Victoria Gardens (Pennant)

The Farnham Swimming Baths Trust

Until a few years ago the little patch of land occupied by Farnham Victoria Garden housed a swimming pool. Now all that is left of the pool is a brick archway. Instead, the ground is taken up with a secluded garden, which serves as a refuge from the bustle of the local area. More impressively, the beautifully laid out beds and planting have been created and are now maintained entirely by volunteers.

Trustee Penny Marriott explains: "It’s a lovely place to be. It’s used by office workers, old people, school children and mums with prams. At every time of day, there’s a different group of people in it. It’s almost like a secret garden in the heart of Farnham."

The old walls of the swimming baths still surround the plot of land, which means that it is in effect a walled garden. There is an active friends group of around 140 members, of whom around 40 do most of the gardening.

"We have a garden plan," says Marriott. "The friends get together and we set out what needs to be done. It’s all very democratic." The trust is administered by 10 trustees.

The friends keep a rota, so that there are always enough people to do the basic work. Among the people involved in the garden is gardening broadcaster John Negus, who can often be found on his hands and knees helping with maintenance. "There’s always someone in the garden and there’s always something to do," explains Marriott.

The trust has received some help with special projects. A hopscotch path and a chessboard were given in a bequest. A specially designed sundial was obtained through a grant. The council does offer some assistance — council workers lock and unlock the garden every day and the council will help with structural repairs or with the removal of graffiti.

Among the features in the garden are a sculpture of a boy getting out of a swimming bath. This is known as ‘The Shivering Boy’ and has become a popular landmark. There are also trellises covered in roses, large quantities of Clematis and a small maze designed for children. The planting is in very muted and restful colours and is well maintained.

The gardens have received an award for outstanding achievement from Farnham in Bloom.

The garden is managed in an environmentally friendly way. A natural environment for wildlife is maintained and no pesticides or peat is used, although a small quantity of herbicide is used to keep down the amount of weeds.

A number of local events are held regularly, such as plant sales and poetry readings. Over the next few years, Marriott hopes to improve security to deter vandals, although she accepts that a city-centre garden will always attract some antisocial behaviour at night. She believes that the garden is achieving most of its aims and concludes: "We wanted somewhere which was beautiful and peaceful. We think we’re getting there."

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