This is, or rather was, one of the more dramatic publicly-maintained council-funded plantings I know: the Victorian cascades at the foot of the hill in Ventnor, on the Isle of Wight.
(The other one is the rock garden at Lyme Regis, in Dorset, but I keep forgetting my camera on trips to the beach so you’ll have to wait for that one).
I expect my timing is all out, but I wanted to take a snap of this one as a contribution to Out on the Streets (OOTS), the regular slot on public planting hosted by Veg Plotting, and since I’ve just come back from my hols on the Isle of Wight and wanted to go on about it a bit, it couldn’t wait.
Anyway: the Isle of Wight, of course, enjoys a mild microclimate which makes it very nearly subtropical in terms of plant life. Echiums, aeoniums and even cacti thrive outdoors here; public planting displays are as likely to include agaves and aloes as ageratum and antirrhinums.
However, the IoW County Council has also been taking a hatchet to its budget: £32 million saved over four years, out of a total budget which was only about £200m in the first place. Around £15 million in cuts have already been identified; libraries, regional theatres, tourist information centres, sports facilities and public toilets are toppling like ninepins.
Parks departments are soft targets in such slash-and-burn strategies: £450,000 is coming out of the parks budget on the Island between now and 2013. Quite apart from Ventnor Botanic Garden, which has had its entire funding removed (of which more later) the holes are beginning to show in the Island’s previously perfectly-manicured parks, once the pride of an area which depends heavily on tourism to keep itself solvent.
Unfortunately the budget cuts also coincided with the one of the worst winters in living memory. Even the Island, usually pretty much frost-free, had the deepest snowfall for decades. Not ideal for subtropical planting, and as you can see from the picture much of it was lost.
There’s no money to replace it with either more exotics, or even run-of-the-mill bedding: so we’re left looking at bare soil, right into July and peak tourist season.
I’ve been going to the Island every year for over a decade, and I’ve always looked forward to visiting this bit of Ventnor. I remember the area simply dazzling with colour: vivid orange marigolds and scarlet salvias jostling up against alyssum and magenta aubretia tumbling over the rocks. It wasn’t tasteful, but my goodness, it was jolly, and never failed to put a smile on my face.
It’s so sad to see it like this: still trying, just, but such a pale imitation of what it once was. So is this what we’ve got to look forward to, then? Scraggy bare bits interspersed with brave little patches of yellow daisies or pink geraniums?
Quite apart from cringing to think what the tourists will make of it – so much for Britain plc, then – this is not a country I want to live in. It’s depressing, poor, uninspiring, defeated. You can blame whoever you like for the current crisis: but this can’t, possibly, be the right way to take us forward.
Parks departments may be viewed as the poor relation as far as many local councils are concerned, but you underestimate the work they do at your peril. They’re responsible for the public face we turn to the world: reduce them to a starved, beaten down skeleton, and you do it to all of us, too.