Inside the historic Bedfords Park Walled Garden
- Credit: Sally Patterson
“It’s our very own oasis.”
Just three miles north of Romford town centre lies Havering’s very own secret garden.
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.
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.
“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.
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."
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.”
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.
“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.”
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.
“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.”
As well as encouraging the public to visit the park, new volunteer Jonnie Hull wanted to see local politicians getting behind the garden.
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.”
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.