Nestled by the River Tame in the beautiful village of Elford, midway between Alrewas and Tamworth on the A513, lies an old Edwardian walled garden which has been lovingly restored by a group of enthusiastic volunteers.
This photograph shows the garden as it was 10 years ago in 2009 when the restoration project began. Since then, extraordinary transformations have taken place, which have to be seen to be believed!
Part restoration, part creation of a freely accessible asset for the community at large, this project has seen a valuable amenity grow in the place of the inaccessible jungle that covered the site in 2009. The project is a registered charity.
Now recognised by Royal Horticultural Society awards since 2011 and with awards of OUTSTANDING every year since 2014, the project goes from strength to strength. In the Jubilee Year of 2012 the project was awarded the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service. This secluded jewel has since become a popular venue for visitors of all ages. It is open every day until dusk when the gates to the car park are locked. Pedestrians can still enter after dusk if wildlife watching is their thing and there is a covered observatory which can be used. The site is disabled friendly and entrance to the garden is FREE! However, we rely on donations to keep the project moving forward so visitors should feel welcome to reward our volunteers hard work generously! On Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday there are volunteers on site who will offer refreshments should you need them and will be delighted to chat about the project.
A Modern Historical Perspective
Howard Paget, the last Squire of Elford, ‘gifted’ the Elford Estate to Birmingham in 1936 to be held in trust for the benefit of the people of Elford and Birmingham. It was a substantial gift! It included a Georgian Hall, 600 acres of farmland and numerous properties including two walled gardens, a wood yard, stables, blacksmith’s forge and numerous cottages. The estate extended from Whittington to Elford and had farms and cottages on both sides of the river.
The old Hall (above) was used to house exhibits from Birmingham’s museum during the Second World War to keep them safe from bombing but then fell into disrepair and was declared unsafe and eventually demolished in 1964. Over the years, Estate property was sold off until by 2008, very little of the original estate remained. In 2008, when the walled garden site was put up for sale as development land, an action group was formed in Elford and this group eventually managed to gain permission from Birmingham Corporation to allow them to try to rescue the decaying walled garden and to turn it into a community garden and an amenity to be enjoyed by the general public. And so the restoration work began…..
Thanks to generous funding from a variety of national and local organisations, plus donations of money and materials from many sources, a small army of enthusiastic volunteers got to work early in 2009.
The Philosophy behind the Project
The walled garden was earmarked for housing development but the action group had other (better) ideas! They set out to restore the site, retaining as much of the original character of the site as was possible on their small budget. From the outset, the garden was intended to be a free and accessible place for all visitors, to be wheelchair friendly, to have things to attract all ages and to provide a place where people of all abilities, backgrounds and ages felt welcome and felt that they could be valued – whether as volunteers or as visitors. The project currently leases the walled garden site from Birmingham.
What is on offer to visitors?
From February until May there is a succession of Spring bulbs to lift the spirits – from snowdrops, crocuses and daffodils to beautiful blanket of bluebells. From Spring to Autumn, the long herbaceous border leading to the Head Gardener’s house is a delight. At blossom time, the orchard is alive with blooms and the sound of bees. The riverside offers distant views over farmland and is one of the many areas for a pleasant picnic. The sensory garden is a series of interesting garden ‘rooms’ where peace and tranquillity reign in a kingdom of scent, colour and texture variations. Inside the walled area there are interesting allotments to study and the rose garden area is a peaceful fragrant oasis of calm. The old boathouse has been rebuilt to serve as a wildlife observatory and to give access to the River Tame. Visitors can use the boules pitches as they relax or play chess with the giant chess pieces. There is a ‘bring and swap’ library in the Gardener’s House with a good range of books which you can take away for a small donation, or take away FREE if you leave us a book in exchange! On volunteer days visitors can usually get refreshments from the Bothy for a small donation. On non-volunteer days, visitors can even make their own refreshments in the Bothy!
Volunteers are on site every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday from 9.30 to 4pm. At these times you can always get access to toilets in the Head Gardener’s house. Sometimes volunteers are also on site on other days but this cannot be guaranteed. There are several places where you can take shelter during inclement weather and you can ALWAYS get access to the Bothy (inside the walled garden) where you can make yourself a warming drink – but please leave a donation in the honesty box . Cake or biscuits are generally available too!
We welcome visiting groups and will offer catering, guided tours and talks as required – just apply on the contact form on the website. Volunteers can also offer off-site presentations too!
Our facilities include:
- Wildlife observatory
- Plants sales
- Produce table
- Walled garden cider
- Wheelchair access across the site
- Disabled toilets
- Library/book exchange
- Picnic areas & seating
- River access for small boats and canoes
- Fishing platforms
- Under cover areas
- 4 boules pitches
- Kitchen facilities
Other things to do in Elford
While in Elford, you should also try to visit our excellent village playground (adjacent to the cricket field). St Peter’s Church in Elford is a fascinating place to visit with some amazing alabaster tombs. The Crown Inn serves fine ales and has a good restaurant (phone ahead to confirm serving times – 01827383602)