7 reasons why a garden can make you very angry
What makes you angry?
Is it somebody nipping into a parking space ahead of you? People dropping litter in front of your house? Or the prospect of developers building hundreds of houses on green fields across the road?
It all taps into a very human desire – to defend the land we live on. The aggressive stranger, the careless passer-by and the greedy developers feel like an assault on your right to live where and how you want. Land makes people very angry.
I wasn’t sure if you’d want to hear about the anger that’s arisen here – in a small town – over land. A small public garden, to be precise.
But three things happened this week that made me feel it was important to talk about these things.
Firstly, Parliament voted to increase its participation in war through bombing in Syria. The garden that’s causing all the controversy is a Memorial Garden, beside Faversham’s War Memorial to the two great World Wars of the 20th Century. It’s currently a community garden, planted with donations by volunteer gardeners.
Secondly, a charity called Gardening Leave, which was set up to use horticultural therapy to help war veterans to recover from ‘the invisible (mental) wounds of war’, has folded through lack of donations.
Thirdly, The Daily Telegraph has published a very moving piece on one of its Christmas Charities, Horatio’s Garden. Horatio’s garden is named after Horatio Chapple, who was killed by a Polar bear, aged 17, in 2011. It is a therapeutic garden for the mental and physical well-being of spinal injuries patients. The first is attached to Salisbury hospital’s Spinal Injuries unit and the charity is hoping to set up a garden for every spinal injury specialist centre in the country.
Here in the historic market town of Faversham, the word ‘Memorial’ now defines one camp, the word ‘Garden’ the other. The proposals for the Memorial Garden were put up at the local library for a week’s consultation. So many people wanted to comment that it was left there for another two weeks. The language used in the comments was sometimes vituperative, both for and against. ‘This is going to happen anyway,’ spat one printed-out email. ‘It can’t be stopped by a few….’ (I can’t quote the words used). ‘The Memorial Garden isn’t a private allotment for a few community gardeners,’ said another email. Meanwhile, those opposing the changes accused plans of being ‘a vanity project’, ‘a waste of money’ and ‘it’s not broke, so don’t fix it.’
Unlike so many fights over land, this isn’t about developers vs gardeners or greed vs good. Both sides of this debate genuinely want to do the best for their town, and for the memory of those who fought for this country. Everybody has good intentions (the road to hell…..?)
The proposed Memorial Garden plans would involve clearing away most of the current garden. It would be replaced by gravel, lawn, paving, small trees and beds round the edges.
The War Memorial would be moved to make it more prominent and a series of upright stones (‘like headstones’ mutter the antis) would be ringed round the garden with the names of those who have died in War in the 20th and 21st centuries inscribed on them.
There would be space left for subsequent names. The project is likely to cost between £80,000 and £120,000.
The aim was to have a larger area for the November 11th Remembrance parade – ‘easier for the Vicar’, according to the local paper. It was also to make more of the Memorial.
Faversham’s War Memorial is relatively modest for the size of the town, because those who lost loved ones in the First World War (and those who fought in it) voted to spend only half the money raised on the Memorial and to buy an X-ray unit for the Cottage Hospital with the rest.
So far, so good. I don’t think anyone could find fault with the good intentions behind the new plans. It’s the impact of them that is causing the debate.
So what is the problem?
- More stone, concrete, gravel and other ‘hard’ materials are called ‘hard-scaping’. Studies from the RHS and other major institutions have shown that replacing trees, lawns and plants with hardscape leads to poorer air quality, increased local flooding and higher urban temperatures. It means there are fewer habitats for wildlife – such as bees, who are well-known to be in decline.
2) The Wellcome Trust has also drawn together a number of scientific surveys to prove that green spaces in or near hospitals have tangible benefits: ‘trees, greenery, flowers and water help patients get better faster and reduce stress for staff and visitors’.
In contrast, they discovered, an increase in ‘hardscape, such as stone or concrete’ is associated with more stress and ‘worse outcomes’.
3) The flower beds in small gardens like the current Memorial Garden absorb sudden heavy rainfall in towns. More hard surfaces mean that a downpour is more likely to run off into the sewage system, which often can’t cope.
The Royal Horticultural Society is campaigning to reduce hard landscaping in small town gardens (‘Greening Grey Britain’). Many towns are doing everything they can to increase even tiny areas of green planting to act as rainwater sinks.
4) There is also an air quality issue – even a few more plants and trees near you improve your air quality. A few less make your air quality worse. But this plan appears to decrease the amount of green, planted space.
These issues aren’t fringe, quirky beliefs – the studies are supported by the British Heart Foundation, NHS Forest and a host of major university research projects.
5) Another hot topic in gardening today is what small gardens can do to protect pollinating insects and wildlife. They need lots of flowers – from the earliest primroses to the last asters.
Individual town gardens collectively add up to 25% of the land in the UK, so wildlife trusts say that it matters what each garden does. Public gardens have a responsibility to lead the way.
It is a pleasure to see the bees buzzing round the current Memorial Garden. There is no provision for them in the new plans.
6) And who will maintain this new garden? Paving and lawn seem to be low maintenance, compared to plants and flower beds. But there is no such thing as a ‘no-maintenance garden.’ Trees need pruning. Gravel attracts weeds. Hard surfaces attract graffiti.
It is easy for a garden to get derelict and litter-strewn if the local community is not involved. But there is little actual gardening, so will community gardeners continue?
Or is the Council to take back the responsibility – however small – at this time of cuts?
7) But above all, what about the very high cost of stone and carving? The Garden was created by those who chose a relatively small War Memorial in order to buy an X Ray unit for the community. Would they have changed their minds about where their financial priorities lie?
Money to be spent on memorial or in the community?
It hasn’t been made clear where the funding will come from. It may involve applying for funds held by the Heritage Lottery Fund or the War Memorials Trust. Or it may be supported by private donations or other fund-raising.
There is no suggestion that the money raised for this project would go on other worthwhile projects for the community if this doesn’t go ahead.
I have the greatest respect for those who wish to commemorate the fallen of the two World Wars and the other wars afterwards. Both my father and brother-in-law rose to Brigadier level in the British Army and my husband had 14 years in the British Navy. Between them they’ve fought or lost friends in most of the 20th and 21st century’s wars.
But I have heard the words ‘waste of money’ on the lips of several local ex-Servicemen, who have commented against the proposal. So this is not a Armed Forces vs civilians issue. It’s a local issue, with strongly felt beliefs on either side.
The consultation period is over. We wait to hear whether the plans will be driven through, amended or dropped.
I wonder what would have happened had the charity Gardening Leave been approached, and veterans asked to design a Memorial Garden. If they had been paid for their work, it would have given useful employment to those struggling to survive in a civilian situation.
And while one project couldn’t have saved the charity, it would have made a difference. Surely that would be the best memorial of all?
Or what if those involved in the new plan had approached a hospital garden charity like Horatio’s Garden, and asked them how to design a therapeutic garden for the hospital opposite? What do patients, staff and visitors want?
Even those who love the Memorial Garden know that it could do with some investment, so this is not resistance to change for the sake of it. No-one will ever come up with a scheme that will please everyone, but do plans have to be divisive? Perhaps they always will be.
However, the debate has also made me look at what we, as private gardeners, are doing in our own gardens.
In towns – in particular – too many of us seem to be heading towards more hardscaping and fewer flowers. What do you think?
Tell me here, on Twitter (@midsizegarden) or on the Middlesized Garden Facebook page. And if you think it’s worth talking about, do please share, using the buttons below. Thank you!