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18 September 2012

Good riddance to the tidy ghastliness of England's old municipal gardens

Cheltenham municipal gardens
Cheltenham municipal gardens, 1977 (Photo: Philip Halling)

I am no gardener, but that doesn’t mean I don’t revel in good gardens. I hate, hate, hate, classical French gardens, and love, love, love, their English equivalents. So it’s no surprise that I was never a fan of excessively tidy straight-rowed suburban gardens or the municipal ghastliness of rigid, red-hot-poker style flowers and violent clashing colours.

But are they giving way to a more gentle world of wild flowers and meadows?

Until a few years ago, a friend used to take me annually to the Chelsea Flower Show, and while we appreciated the wonderful exhibitions, we did get a lot of fun out of the unbelievable municipal-gardening atrocities. “Yes,” we would cry, “Gateshead has done it again!”

I have to admit that on my last visit, Gateshead disappointed us on the one hand, while giving hope on the other. It was really rather nice. And over the last few years, the odd look at gardening supplements suggests that municipal gardeners are improving steadily.

Last week, I walked from the tube to my Chiswick dentist through what on my last visit was a pleasant but dull park. This time, along the edge was a long side-meadow of wild flowers and a couple of children playing the middle of it with even a few butterflies to keep them company. Then, a day later, I was wandering down the South Bank with a friend and we saw signs to the garden at the top of the Queen Elizabeth Hall, which proved to include a meadow, a vegetable garden and even a scarecrow, which was being embraced by a little urban boy who had never seen such an object off the TV.

You are Telegraph readers. You’re supposed to know about gardens. When you’re not getting excited about gays, or Islamists, or Cleggs, please tell me if – as I’m hoping – municipal gardening has changed utterly. And for the better.

Ruth Dudley Edwards

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