Is this a lawn, a rose garden or a slum? No. It is one of Susan Jellicoe's favourite planting designs - as 'managed' by Dacorum District Council
Since criticising the management of the Water Gardens in 2009
I have heard that they are to be restored and read the note on the Dacorum Borough Council
website. It states that ‘The ornamental water gardens, completed in 1961, were designed by architect Geoffrey Jellicoe, who created the original New Town masterplan. Today, the 3.5 hectare gardens are home to a variety of wildlife, as well as providing an attractive green space in the centre of Hemel Hempstead.’ By ‘wildlife’ they mean weeds, ducks, drug addicts and winos. I went to have another look last week and, finding the Water Gardens worse than in 2009, wondered if I was being punished for my earlier criticism.
Geoffrey Jellicoe was an optimist. Susan, who did the planting design, was a pessimist. Their friend, Brenda Colvin, was even more of a pessimist. Remembering how many of her planting designs had been wrecked, Brenda Colvin remarked that ‘landscape architecture is a depressing profession – and the older you get the more depressing it gets’. As an optimist, I believe the Water Gardens will be restored. The Garden History Society held a 1-day conference about them last year. But the management needs to change. Why doesn’t Dacorum District Council use volunteers? Three of the truths to be universially acknowledged are (1) a volunteer is worth ten pressed men (2) two old ladies can maintain a garden more effectively than 10 well-equipped youths in green sweatshirts – because they know WHAT to do (3) in this world, you get more for love than you get for money.
Why don’t UK parks departments make more use of volunteers? It is very common in the US; it works well in Chiswick Park; it is normal practice in National Trust gardens. The reason, I wearily suppose, is that our trades unions do not like volunteers. They want more jobs for their own members. So the Hemel Hempstead Water Gardens can go to hell – or, better, they can extend the hellish car parks which have become the main ‘feature’ of the park since DDC took over from Hemel Hempsted Development Corporation. Parking costs about 60p/hour and they have 750 spaces, open 24 hours/day. If one assumes an occupancy of 30% then the weekly income (7x24x0.3×0.6×750) is £22,680. My suggestion is to give the £680 to the two old ladies, who would probably give it to a good cause.
Hemel Hempstead have muddled the ideas of 'car park' and 'public park'. Since this place is called a Water GARDEN the mistake should not have been made.