The Bohemia Walled Garden Association
The Bohemia Walled Garden Association

The Bohemia Walled Garden Association has been awarded a grant of £97,000 to complete its restoration and development of the unique Victorian garden situated in the middle of Summerfields Wood off Bohemia Road.

Rectangular in shape, with brick walls 71 metres long, 25 wide and on average around 4 metres (over 13 foot) high the garden was originally built in the 1830s as a protected orchard within the Brisco family estate.  During the latter years of its history parts of the wall had crumbled, particularly as a result of trees toppling onto it in the great storm of 1987, and a lot of brick materials were removed. The Association was formed in 2008 and a lease obtained the following year from Hastings Council, now freehold owners.  Minor repairs were then carried out and the large gap in the eastern end section secured by ugly fencing.  Now, following a successful application to the Heritage Lottery Fund for the necessary funding, this fencing will be removed, the area cleared and the whole of the missing brickwork replaced using traditional materials, so that the original structure will be restored to its original form.

The main work will be carried out by local builder Michael Blanch of Tower Road West, St Leonards, selected after a competitive tendering process.  He has an HND in art and design from Hastings College and specialises in working on restorations of this sort.  The portion of wall to be re-erected is 18 metres long and will need in excess of 13,000 bricks re-laid with eight and a half square metres of sandstone.

In addition a path will be laid for improved access to the garden from the back of the Summerfields Leisure Centre carpark and two interpretation boards installed at  the entrance to the woods showing routes and other information about the wood and garden.  A number of projects are intended for family and child-centred activity in and around the garden.  Public open days are already in the offing for instruction on heritage apples, garden history and traditional horticultural skills.

The lottery grant  is a triumph for a small group of devoted local enthusiasts, led initially by Susan Thomson and former councillor Bob Hart.  In 2008 they had come close to winning a major grant for the Association project in the TV show People’s Millions.  The current committee with three charity trustees    Susan as secretary, Mary Dawson as chairperson and Christine M’Baye as treasurer    plus Darren Windley as operational treasurer/IT manager and Chris Stovold as plot manager    renewed the grant bid through the Heritage Lottery process.  So, after a further eight years, during which many small community grants were obtained for minor projects, the big restoration can finally get under way.

In the Victorian era the garden was designed and laid out for fruit growing, including espalier trees spreadeagled on the walls.  Nigel Sinden, current Silverhill councillor and an enthusiastic supporter of the garden, remembers climbing into it with his childhood mates half a century ago to liberate apples and blackberries.  But in recent years the first Association members had to work their way through a tangle of brambles, nettles and other wilderness to uncover the original design of pathways and terracing.  This design has been retained in the modern garden. However most of the plots are now laid out for growing of vegetables, herbs and flowers    36 individually tended by rent-paying members, four others offered rent-free to educational groups, the rest communally planted and maintained.

Membership itself is free. The Association is run completely by volunteers, a management committee and sub-groups organising particular activities.  Many community and educational groups use the site not only for gardening but also for wider learning, play and general outdoor amenity, among them the pre-school group Treasure Tots, St Mary Star of the Sea Catholic primary school, HEDGE Home Education Group, Headstart school in Ninfield, Pocket Park in Hughenden Road and Mallydams Wild Things project.    

Most Wednesday and Sunday mornings the garden is open to visitors between 10 and 12. In addition there are public open days – the next one is on Sunday 3 July for the annual summer garden party between 10 a.m. and 4 pm, all welcome. For more information see the new website bohemiawga.org.uk.

Serious wall-building is timed for May/June 2017.