The Victoria Garden, Farnham
There’s something quite magical about a secret garden! Did you know that Farnham has its own secret garden hidden away in the town centre? If you venture towards the back of Sainsbury’s car park in South Street, you’ll have the chance to discover the Victoria Garden for yourself. A beautifully serene, sheltered and enclosed garden awaits you, a place where you can escape the hustle and bustle of everyday life. The Victoria Garden is a calming restful place where you can unwind, take a seat amongst the flowers and take time out to relax and admire the beauty of plants. The Victoria Garden is a lovely place to spend a lunch break or the perfect spot to give yourself the chance to recharge your batteries in amongst the flowers of the season on one of those days filled with errands and seemingly never-ending lists of things to do.
The Victoria Garden features arches clothed with roses, the garden is planted with colourful flowering shrubs and perennials, there’s a low box maze and a mosaic hopscotch pitch for children, so there’s something for everyone, even if sitting or admiring a garden is not something you aspire to!
The History of the Victoria Garden in Farnham
When her Majesty Queen Victoria celebrated her Diamond Jubilee in 1897, the people of Farnham were ready to celebrate. In the 1890s, in preparation for this historic event, the residents of Farnham formed a Commemorative Committee to find a suitable way to mark this royal occasion. The Committee decided to arrange for an outdoor swimming bath to be built, to create a space for the people of Farnham to swim. The Farnham people of the day supported the venture and donated the necessary monies, while local architect, Harold Falkner designed a commemorative arch.
The Bishop of Winchester, Bishop Randall Davidson, invited the Duchess of Albany, Queen Victoria’s daughter-in-law, to lunch with him at his home at Farnham Castle. The Bishop asked if the Duchess would open Farnham’s first swimming bath, when she agreed, Mr Borelli, a local jeweller cast a special gilt key for the Duchess of Albany to use at the opening ceremony for Farnham’s first swimming bath.
Farnham’s swimming bath was so popular that in time a new larger pool was built next to the original pool, which then became a shallower pool, where children learnt to swim. But the fact that the swimming baths were outdoors meant the months that residents of the town could swim in Farnham were limited, so in 1982, a new leisure centre with an indoor pool was built by the council and the old outdoor swimming baths closed. The site remained derelict until the 1990s, when the reconstituted Farnham Swimming Baths Trust reclaimed the site.
The Trust debated as how to make best use of the Swimming Bath’s site, when inspired by the Physic Garden in Petersfield, they decided to turn the site into a town centre garden. Marion Woodward of the Surrey Gardens Trust created the design for the Victoria Garden, while a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund and contributions from local organisations and individuals provided the necessary funding. The Victoria Garden was opened in 1998, by the Duchess of Gloucester.
Art work at the Victoria Garden
The Trustees are very proud of their royal associations. In 2012, to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, local sculptor Jane Jones made a terracotta plaque to celebrate the Diamond Jubilees of Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth. Jane Jones has also created a sculpture of a young boy with a towel draped around his shoulders, shivering as if he had just emerged from the cold waters of an open-air pool, an endearing reminder of the garden’s previous use as a swimming bath. There’s also a decorative bird bath, which was presented to the Victoria Garden in memory of Ronnie Broughton, a previous Chairman of the Trust.
The Victoria Garden is owned and managed by the Farnham Swimming Baths Trust. All of the planting and maintenance work is carried out by the Friends of the Victoria Garden, this team of friendly, hard-working volunteers are led by Sarah Coker. The Friends work tirelessly, arranging garden visits, bridge parties, and plant sales to raise money to fund the garden, while Farnham Town Council helps with the jobs the volunteers cannot do. Every year, the Trustees organise the Mackay Lecture, when they invite a top horticulturist to give a talk about gardening.
Victoria Garden Awards
The Victoria Garden has won many Gold and Silver-Gilt Awards in South and South East in Bloom, both individually, as a small park and community garden, and together, as part of the Farnham town entry into the competition, which won the Gold and Best in Category Award, in Britain in Bloom last year.
The future of the Victoria Garden
As the Victoria Garden’s 20th anniversary approached, the Farnham Swimming Baths Trust had the garden surveyed. Extensive remedial works now need to be carried out to ensure that this garden can continue to provide a welcoming place to spend a lunch hour or two, which is free to visit, in the centre of town.
How can you help the Victoria Garden?
The people of Farnham raised the money to create the Victoria Garden, it is hoped that the people of Farnham will again support and continue to care for this precious space, a green oasis in the heart of the town centre.
If you’d like to support the Victoria Garden there are many ways you can help. Volunteer gardeners are always needed, please contact Mrs Sarah Coker 01428 713478. The Victoria Garden now requires expensive structural work, the Trustees would welcome donations to fund these necessary works, please contact the Chair of Trustees, Dr Penny Marriott, telephone 01252 714489. There are some super new benches, which can be dedicated in memory of a loved one, please contact Dr Penny Marriott for more details.
Visit the Victoria Garden
The Victoria Garden, South Street, Farnham, Surrey, GU9 7RN is open from 8am until 5pm in the summer, and during daylight hours in wintertime. The Victoria Garden has wheelchair access through the garden’s side gate, down a slight slope, and then onto the garden’s level paths, which are firm, level, and are topped with a shallow layer of gravel. Once you’re inside the garden, there are benches where you can rest a while, take a seat and soak up the tranquil atmosphere and the sunshine.
A shortened version of this article was first published in the November 2018 edition of Vantage Point Magazine.
Other articles that may interest you…………….
To read about the life of Farnham Horticulturist John Negus, please click here.
To read about beautiful, important, and historic gardens in Surrey, Hampshire, and West Sussex, please click here.
To read about the opening of the Temperate House at Kew Gardens, in Surrey, please click here.
To read about the experiences of Nick Johnson, a horticulturist from the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew, who now works in the Cayman Islands, please click here.