Posted 19 Jun 2019

Shrewsbury: The Town of Flowers

Every summer, Shrewsbury explodes in multi-colours thanks to hundreds of thousands of blooms from our Town Council greenhouses. The £250,000 operation is carried out with military precision – My Shrewsbury's Katy Rink visited the Weeping Cross depot to find out how the council's Amenity Team do it.
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We are very fortunate to live in a ‘town of flowers’, as Shrewsbury is known. Where other councils have grassed over their formal flowerbeds, to save money, Shrewsbury is fiercely proud of its horticultural heritage and the great legacy of Parks Superintendent Percy Thrower who resurrected The Dingle after the war, creating one of the finest show gardens in England.

Over the years, thanks to Percy’s legacy and the hard work of all those who have determined to live up to his high standards, our beautiful town has won every award there is in national and international horticultural competitions, from Britain in Bloom titles to the coveted ‘Entente Florale’ gold award (2007).

It was a privilege to go behind the scenes at Weeping Cross to see the Town Council’s nursery in action, on a public tour organised by the town council and Bloom Committee. There were an astonishing 300,000 plants, in a greenhouse the size of a football pitch, many coming into flower just in time to be transported to our town centre. Most striking, walking through the greenhouses, was the obvious efficiency of the whole operation.

From the impressive ‘Dalek’ planters that will stand guard in The Square and Castle, to 165 pole-top planters and 475 hanging baskets, in four different designs and brimming with petunias, begonias, fuschias and trailing plants such as lysimachia (creeping jenny) – it is an astonishing testament to human endeavour. The team take cuttings where they can (1,500 this year), to keep costs down. The green sea of 12,000 geraniums set against the iron frame of the greenhouse was a sight to behold. Watering is done using an automated drip nozzle system (replacing a less reliable overhead system), and a special vehicle holding 1,000 litres, which goes out on 2-3 rounds per day visiting islands and roundabouts. They all need feeding too, with a liquid, seaweed based feed. Town centre businesses have the option to purchase hanging baskets - to include regular watering!

“Within the next month, all this will empty,” said Mark Bowen, Amenity Space team leader for the Town Council. Then the winter planting begins.

I asked the obvious question – but not a popular one with the proud folks on the tour – why go to all this trouble? The answers came thick and fast from the indignant group - for the sake of tradition, to honour Percy's Thrower's legacy, for well-being, for tourism, to promote gardening and healthy living.

Helen Ball, Town Clerk, put it more plainly: "If we get 1.5m to 2.5m day visitors to Shrewsbury and they spend half an hour more here because of our floral displays - if they spend £1 extra because of that half an hour, that is a £1.5m boost to the economy. We have carried out lots of visitor surveys and they all come back as exceptional and lots of people write to us to say how lovely the town is.

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"The Dingle has been described as the best example of amenity gardening in the country. It's about making sure those traditions that Percy Thrower established continue. It may be labour intensive, but we have developed a team here who really care about what we do."

And local residents appreciate it. Debbie Armstrong, who works in cyber security for British Telecom off Town Walls, said: “I walk in the park in my lunch break every day and it makes me feel so proud that it always looks so beautiful. Thank you for what you do."

Ian Finch, from the Eckford Sweet Pea Society Committee, added: “We’re so lucky to still be holding onto our parks and flowerbeds in Shrewsbury. This is what Shrewsbury is all about – beautiful old buildings, an old country market town with a sense of tradition.”

This year, Shrewsbury is entering the Small City category in the Heart of England in Bloom regional and the national Britain in Bloom competitions. Judges are due to give their verdict this July – so be super nice to anyone wandering about with a clipboard!

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Shrewsbury in Bloom is a non-profit committee which brings together interested groups and individuals to implement a programme for Shrewsbury's floral enhancement, environmental improvements and community projects.

It is the driving force behind Shrewsbury's annual entry into the Heart of England in Bloom competition.

The Shrewsbury in Bloom Committee is interested in welcoming new members and anyone who would like more information on what is involved should contact Gary Farmer on (01743) 257651 for further details.

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