It’s hard to believe that Furzey Gardens has been here for 100 years.

What was originally planted by the pioneering Dalrymple family in 1922 as an informal woodland garden has turned into something that is now an incredibly special place for the physical and mental health of our visitors, volunteers and people with learning disabilities.

It’s fair to say that we’ve achieved a lot in that time. Highlights include building our important collections of rhododendron and azalea, becoming part of local learning disability charity Minstead Trust and winning a gold medal at the Chelsea Flower Show in 2012.

Over the last four decades our pioneering work has supported hundreds of people with learning disabilities to learn new skills as they tend the gardens and work in our plant nursery.

 

RHS Chelsea Gold winning garden and Joe working in our plant nursery

This is why I am really looking forward to our centenary year; I see it as an opportunity for us to not only celebrate everything that has been achieved in our 100 year history, but also to look forward to a new era for Furzey Gardens.

Plus, it’s the ‘right’ time for a fresh start. Furzey Gardens has now reached a stage where a lot of those first plantings have gone, and new species and plantings have taken their place. Certain parts of the garden have reached a wonderful maturity, and so what better way to mark the next hundred years than by redeveloping parts of the garden and making it even more exciting and special for the public?

A big part of this will be looking at accessibility. We want the garden to be better equipped for wheelchairs and pushchairs; it’s an enormous priority, and something that we hope will mean more and more people can enjoy our woodland garden.

We will be running our own Special Years charity appeal to support this mission and other exciting plans including an extension to our tea rooms and new toilets. We hope to raise £500,000 (£5,000 for every year the garden has existed) so that the Furzey Gardens team can make permanent, environmental and visitor experience improvements at the gardens. This should make sure every visitor and worker feels part of a really special place that creates special memories and provides  even better training and support for people with learning disabilities. It’s a very big task but one I feel confident we will achieve.

In the meantime, we will be planting lots of new species – expect a vibrant range of colour and more perennials. The exciting thing is that plant development has moved along enormously in the last 20 years. This means that the range of what is available to us has increased – in addition, the warmer climate means that we can now grow plants that we couldn’t 20 years ago. I’m looking forward to seeing how these additions transform the garden.

Furzey Gardens in 1930s and recent work by gardeners laying new path surface over winter

You can also expect a wide selection of events and activities going on in the next 12 months – including a summer of outdoor theatre, a gardening festival and a major art installation.

One of our major tasks is planting 100 young oak trees at the end of the year in honour of the centenary and to mark the boundary of the gardens for centuries to come. As you can imagine, this is going to take a lot of hard work and our brilliant volunteers are all ready and raring to get started. We will be offering the opportunity for just 100 supporters to sponsor one of these trees to celebrate their own association with the gardens and its memories for them.

Another focal point of the garden – our wildflower meadow – will be receiving a makeover this year. We are currently in the process of building a bridge and path which will guide visitors through our improved wildflower meadow and right on over to the lake. When we open this to the public in May, it will give our visitors the chance to get close to the abundance of wildlife in the meadow. The gardens will also be at their peak during this time, so make sure you put a note in your diary to pay us a visit.

We are privileged to have the artist Anna Cady working in partnership with Furzey Gardens on a pioneering art project inspired by the garden in its centenary year. She’ll be exploring what the gardens mean to people through art – a fitting tribute to everything that it has achieved in these 100 years.

I have my own personal goals for our centenary year. I would love to see even more young people enjoy the garden. I believe that Furzey Gardens can (and is) a great way to spark their interest in the natural world. Our ever-popular fairy door trail is always a brilliant means of bringing more children to our woodland escape – and I hope even more doors will be discovered this year.

Anna Cady, artist and children searching for fairy doors at Furzey Gardens

I also want to increase the range of wildlife in the garden. Our wildflower meadow has certainly helped us with this, but the fact is that even if you provide a habitat and feeding plants, if the insects aren’t there in the first place then it really doesn’t matter. Insect life has plummeted in recent decades, and I hope that the garden can play a key role in boosting insect life in our community.

Above all, I am looking forward to the future and the next 100 years for Furzey Gardens. The past two years have been challenging to say the least, but we are proud that we have been able to continue supporting people with learning disabilities throughout.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has continued to visit us, has donated to the charity and has shared the message of our garden with their loved ones. The next 12 months are going to be truly wonderful, and we look forward to welcoming you back to enjoy them with us.

Find out more about Furzey Gardens’ centenary at www.furzey-gardens.org

Pete White

This article originally appeared as the monthly In The Garden column in the Lymington Times, buy the paper on the second Friday of every month to read the next column first.

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