Volunteers help to bring “secret garden” back into public use

VOLUNTEERS have been rolling up their sleeves to help bring a historic “secret garden” back into public use.

After more than a year of negotiation between Thaxted Parish Council and Essex County Council, Clarance House Conservation Garden has finally returned to local control for the first time in many years.

A well-attended open morning in October has been quickly followed up with four productive volunteer working days. The most recent, on Tuesday, saw residents removing years of invasive ivy growth from the listed perimeter walls, pruning hugely overgrown shrubs, and clearing waist-high weeds and piles of rubbish.

Specialist pruning work has also started on the overgrown fruit trees which include a mulberry, medlars and quinces as well as plums, cherries, apples and pears.

Residents Anne and Peter Harding, who have been helping with the garden refurbishment work, said: “We have lived in Thaxted since 1977 and had often wondered what lay behind the locked gate of the Conservation Garden.

“It is such a shame it has become so run down when it could be such an asset to the community.”

Cllr John Freeman, chairman of the parish council’s Open Spaces committee, described the amount of local interest in the garden, in Margaret Street, has been “astounding”.

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“The area has been ‘out of bounds’ to residents for many years and people are naturally interested to come and see what is hidden behind the high walls. It‘s like a secret garden,” he said.

“We are grateful to the many people who have volunteered to bring this long neglected area in the centre of the town back to the standard it deserves.”

Despite the interest, the parish council only has the lease, initially, for a three-year period. But Cllr Freeman is hoping the strength of public support will ensure it remains open to residents for good.

“We hope the county council will see how passionate the people of Thaxted are about this garden and that we can find a way to make sure that local people continue to have long term access,” he added.