Why it’s so important to protect Essex’s green spaces

PUBLISHED: 11:59 28 April 2020 | UPDATED: 11:59 28 April 2020

EGT at Feeringbury Manor, J. Plater

EGT at Feeringbury Manor, J. Plater


Until her untimely death at the end of 2019, Bella D’Arcy Reed was the writer in residemce at the Essex Gardens Trust. Before her passing, she was compiling a feature on the role of the trust in protecting the county’s green spaces and Essex Life is privileged to share her words

Nearly quarter of a century ago, two women, historian Fiona Cowell and garden enthusiast Marion Swetenham, founded the charity Essex Gardens Trust (EGT), helped with the support and advice from Martin Wakelin, Gareth Gunning and John Hunter of Essex County Council.

Alongside research into the county’s historical gardens, EGT was involved from very early on in the conservation of two of our important and unforgettable Essex landscapes.

It assisted with the setting up of a lease for Essex Wildlife Trust to manage Warley Place near Brentwood, once the garden of Edwardian plantswoman Ellen Wilmott.

EGT was also the driving force, led by garden writer Hugh Johnson, in the creation of the Gibberd Garden Trust. Fiona and Marion were equally instrumental in setting up the Friends of the Bridge End Gardens in Saffron Walden (the restored and delightful Victorian Gardens).

'Bride' F.E.McWilliam, The Gibberd Garden, S. Cadman'Bride' F.E.McWilliam, The Gibberd Garden, S. Cadman

Although these projects are very different, they help to illustrate the diversity of our gardening heritage in Essex and they are now thriving and open to the public.

Over 20 years of research on our county, both on the ground and in district and county archives, has resulted in 40 large boxes of paperwork.

The boxes have led to several publications including a gazetteer of the 40 gardens in the county designed by landscape gardener Humphry Repton (1752–1818). This, Repton in Essex, has just been revised and re-issued.

EGT have also now uploaded the completed research inventories onto their website and have been delighted to accept an offer from the Essex Record Office to store and catalogue the original research material so that it is easily available to the public.

Daffodils at Warley Place, J. PlaterDaffodils at Warley Place, J. Plater

In 2019, EGT had grant-aided the restoration of a Repton watercolour by the Essex Record Office, gave a bursary for academic garden research and created a People’s Choice Award where visitors to the Writtle University College annual Landscape Architecture and Garden Design exhibition voted for their favourite schemes.

For the public, it created a short course on garden history at the same college which was very popular and fully subscribed, and will be repeated in April 2020 on Monday evenings. EGT also created the role of Writer in Residence, the first county garden trust to do so.

EGT is concerned about existing gardens and those being designed now, with the need to ensure parks are maintained, landscapes conserved and accessible to the public.

Not just for walks with or without dogs, but for people on wheels, those with other disabilities and disadvantaged people for whom a park is essential in being free to visit.

Pond Watching at Hyde Hall, J. PlaterPond Watching at Hyde Hall, J. Plater

It wants to ensure that we recognise the importance of cemeteries as places of calm for the living, and that communal landscapes are available in new housing developments.

The huge issue of climate change and its impact on landscapes, particularly those on Eastern coasts susceptible to sea level rise and inland Essex gardens affected by drought, is a major concern for all and is one that the trust will be addressing as part of the national Gardens Trust of which all county trusts are a member.

Essex Gardens Trust loves our gardens and landscapes: they want to know how and why they were made; and they want to share that with you.

They have lots of interesting stories on their website, and all are welcome to come to the lively and informative talks and join them on visits to beautiful gardens.

EGT also helps to protect the precious green spaces of Essex by identifying and recording their details so that they can provide comment on development plans. If you enjoy delving into archives, you could even help to research the gardening heritage of Essex. 

For further information about the Essex Gardens Trust and it’s events and activities, visit essexgardenstrust.org.uk

A tribute to Bella D’Arcy Reed by Jill Devon

Our colleague and friend, Bella D’Arcy Reed, Writer in Residence at Essex Gardens Trust (EGT), was in the middle of writing a piece about the history of EGT when she sadly and unexpectedly passed away a few days before the new decade.

She was a passionate supporter of the Arts, and of gardens in Essex, and constantly and courageously challenged our cosy perceptions around the needs of diversity and accessibility.

In 2018 she had been appointed as EGT’s very first Writer in Residence, to encourage people to write and record their feelings about, and their relationship with, gardens, parks and landscapes.

She had been working on a new project, very dear to her heart, to launch a competition for creative writing about gardens and landscapes in Essex, in celebration of Beth Chatto, the great Essex plantswoman, which EGT hopes to endorse at a future date.

In the meantime, in memory and appreciation of her commitment to our beautiful and historic Essex gardens, we are publishing her words here about the formation of the Essex Gardens Trust and its continuing role to promote understanding and appreciation of the landscapes that we are lucky to have inherited.

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