Secret Garden

I’ve seen a few hidden gardens around Brighton & Hove over the years. The most intriguing is perhaps that which is accessed via tunnel from Portslade Manor. But Brunswick Square, Sillwood Road, Marine Parade and Bristol Place all offer exciting alternatives.

When I was first introduced to the forgotten area behind St Leonard’s Church on New Church Road, I knew straight away that it had huge potential for something special. The secluded spot exists in a built-up area, yet is totally hidden by trees, fences and graves. It was never consecrated which meant, with agreement from Father Stephen Terry, that my fellow volunteers and I had an entirely blank canvass – in which to get muddy.

The history of the church itself is somewhat extensive. A ‘new’ church was certainly built on the site in 1150 but it may well be that another existed before 1066. A smaller replacement structure was erected during the 13th Century. This fell into disrepair over the years and was rebuilt from 1876. A fire in 1906 led to more work taking place over the ensuing years. I particularly enjoy looking at the flint walls to determine the different construction times. A combination of whole flints, broken flints, knapped flints and knapped and squared flints makes this a particularly enjoyable exercise.

The churchyard was enclosed in around 1880 and apparently its north-west corner, the location of our ‘Secret Garden’, was home to a collection of sarsens (sandstone blocks). These stories make our work to transform the space into a community allotment a little like an episode of Time Team. We have so far unearthed a variety of church-related masonry (including pieces of graves and a memorial tablet to a Hazel Mary Theobald) along with old paths and flowerbeds.

The general plan is to reinforce the hidden nature of the space by repairing gaps in the hedges and tree coverage around it. Raised beds are being built to the designs of my friend Oliver Borrow, an accomplished local garden designer. Preparation is the key though. The committee (which includes Jane Eleini, Joi Jones, Mike Sharman and me) and a dedicated group of local volunteers have been clearing unwanted plants and rubbish for several months.

We are there every Saturday from 11am and an Action Day is planned for Tuesday 18th June. If you are good at keeping secrets, and enjoy gardening, please come along and see us.