Tucked off Wye Street in England’s lovely Ross-on-Wye is a pretty little commemorative garden, named The Thomas Blake Memorial Garden. I appreciated the garden for its history and tradition of upkeep by volunteers as well as for its attributes as a “full sun” garden in a tough to manage, sloped setting.
Ross-on-Wye is a small town situated on the River Wye in south-east Herefordshire, England, north of the Forest of Dean. The town has had a long history as a tourist destination, dating back to the mid-1700s when the local rector invited friends on boat trips down the River Wye. William Gilpin, in his book Observations on the River Wye published in 1782, drew further attention to this “picturesque” area.
Besides photographs of The Thomas Blake Memorial Garden, the images from my self-guided walking tour around town include the red sandstone Market House (included on the Ancient Monuments list for England), constructed in the 1650s at the heart of this market town, and an image of the 700-year-old parish church of St. Mary’s.
Prior to viewing the Thomas Blake Commemorative Garden, I was hot and thirsty from my walk. I stopped for lunch nearby, enjoying a sandwich and a cold drink while sitting out of doors in a riverside tea house along the banks of the Wye. My route back up to the street after my meal took me unexpectedly through the Thomas Blake Commemorative Garden.
I am so glad I stumbled across this small garden honouring local citizen Thomas Blake (1825-1901), as it created a memorable impression and I was able to learn more about the town and the kind of people who live here.
There is a snapshot in my photo gallery of information displayed at the foot of the garden. It tells about Thomas Blake’s legacy to the town – a legacy of generosity towards the community in which he made his livelihood. His many gifts included endowment of funds to support the local hospital, annual gifts of groceries, for example, to residents of the “almshouses” and free coal to the town’s widows, support to develop a free public library, and on and on.
Established in the early 1900s, the Thomas Blake Memorial Garden has seen good times and bad in terms of the economic cycles that affect every region, and attention to this small, mature garden situated in challenging terrain has waxed and waned over the decades.
The garden has upper and lower levels, some areas in full sun, some in partial shade for parts of the day, and much of the garden occupies a steep slope. The period since 2010 has been a time of renewed care and revival for the garden, and you can tell from the photographs that it has received attention in recent years. The sign displayed near the garden states, “The garden is maintained entirely by volunteers and all the plants and materials used have been donated by kind supporters.”
As a traveller, stopping to enjoy some views of the town site and River Wye, and to pop into the bookstore, have a meal, and stroll about the streets for a few hours, I was fortunate to meander accidentally through this charming garden. It was a pleasure to see this symbol of community spirit and gain better understanding of Ross-on-Wye, thanks to the dedicated volunteers who care for this delightful garden.
Copyright text and photographs: Nadine Kampen / cookie buxton
Location: Ross-on-Wye and Thomas Blake Memorial Garden (July 1, 2016)
Map: Courtesy of Google Maps
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