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How volunteers are helping bring the beauty back to Festival Gardens

10 months ago

How volunteers are helping bring the beauty back to Festival Gardens

A group of volunteers are helping to bring the Festival Gardens at Otterspool back to their former glory.

The gardens, which were created as part of the International Garden Festival back in 1984, became a popular place for picnics and walks thanks to beautiful Japanese and Chinese gardens, pagodas, lakes, waterfalls and woodland trails.

After a turbulent few years which saw them fall into disrepair in the late 90s, they were restored and reopened in 2011.

But more recently they’ve become overgrown and neglected since The Land Trust charity which once managed them stepped back in 2017.

Now Friends of Festival Gardens have plans to reveal their natural beauty and make them a destination in their own right again.

After forming the group in July this year, the volunteers are now planning to clean up and restore one area at a time, starting with the much-loved Japanese garden.

Kate Parry, who is one of the Friends’ founder members, says they originally began work last year after noticing the site was in a sorry state.

She says: “I live locally and I remember when it was restored and opened in 2011, I went on one of the previews.  But I’ve just watched it, like most people, go down since the Land Trust left in 2017 and then obviously in Covid it was in an even worse state.

“Last year Darren Mooney organised two Eventbrite days, in August and October, to clear up and we managed to do quite a lot in the Japanese garden and various other areas.

“In July this year I met up with Darren and we decided to start the Friends of Festival Gardens group.”

Kate says the gardens haven’t been abandoned entirely, but they have only had minimal maintenance over the past five years.

“When the Land Trust left, they went back to the council but it was unexpected so there was no budget for work. They deal with things like emptying the bins, cutting the grass and if there’s any major tree falls or problems with the lake, but there’s no budget to do any more than that.

“We went through the site with the council’s head of parks and Friends’ liaison, to work out what improvements need to be made and certain things the council will do when money becomes available, and then we will tackle the rest.”

Japanese garden - Festival Gardens volunteers - The Guide Liverpool

That mostly involves litter picks, pruning and pulling back overgrown ivy and brambles which are covering pathways and choking some of the rare plants which still exist in the gardens.

The group meets on the first Sunday of each month and, with such a large area to cover, they intend to decide on a plan of action to prioritise and go through the whole site methodically.

“It is vast so we will have to look at it as a long-term plan,” adds Kate. “We chose the Japanese garden to start with because it’s a place that people have a fondness for. There’s also the main entrance, the Chinese gardens including the Moon Wall and the pagodas, the woodland trails, an area nearest the Prom and a biodiversity area. 

“We’ve already made quite a bit of progress in uncovering and tidying, but we do have to be careful because there are rare plants so we need to make sure we don’t do any damage. We’re going to try and get the original planting scheme so that should help us.”

Japanese garden - Festival Gardens volunteers - The Guide Liverpool

Although the group is still in its early stages, Kate says they are hoping to get more people involved, especially the local community around Otterspool and Aigburth.

The gardens have three access points, at the Prom, one leading to the southern grasslands and the main entrance on Riverside Drive, but they’re currently used mainly as a cut-through.

“When people see us doing some work in the garden the question we get asked most is, how do you get to the southern grasslands? And we see people cycling through on the way to work, so it’s often a thoroughfare at the moment,” says Kate. “It’s such a beautiful area that we would like ideally is for it to become more of a destination again.”

Anyone interested in joining the Friends of Festival Gardens and helping out with the clean-up can follow them on Facebook HERE. 

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