Older residents of Ampthill will recall the many changes which have transformed the Kings Arms Garden in their life time. At different times it has been a hop field and paddock, cow holding pens, and market garden.
In an age when local residents were dependent on local shops to supply all their needs, the land behind what is now the White Hart car park and which borders the King’s Arms path was used by the local trades people as a piece of farm land in the middle of the town. At one stage it was where a local brewer grew his hops. Later it was used as grazing land for the horses of customers of the local hostelries.
The White Hart Inn also grew their own fruit and vegetables in a vegetable garden there although that part is now neglected. Three local butchers used some of the land as a holding area for the animals which were waiting slaughter. Slowly over time, the land gradually fell out of use, apart from the pond, which was used each winter by the locals as a skating rink.
All this changed in 1968 when W.H. (Bill) Nourish got permission from the land’s owners, Ampthill Town Council, to clear the site and put plants there. Then, in 1969, he retired from his prestigous roll as Regional Horticultural Officer. He was a distinguished horticulturalist and he advised governments on their horticultural strategy.
On his retirement he was given gifts, often specimen trees or shrubs, and he needed somewhere to plant them having run out of space in his own garden. He used all his skill, experience and creative ability to turn the land into a proper garden. He planted the specimen trees and under-planted them with shrubs, spring bulbs, and ground cover plants to make a beautiful woodland garden which he maintained until his death in 1987.
What makes this garden special is the use of the natural pond at the north end. This pond was made deeper and dammed to retain the water. From the pond there flows a gully, which goes underground in some places. It divides and reappears all-round the garden. In this way the whole garden is kept well supplied with water. Even in the driest weather the ground around the gullies remains damp.
Mr Kevan Fadden, an hydrologist who lives just opposite the garden explains the pond and the dampness of the garden: The pond is a natural spring of a type which occurs on the Green Sand Ridge. Layers of impervious clay pushed up in the last ice age underlie the light sandy soil and this causes spring lines, areas where water gathers to form ponds.
It was known there was a culvert in the garden to drain water away but over time its where about was lost. Mr Fadden found the beautiful, well-constructed 18th century culvert and round its entrance we have now planted a fern garden to mark its position.
As the garden has matured and the trees have grown, the deep shade of the woodland envelopes a lot of the garden in summer. In winter, the leafless trees allow light to reach the ground thus encouraging winter flowering plants to grow and spread.
Since 1987 the garden has been maintained by the friends of the garden led initially by two very determined ladies, Dorothy Hudson and Nancy Sykes. Their enthusiasm nurtured the garden through some hard times following the death of Mr Nourish when it was again neglected. The garden is now managed by a dedicated group of friends, with help from the Council’s parks department.
It is in the National Garden Scheme yellow book of gardens.
The garden is open to the public on the last Sunday of every month except for November and December. Local schools and play groups come to the garden at different times of year and the garden can be open to groups by arrangement. New volunteers are always welcome as there is much to do in this wonderful garden so please come and join us.
Contact Bryden Keenan: 01525 755 648 or Joan Emsley: 01525 404 718
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