City group gets parks looking blooming marvellous

FRESH air is free. No government has yet come up with a plan to tax what we breathe and for that the population should be grateful.

You will get plenty of it at Clyne Gardens.

Come to that, the botanical gardens in Singleton Park has its share too.

Entry to both is also free. But those Swansea Council-run venues would not be as attractive for visitors were it not for the largely unheralded efforts of Friends of the City of Swansea Botanical Complex.

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Plantasia, Parc Tawe’s tropical hothouse, is also part of their brief and, with summer possibly calling this year, the fruits of their devoted labours will again be on show for thousands of people.

“We have been in existence since 1994 and since 1998 the main source of fundraising has been the Plant Shop held on 26 Saturdays every year, April to September, in part of the walled garden of the Vivians in Singleton Botanical Gardens,” says secretary Pamela Morgan.

“We have raised over £100,000 over the past 19 years, which has been spent on many things within the three gardens of the complex, Singleton Botanical Gardens, Clyne Gardens and Plantasia.”

The latest projects are paying for new signs and the refurbishment of the seating around the Story Tree in Clyne Gardens, and new interpretation boards at Clyne and Singleton.

Last year the Friends fully funded the Rainforest Hut in Plantasia and anyone using Ty Blodau, the multi-purpose community building in the Botanical Gardens, has cause to be grateful to the organisation for pumping £52,000 into the project.

“We are a registered charity and are affiliated to the RHS and achieved a high score in their Its Your Neighbourhood scheme,” says Pamela. “We have links with a number of local groups and are supporting the Swansea in Bloom scheme this year.”

With people seemingly finding less time to pause for breath these days, the value of these oases among the urban build-up must be greater than ever.

The 400 paid-up members of the Friends would surely agree.

“Most of them are from the Swansea area, but there are about 10 from further afield,” says Pamela. “We have got members from Porthcawl and Pembroke, and a couple from Hertfordshire who spend much of the summer in Swansea.

There is a five-strong committee, which meets in Ty Blodau, and 26 active volunteers. Any newcomers will not be turned away.

“We want to recruit gardening and non-gardening members who can help us in a number of different areas,” says Pamela. Potting, weeding, watering, photography and financial matters are some of them.

There is always work to be done, and the Friends are a good example of the voluntary sector’s willingness to roll up their sleeves and get on with it.

The pioneering group of enthusiasts met at a public meeting in the Guildhall in October 1993, elected a committee the following February and registered as a charity in January 1996. The aims of the society were to further public education in botany and horticulture, provide for scientific study and research and encourage the maintenance and preservation of the three chosen sites.

And the passion among members to keep all that going is as fierce as ever. Their approach is to complement the work of the authority rather than tackle something too ambitious which may have implications for it.

“We try and draw a careful line,” says Pamela. “We are conscious that the council has got other priorities outside parks. We target the small jobs, the ones that otherwise might get left behind.”

They help put a gloss on proceedings and illustrate the importance of contributing alongside cash-strapped local government.

As one example, the society is proud of its support for Plantasia which has welcomed more than 1.5 million visitors since its opening in 1990, many of them children on school trips learning about plants for the first time.

“We are passionate about plants and looking after plants,” adds Pamela.

“It is a sort of therapeutic thing looking after plants. There is an instant reward about it. People come to our shop and ask for advice and we are able to give them local advice.”

And now Clyne in Bloom beckons, a much-loved festival running through May with a range of family activities and an opportunity for gardeners and visitors to see the park in full colour when the award-winning rhododendrons and azaleas are in full bloom.

Winter has been hard and many gardeners will look at their own beloved patches of green and wonder if the damage maybe terminal for this year.

“Our message is that gardens will recover from the winter,” says Pamela.

“Nature can repair. We are hoping for a dry summer and Swansea has got some fine historic gardens.

“We don’t want to be negative about anywhere else, but more and more people are coming to our parks and saying they get more enjoyment there than at places they have got to pay for.”

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