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Restoration of the Well Garden

Well Garden StartThe Well Garden, situated in the center of the village next to the White Hart pub garden, is bisected by the river Pang.  This small plot of land approximately 25-30 sq m by the Village Well, was gifted to the village by Mr Weber, who lived at Hawkridge House, in the 1900s.  A plaque on the Well housing commemorates this.  Mr Weber, though he lived in Frilsham, was a regular worshipper at Hampstead Norreys church: his coachman, Owen Herbert and his daughter Dottie Wright, lived at the Railway Hotel (now Darrynane House).  A road bridge, effectively enclosing the Well Garden, eventually replaced the ford that cars, wagons, livestock and people used to cross the Pang.
-The Well Garden is a main feature of the village and although over the years various groups had maintained the Garden, by the millennium it had become overgrown with weeds (predominantly stinging nettles) and other scrub vegetation. It was a real eyesore at the side of the main road through the village and along which many people regularly walked past on their way to or from the village pub, church, telephone, the parish “Notice Board” and post-box.  In 2005 the Parish Council confirmed that ownership could not be identified for “the Well Garden”.
The wish to have the Well Garden landscaped was expressed by the parishioners in the Parish Plan survey carried out in late 2006, in which over 80% of parishioners responded.  Before this time the Parish Council also identified the need to have the Well Garden maintained and had submitted a letter of endorsement.  As an initial step, the Parish Council formally adopted the Garden via the Land Registry.
The establishment of the Well Garden as a pleasant and relaxing place for parishioners and visitors to view and enjoy was one of the first projects of the Environment Groups` Action Plan.  Hampstead Norreys Parish Council is supports the landscaping of the garden and future maintenance of a restored Well Garden.

What we needed to plan in:

Health and Safety

Because of Health and Safety restrictions due to potential flooding periods and the very small area, it was confirmed that the public can not walk through it, for fear of slippage and drowning: access to the garden needed to be limited to planting and maintenance working parties (also adequate insurance cover in case of accidents!). However, its small size means that the whole of the Garden would be easily viewed from the surrounding adjacent (Silver Jubilee and the White Hart garden) benches which overlook it.

The Site

The Pang is a chalk stream or bourne, meaning it often dries up for part of the year. This itself presents a problem for the establishment of a garden, therefore one of the first objectives was to get a sympathetic design for plants, robust enough to withstand wet and dry spells once established, and using species native to chalk bournes which will give a natural look.

Funding and planning

Before any work could start on the garden, the Group had to obtain a grant to purchase materials, find a garden designer to put the ideas into a feasible planting scheme, then organise working parties to clear weeds and prepare the site for future planting. In addition we had to check with the Environment Agency what type of materials (e.g. were we allowed to use weedkiller to kill off top growth of weeds, what type of wood could be used to stabilise the banks, if required) were allowed in establishing a garden where the Pang had free access.
The Parish Plan Steering Committee, through the Parish Council, secured funding from West Berkshire Councils Open Spaces grant and the Well Garden project was able to gain monies from this source for purchase of plants, clearing dead trees from site, etc.

A designer

Local, Kew trained, garden designer Vanessa Wells volunteered her considerable expertise in designing the Well Garden using species native to chalk bournes, in order to emulate the natural planting and aiding survival during dry periods.


Well Garden Plan

 Well Garden startOnly then could the hard work start….The first working party started in September 2007 to clear weeds, including the 5 foot nettles: we saw the blank canvas for future planting! After a few weeks, when the workers various new-found muscle aches and pains had cleared, Vanessa went in armed with a proprietary licensed weedkiller which would start killing off top growth of weeds.
The Well Garden`s new hair cut settled into the Winter of 2007/8.  A further spray followed in early Spring 2008 to catch the spring weeds (or native plants!).  The two drains from Church Street were cleared by another working group, the two dead and dying birch trees were felled, a drain pipe installed and at last…. the first planting started on 26 April 2008. 

Well GardenVanessa’s plumped for herbaceous perennials, bulbs trees and shrubs that will thrive in wet conditions but will survive periods of drought (if we ever get one).  For non gardeners, “perennials” means we don’t have to re-plant every year!
The first plants in were the trees and shrubs Cornus alba eligantissima  (Silver)  and Cornus alba spaethii  (Gold), Malus zumi “Professor Springer”, Alnus incana aureus  , Crateagus persimilis prunifolia and Corylus maxima purpurea and masses of daffodils.
As Vanessa and her husband moved to Malawi before planting started, we hope to give her regular updates on how the Garden’s growing.  Kevin Skully, another local garden designer, has stepped into the breach as the role of expert adviser.

 In August 2008 we issued a newsletter (and quiz for under 11s) to all parishioners, in addition to all the primary school children in the village school.  This gave some background on why we’re doing the work and what the planting would be.  The prize (a bird nesting box) was won by Emma and Niamh Roberts. 

Well GardenBy March 2009 the daffodils were in full bloom, but the rest of the Garden was itching for planting up.  Yet another group of volunteers started planting again in April when the (213!!) pre-ordered plants arrived from Penwood Nursery.  By May other “native plants” were growing merrily alongside these so yet again, you could find the volunteers frequently weeding out these so that the purchased (i.e.“proper”!) plants would establish roots.
By June (and our dry spell!) a watering rota of volunteers was set up for the rest of the sizzling (so we hope) summer months; we don’t want our 229 plants dying before they rooted in! 

 Well Garden  Well Garden

Although the garden still looks a little bare, a large number of the plants will self seed and we can take cuttings of or divide some others to plant back in the garden.  We also have some monies available to purchase more plants for spring 2010…..

We’re always looking for willing volunteers to help in the Well garden – no age restriction, and you don’t have to