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A seven-acre historic garden tucked behind MHA Hall Grange care home in Croydon, London is being restored for the benefit of residents and the local community.

Working on clearing out dead trees and undergrowth at the Wilderness is due to start Autumn 2018. This project is being funded thanks to generous grants from the Heritage Lottery Fund on behalf of the National Lottery and Garfield Weston Foundation, along with additional money from MHA. 

The garden was originally created by the Rev William Wilks, a former vicar of Shirley, Secretary and Fellow of the Royal Horticultural Society from 1888 to 1920 and the creator of the world-famous Shirley poppy – now used as the symbol of Croydon.

The Wilderness was the original home on the site and Rev Wilks created the garden on his retirement. His approach to gardening was non-interventionist and he sought to accentuate the natural beauty of the landscape rather than impose upon it.

The Wilderness garden back in 1920s

Photograph courtesy of the Royal Horticultural Society

Restoration of the garden not only includes bringing the garden back to life but also making sure it is accessible by care home residents and their families as well as the local community as it will eventually be open to them at weekends to visit once work is completed.  

Hall Grange residents – some of whom remember The Wilderness from their early years – will be involved in green activities such as helping create homes for wildlife and planting. Part of this will be done in the green classroom that is being created in the garden for the home, local schools and community groups to use.

The first work to take place will be the removal of a number of trees which are dead and work on others to make them safe. Clearance of undergrowth, bamboo and self-set invasive rhododendron will then be carried out followed by hard landscaping work to form the circular pathways in the garden.

MHA The Wilderness - Launch of Work Photo Album:

MHA The Wilderness - launch of work

Volunteers are being recruited to work in the garden alongside newly-appointed head gardener Alice Henry.

Alice said: “Restoration of The Wilderness will bring back a unique historic and horticulturally important site in south London, not just for Hall Grange but for the wider community. Residents will benefit from being able to use the garden as an extension to their existing grounds while at the same time enjoying a wide range of gardening activities alongside volunteers.

“I am delighted to be working on the restoration as I love the way Rev Wilks is recognised as being ahead of his time in adopting an ecological approach to gardening. It would have been quite a task to have kept the heather and other heathland plants in the garden in the lifestyle they thrived upon. And it’s this task that I’ve taken on - I am quite literally stepping into Rev Wilks’ gardening boots.”

Keep up to date with what is happening at our Facebook page by following us on Twitter @MHA_Wilderness or you can contact us at thewilderness@mha.org.uk or call 07966 232359.

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