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Botanic garden design

Marianne North Botanic Garden

HOT’s Zelly Restorick spotted that there are plans afoot for a Hastings Botanical Garden to be evolved and developed over the coming years. She asks the initiator of the idea, Alexander Wilberforce, some questions to find out more. 

Who had the idea for a botanic garden?

The idea came about by pure chance. The mother of a friend had sent her grandchildren an article about a man who, afraid of flying, had grown a jungle in his back garden. As parents frustrated at the lack of places in Hastings to take children during the winter months, we both thought: why can’t there be something like this here – but covered and warm, out of the wind and rain?

As a financial analyst – and aware of the saga of the Pier, rescued by an enormous community effort (including my £200 worth of community shares) only to go bankrupt soon afterwards – I then spent several months talking to other botanic gardens in the UK and looking at their accounts.

Some botanic gardens like Oxford, Cambridge and Bristol are supported by universities, while others are freestanding, such as Chelsea Physic Garden and the National Botanic Garden of Wales. The latter, as a millennium project, had a troubled start but now seems to have achieved financial stability through careful marketing and greater self-generated income.

At the same time, I was amazed to find newspaper articles dating from the 1870’s proposing a Winter Garden in Hastings and also that the land registry deeds for Clambers Play Centre included a covenant specifically mentioning a Winter Garden. Early plans for the Priory Meadow Shopping Centre also included a Winter Garden.

Logo

What is the vision for the botanic garden? Will it be like Kew by the seaside?

Yes, but on a smaller scale obviously. As our logo states, we need to have spaces for events, a café, education and play.

In fact, both Hastings and Kew share close ties to Marianne North, the botanical artist, eco-visionary and friend of Charles Darwin – the former as her birthplace in 1830 and home till her beloved father’s death in 1869. She also held an exhibition of her work at today’s Hastings Library building in 1879 and visited her aunt Arabella at Croft House. The latter is home to her Gallery which she funded, organised and opened in 1882. Given that Marianne North is not commemorated anywhere else in Hastings, we should name the botanic garden after her.

Botanic garden designs

Where will the garden be?

White Rock would be the obvious candidate. There have been various plans to regenerate the area over the past 20-30 years. The 2003 Consultation and 2017 Master Plan both mention a tropical greenhouse and making better use of the space; the current Draft Local Plan repeats the greenhouse idea and mentions the spectacular view down to the Pier. Access remains a problem, as there is only the steep stairs up from Schwerte Way and no bus route. (Why not make a Loop Line from the station down to the seafront and Pier, up Falaise Road to the Museum and down Cambridge Road back to the station?).

Exhibition and consultation

What needs to happen to make this vision a reality?

The Council’s immediate priorities are balancing the budget, the cost of living crisis, solving homelessness and implementing the Town Deal projects. The regeneration of White Rock is a longer-term task.

As part of Art on Prescription’s Jubilee Picnic a week ago, we held a joint exhibition with East Sussex College on the theme ‘Hastings Botanical’. This included thought-provoking visualisations of a botanic garden here – some traditional, some futuristic – by a class of computer design students.

Students of the College’s UAL Level 3 Extended Diploma Games Art & Animation course had been set a work experience project to generate design ideas for a potential greenhouse structure on White Rock. They researched existing botanical gardens such as Kew and also the futuristic 420-acre Oman Botanical Garden (currently under construction in the Middle East).  The 20 watercolour and 17 computer designs (along with 3D models, postcards and botanic-themed ceramics) were intended to work within the natural clifftop landscape at White Rock, some reflecting the black huts at Rock a Nore, others more futuristic themes – as well as a touch of humour.

We had several hundred visitors – and hopefully no-one missed the colourful HBG banners and our beautiful logo based on the giant pitcher plant named after Marianne North. We were delighted at the number of visitors – and the genuine enthusiasm shown by all age groups towards Marianne North, her art, her unconventional lifestyle  and her legacy at a time of climate change and widespread habitat loss.

A questionnaire completed by attendees revealed how few people in Hastings regularly visit White Rock and the need for more all-weather attractions here when the weather closes in.

We are now fundraising to commission a concept design for a botanic garden from the wonderful Mizzi Studio, whose most recent project is the Family Kitchen at Kew Gardens, a colourful, playful yet educational restaurant/bookshop next to the Children’s Playground. They have also worked in the Royal Parks and outside the Science Museum in South Kensington.

The exhibition

How can people get involved and support this vision?

The most practical way to support this vision is to donate to our crowdfunder. We need to raise £2500 to be eligible for match funding. As of now, we have already raised more than a fifth!

We would also invite commercial sponsors to contribute to the stretch-funding needed to reach the full £10,000 target.

Please also write in to hastingsbotanicgarden@gmail.com to offer help as a volunteer.

We hope to hold another prominent public event soon, and have already been offered help by local people who have trained at Kew Gardens, etc.

The mayor visits

Is HBC supportive of the idea? Other individuals and organisations who are supportive?

HBC recognise that, post-COVID, the 2017 Masterplan for White Rock with its emphasis on concreting over areas such as the Oval would be deeply unpopular. The new Council, led by councillors with backgrounds in regeneration and landscape design, are weighing up how to proceed, and seem open to the idea. They were kind enough to guide a team from Mizzi Studio around Bohemia and White Rock in February.

Besides the considerable community benefits that a botanic garden can bring, we believe that this would become an all-year tourist attraction, reducing Hastings’ dependence on the narrow window offered by summer tourism.

Hastings has a tremendous opportunity to become an eco-tourism destination with the Garden Town Hastings scheme, the open spaces of West and East Hills, Alexandra Park and the Country Park – and our Marianne North Botanic Garden.

Hastings Voluntary Action have been very supportive, and we have received initial funding from the ‘Making it Happen’ scheme, which focusses on community wellbeing initiatives. All the botanic gardens I have spoken to – as well as Botanical Gardens Conservation International (BGCI), the body grouping botanic gardens worldwide – are ready to offer ongoing advice.

In particular, we would like to thank Catherine Bell, Head of Art & Media Curriculum at ESCG and her colleagues – and Tara Reddy and Caroline Hughes at Arts On Prescription for the Jubilee event.

Botanic Garden design

What is your ideal envisioned time frame for making the garden a reality?

We recognise that botanic gardens take time to develop. However, the birth bicentenary of Marianne North in 2030 could form a partial opening.

Please visit our Crowdfunder to help us put a botanic garden on the agenda for Hastings!


For more information, contact:

Alexander Wilberforce, Hastings Botanic Garden – hastingsbotanicgarden@gmail.com

Instagram:HastingsBotanicGarden
Facebook : Marianne North Centre

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Posted 17:05 Wednesday, Jun 15, 2022 In: Nature

2 Comments

Please read our comment guidelines before posting on HOT

  1. Dinah e

    Even in summer there are days of rain and for people having a holiday here, nothing to do.

    Comment by Dinah e — Thursday, Jun 16, 2022 @ 10:55

  2. Ann Kramer

    This is a lovely idea, and very appropriate given Marianne North’s connection with Hastings

    Comment by Ann Kramer — Wednesday, Jun 15, 2022 @ 23:16

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