Garden, first opened to the public.
On a bright, cold day in January 2014, after a local mailshot, 32 people turned out to help return a walled garden, established by the Greatheed family in the 1770s back to its former glory.
To date, and after more than 34,000 volunteer hours, the site is a popular visitor attraction, and is developing its potential as a community and educational facility.
Trustees Barry Meatyard and Sarah Ridgeway, and volunteer Tony Brown recall the early days of the project.
How would you describe the task which faced you in January 2014?
Sarah: "The garden is only 2/3 acre, but even that takes a lot of resource. I should know.
"When it was part of Hintons Nursery, after six years of trying to make even a small impression, it looked even worse than when I started."
Barry: "Thankfully, with the help of O’Brien’s Construction, a grant from King Henry VIII Endowed Trust and an amazing group of volunteers – including the Warwickshire Conservation volunteers – the garden started to take shape.
"We’d taken our first steps towards restoring the garden."
What was the toughest job?
Tony: "Many shrub and tree roots had to be dug out. Removing the ivy was tricky to remove since we had to be careful not to damage the walls."
And now, seven years later?
Tony: "All the overgrowth has been cleared away and the re-laid paths lined with timber and surfaced.
"We’ve also installed a watering system. Each year, the garden is fully planted with vegetables and fruit and we have some spectacular crops and floral displays."
Have you had any other help?
Barry: "We are grateful for continued support and assistance from Hintons and its staff and have also hosted ‘away days’ with companies such as National Grid, O2, Cummins, and JLR."
What are your personal highlights?
Sarah: "Seeing people with a diverse range of abilities come together to share their skills."
Tony: "In 2017, the BBC filmed us for an episode of Gardeners’ World which meant a lot."
Barry: "The boundless enthusiasm of our volunteers. They are the best ambassadors for the garden. Being able to support local charitable initiatives as part of our community remit is also very rewarding.
"Last year all of our produce was donated to Leamington-based Helping Hands."
Tony: "The area is low-lying and we get a lot of run-off from the nearby fields. The first time we had bad flooding we lost many late season vegetables.
"Now, we clear the at-risk beds as early as possible."
What do visitors find most appealing about the garden?
Sarah: "Many visitors are surprised the garden is here at all – it’s been one of Warwick’s best kept secrets for a long time."
Tony: "The reaction when people come through the main gate in the summer and see the long flower borders is usually along the lines of “wow”.
"People seem to find the garden tranquil and calming."
How many volunteers do you have on the books now?
Barry: "We have a team of around 30 volunteers, who take part in a range of activities…general gardening, repairing brick walls and building garden structures to ‘meeting and greeting’, helping with guided tours and planning visitor attractions."
What is on the agenda for 2021?
Barry: "Covid permitting, we want to reach out to more local groups as part of our community mission.
"The further development of education is also a priority, and so improving our infrastructure such as renovating the Peach House as a classroom is vital."
Sarah: "I’d like to find a way of tackling our ‘Winter flood ‘ problem, so that we can continue supplying produce throughout the year."
Is it free to visit?
Barry: "Yes! The garden open on Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays and is free to visit (although donations are always welcome)."