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Blooming Brilliant

In cash-strapped Cheltenham A. Burchard discovers how Cheltonians are making up for the cut backs when it comes to making the town bloom. crack

For years people from all over have come to admire Cheltenham in Bloom, a project which has won prizes in the past. But his last year has be tough, not only for people everywhere but also for Cheltenham’s famous summer flowering season. I spoke to Chris Ryder who, as chair of Cheltenham in Bloom, has been working with enthusiasm on the project for years.

‘There was a time in the 1970s when the town employed forty five full time gardners,’ she says, ‘now there are just three.’ In almost thirty years of work Cheltenham in Bloom has produced more than 7 million plants. In one year alone 700 000 plants were grown.‘The reason that now, in mid-July, the Municipal Offices don’t have their usual display of window boxes, Chris explains, ‘is simply that those three gardeners just haven’t got around to planting them.’ Chris and the whole team have a year-round job. Long before the spring planting can be done, the planning begins and as soon as the bulbs are safely in the ground, the summer plants have to be on the way. It is quite a job, not only to actually get the planting done, but the combinations of colours and plants have to be imagined and designed. Not every beautiful plant will make a good display,’ says Chris.

When I looked around the town in the last few weeks it was obvious that this year there has been a down-scaling of all things floral. ‘It all looks a bit skimpy,’ said a couple of ladies when they saw me taking photos. But despite the lack of funds and manpower a lot has been achieved. Chris Ryder explained to me how it all works. The Cheltenham in Bloom committee works in partnership with the council, but it has been left to the committee to raise funds. As there has been a significant drop in sponsorship due to the recession, understandably, companies have pulled in their horns to preserve what they can to survive this difficult period and it seems that flowers come way down the list of priorities. One of the added problems is that, although independent traders and companies obviously have a vested interest to showcase their premises and to make them as attractive as possible, the big chains, which have increasingly invaded our town, don’t seem to engage much with the local population. It seems their local managers do not have the authority to take decisions in these matters. As long as they sell their stock, Cheltonians happiness is not one of their priorities. But planters filled with glorious colour contribute significantly to our well-being and seeing beautiful flowers may well put us into a positive frame of mind, so that we might just fancy buying that new summer dress – but tell that to someone at the companies’ head offices whose managers rarely visits the Cheltenham branch.

Do-it-yourself with flowers
‘Another big distraction this spring of course was also the election,’ says Chris Ryder, ‘leaving everyone working in the public domain rather stretched.’ So, as a consequence of all these factors, the town of Cheltenham did not enter the Heart of England competition.

‘To keep Cheltenham in Bloom going the chief executive of the Chamber of Commerce gave us £500 of his own money towards the purchase of the big planters that you find around the town,’ she says. ‘The planters cost between £250 to £500, depending on whether they are just a box or whether they have an inset that can be lifted out.’

‘On the corner of the Fiery Angel pub on the Hewlett Road roundabout we donated four planters and the plants. The owner of the pub, locals and his faithful customers planted them and they have taken on the watering for the season. ‘Jo the pub owner is just wonderful,’ says Chris. ‘We are encouraging individuals as well as companies to do the same. We also have a competiton for the best window box, basket or front/rear garden etc..’ (details on the internet).

Not just a pretty bunch of flowers
In recent years there has being an increasing trend to spread out and initiate projects in the community. Aside from the many competitions for the best spring and summer gardens, as well as the school projects such as the Wild Garden competitions, the C.I.B committee is also been much involved with all the Cheltenham allotments, the renovation of Montpellier Gardens in 2007 and the restoring of the Honeybourne line in 2004. As soon as it was open, Cheltenham’s residents took advantage of this beautiful, natural stretch of greenery to walk and cycle in numbers.

After I had done my rounds, taken my photos and talked to Chris Ryder I decided to take a look at what private house owners and others are doing to let Cheltenham bloom this summer. I found a spectacular rose tree in St.Anne’s Terrace, next to it an opulent pink rhodedendron, breathtaking hanging baskets and on a window sill of a little blue cottage in Duke Street the most charming display of colour. You feel happy to just walk by this window.Sandford Park is my absolute favourite park. There one can find Eric, who says he has been working in the parks for over forty years. On the hottest days of the year he mows the lawns with expert precision.So, what are you all waiting for? Don’t hang around for others to provide visual delight, do-it-yourself is the motto. There is still much flowering to be had with all kinds of dahlias coming up and flowers that can go on well into the autumn.(Contact Chris Ryder, 01242 526464 on how to enter the competition)