Inside the historic Bedfords Park Walled Garden

Fay Champan

Bedfords Park Walled Garden is run by a group of 15 volunteers, including Fay Chapman (pictured) - Credit: Sally Patterson

“It’s our very own oasis.” 

Just three miles north of Romford town centre lies Havering’s very own secret garden. 

gates walled garden

Hidden in Bedfords Park is a historic walled garden - Credit: Sally Patterson

Lined with colourful flowers, rhubarb, chard, pears, herbs and countless other produce, Bedfords Park Walled Garden is straight out of the pages of a glossy gardening magazine. 

But far from being curated by professionals, the garden is maintained by a group of dedicated volunteers - the Friends of Bedfords Park and Walled Gardens - and they have fresh produce to sell after a year of lockdown.

Pam Ditzel

Pam Ditzel has worked in the garden's shop for five years - Credit: Sally Patterson

Lois Amos has been championing the garden since the 1990s, eventually receiving a £350,000 National Lottery grant in 2011. 

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She explained: “There was no-one else prepared to keep on fighting for the garden, and it took a long time to get it off the ground. 

“To me, preserving the walled garden was so important as I know how amazing they can look and how historically important they are.” 

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The horticultural expert has visited the park since she was a small child, but the garden, which dates back to the 1770s, was in disarray behind locked gates until she and her team took it over. 

Lois Amos

Lois Amos was integral in opening the gardens to the public - Credit: Tamara Hussain

“I feel very proud really,” she said. 

“Even now when I see it, it’s a special kind of feeling, to see everyone is so involved and get so much out of it. 

"Education, mental health, wellbeing... the garden fulfils so many purposes.” 

Her husband of 42 years, Bill Amos, said without his wife’s determination to open the garden to the public, many people would be lonely. 

Bill Amos

Bill Amos planted 600 potatoes last March with the help of other volunteers - Credit: Sally Patterson

He explained: “The majority of people here I met through gardening. 

“For the past year, if they hadn’t been able to come here, I don’t know what they would have done."

Volunteer Carol Thorne, 76, said: “It didn’t feel like you were really locked down, because you were doing something with everyone else."

Carol Thorne

Volunteer Carol Thorne lives nearby in Harold Hill - Credit: Sally Patterson

Sitting in the shade with a cup of tea, Carol relaxed with a group of volunteers after a hard morning’s work planting vegetables. 

She added: “It’s very good for mental health, it really helps. 

“It provided me with social contact and general wellbeing, being able to get out and do something useful.” 

apple orchards

The orchards grow local varieties of apples which are made into chutney and juice - Credit: Sally Patterson

David Insley, who has been helping with the gardening since March last year, was relieved the volunteers were given permission to continue coming to the garden when lockdown restrictions were enforced. 

He said: “It’s a lifesaver, especially if you live on your own. 

“There’s quite a few of us widows and widowers - volunteering is surprisingly fulfilling. 

“When you’re younger it’s all about earning a living, it’s only later on in life you can afford to do something for nothing.” 

Fellow volunteer Daphne Richards added: “It's been a mental lifesaver. 

Daphne Richards

Daphne Richards said the gardening community supported each other - Credit: Sally Patterson

“It’s so peaceful, and we’re each able to have our separate space and be calm and well. 

“And this is a really good crowd of people, there’s such a sense of community.” 

walled garden sign

The walled garden is maintained by a group of around 15 volunteers - Credit: Sally Patterson

Fay Chapman, who was taught by Lois at specialist environmental college Capel Manor, proudly pointed out the fruits of her labour. 

“I come here because it’s like coming home,” she said. 

“I find it very peaceful, it’s really nice if you want to clear your head. 

“Weeding, planting, growing stuff - nature is just so important. 

Fay Chapman

Fay Chapman is one of the volunteers who dedicate their spare time to the gardens - Credit: Sally Patterson

“I grew up in this park from a tot, and this was derelict most of that time. 

“It’s just such a nice place to come; there’s woodlands, meadow, cattle, deer, and it’s always been a source of food for people in the area.” 

herb garden

The garden grows a variety of herbs - Credit: Sally Patterson

As well as encouraging the public to visit the park, new volunteer Jonnie Hull wanted to see local politicians getting behind the garden. 

Jonnie Hull

Jonnie Hull and his wife recently began volunteering at the walled gardens - Credit: Sally Patterson

He explained: “If we can’t keep projects like this from falling into disrepair, it would be a tragedy not just for us but for generations to come. 

“We need to teach our young where their food is produced, how to harvest it - we've got a duty to pass on this knowledge to our youngsters.” 

walled garden sign

The gardens are open on Tuesdays and Thursdays - Credit: Sally Patterson

The historic garden is open every Tuesday and Thursday, as well as the second Sunday of every month. 

Fresh produce, including flower and Essex and Suffolk varieties of apples, are on offer. 

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