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Greenhouse design © Siemens

A covered botanic garden for Garden Town Hastings?

Alexander Wilberforce argues the case for a covered botanical garden to commemorate Marianne North and provide a sheltered attraction for both tourists and locals.

Hastings has an important place in British botanical history, as the birthplace of Marianne North, the intrepid Victorian plant illustrator – much admired by Charles Darwin – whose work is displayed in the Marianne North Gallery at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Alexandra Park with its nationally important tree collection also dates back 170 years to the 1850s.

However, the location of Hastings on the English Channel also brings frequent bad weather – and high winds, meaning that even if the sun is out, it is difficult to enjoy the beach. Like other coastal towns, tourism is seasonal, effectively closing down for the Winter months. While the number of attractions is increasing with the expansion of Source Park and the redevelopment of the Observer Building, there is room for more.

A covered botanic garden would provide a fun, family-orientated all weather educational resource for local residents as well as visitors – and a stunning café, bookshop and event/wedding venue. This would build on increasing environmental awareness locally – and potentially link with many organisations in and around Hastings such as the Museum and East Sussex College. It would also fulfil the sustainability and green employment aims of Hastings Borough Council and the Town Deal and showcase the best of local produce.

The natural location would be the Lookout at White Rock, opposite the Pier. Indeed, the White Rock Area regeneration Masterplan of 2017 already alludes (p.37) to “greenhouses” and “Winter Gardens” – and improved access from a pedestrianised Schwerte Way. This would provide a magnificent site with its own microclimate overlooking the sea.

While a glasshouse dedicated to Marianne North and her pioneering work could be a focal point, there are other themes that could be explored such as plants commonly found in our daily lives or in coastal locations – and the impact of global warming and deforestation – as well as strategies to counter these. A playground would provide an attraction for younger visitors.

Winter gardens in the Netherlands © Siemens

Through informal fact-finding conversations with leading botanic gardens across the country (as well as glasshouse suppliers and renewable energy engineers), we have learnt about their business models and some of the pitfalls that would have to avoided, in order to create a financially sustainable facility.

Botanic gardens now play an important educational, therapeutic and social role, reaching out to all elements of the community including, for example, the disabled and ex-offenders. This would be an important aspect of a Hastings Botanical Garden.

There is no doubt that bringing such a project to fruition would be a long-term undertaking. The manual produced by London-based BGCI (Botanic Gardens Conservation International), which groups botanic gardens from more than 100 countries around the world, runs to 250 pages! Teamwork and volunteers of all kinds from charity trustees to tour guides will be needed.

However, with the various regeneration plans now under consideration for Hastings, I believe we have a once-in-a generation opportunity to add a place of natural beauty, educational value and social importance to the local community, which would also enhance the town’s tourism offer – and revitalise a neglected part of Hastings St Leonards.

How about targeting an opening date of 24 October 2030 – the bicentenary of Marianne North’s birth?

If you are interested in this proposal and would like to find out more, or get involved with the campaign group, please contact hastingsbotanicgarden@gmail.com.

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Posted 11:54 Wednesday, Jul 14, 2021 In: Green Times

5 Comments

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  1. Alison Cooper

    Fabulous idea! This would need such a strong and committed team to keep pushing for the dream to be realised…

    Comment by Alison Cooper — Sunday, Jul 18, 2021 @ 21:02

  2. Tim Barton

    I would very much welcome this. Access would be eased considerably by changing Falaise Road back to two-way and allowing 2 hour parking for cars down both sides (‘coach parking’ has been ridiculously misconceived there). It would bring tourism to that side of town, aiding businesses and supply the museum with more passing trade too.

    Comment by Tim Barton — Friday, Jul 16, 2021 @ 11:59

  3. Pam Brown

    What an excellent idea- so appropriate in memory of Marianne North- commemorated at Kew Gardens, but not by her Hastings – her place of birth.
    It would be good to know that this wonderful suggestion is being supported and taken forward by the HBC Cabinet, with appropriate funding being sought, and the idea of an intended opening date is a definite step in the right direction.
    If this commemoration to perhaps our most special citizen takes off- it will be a top visiting attraction for very many who treasure Marianne North’s achievements and would come here to see for themselves the Borough’s worthy tribute to a remarkable woman.

    Comment by Pam Brown — Friday, Jul 16, 2021 @ 11:10

  4. Bea

    A very interesting idea and suggest it should be developed and managed by an independent group. But although I’m all for pedestrianisation where possible, doing it to Schwerte Way is not a good idea. This was already proposed for the even bigger white elephant that is White Rock Theatre (curiously, that report seems to have been quietly shelved). Schwerte Way is a key route through to Bohemia and the area behind, which has very few access points. That’s not just private cars affected, it’s deliveries and of course coaches as well. If any proposal becomes public to close Schwerte Way to traffic just stand back and wait for the howls of outrage from the residents and businesses that would be affected.

    Comment by Bea — Thursday, Jul 15, 2021 @ 09:33

  5. Bernard McGinley

    A practical memorial to Marianne North in Hastings would help the town more widely. Her permanent exhibition is at Kew Gardens, which gets 2¼ million visitors a year. She’s arguably better known than Decimus Burton, whose buildings still grace Kew: more possibilities.

    We’ve heard a lot lately about becoming the ‘first green garden city’. The green spaces are already here, and under threat. We should try to keep the garden city we’ve already got and improve it.

    White Rock Gardens would be an excellent site for a Marianne North botanic garden. A consultants’ report on possible futures there is nearly a year overdue. It will sit along four others: White Rock Park & Bohemia (mentioned in the article), the Area Action Plan, the Bohemia Masterplan, and the ‘DFL Ghetto’ one by Wessex Economics in April 2018.

    The Council’s Climate Emergency Strategy proposes to make Hastings carbon neutral by 2030: interesting convergence.

    Comment by Bernard McGinley — Wednesday, Jul 14, 2021 @ 21:21

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