New life being breathed into Water Gardens

Hemel Evolution: Artist's impression of Water Gardens regeneration
Hemel Evolution: Artist's impression of Water Gardens regeneration

Major redevelopment work is set to begin in the New Year on one of Hemel Hempstead’s most treasured attractions - the Jellicoe Water Gardens.

The restoration, costing £3.6 million, begins in the spring and follows some ground work due to be carried out by Dacorum Borough Council next month.

The project will be funded jointly by the Heritage Lottery Fund and the borough council, and is part of the wider Hemel Evolution regeneration scheme which is currently transforming the town centre.

Preparation work begins with tree works at the northern Combe Street end of the Water Gardens on Tuesday January 6.

These will last for around five weeks (finishing before bird nesting season starts), during which time there will be some temporary road, footpath and car park closures which will be signposted on site and publicised on Dacorum Borough Council’s Facebook and Twitter feeds.

Council leader Andrew Williams said: “Returning the Water Gardens to their former glory is a key part of our Hemel Evolution town centre regeneration programme.

“The Gardens have become far more overgrown with trees since designer Geoffrey Jellicoe’s original plan was completed in 1962.

“He envisaged an open grass verge along Waterhouse Street and views through the flower garden from Bank Court – but this has been lost over the years.

“So in early January we’ll be taking the Water Gardens ‘back to their roots’ and removing a significant number of these later trees - while taking other steps to make it a better place for wildlife and nature.

“Please bear with us during the works: we’ll do our best to keep disruption to a minimum.”

The trees being removed have been carefully selected by tree experts from the council and the landscape designers – and after consultation with Hertfordshire Gardens Trust, the Garden History Society and the Friends of Jellicoe Water Gardens.

Removing trees will also increase light levels in the community garden and help grass grow along the eastern bank, as well as protecting the restored footpaths from future root damage.

Dominic Cole, chairman of the Garden History Society said: “Lying at the heart of Hemel Hempstead New Town is the Water Garden designed by the world renowned landscape architect Geoffrey Jellicoe.

“The Gardens were to provide a place of delight and somewhere to sit quietly for a few moments.

“There are four parts to the gardens: the water, the flower garden, the Lovers’ Walk and the lawns alongside Waterhouse Street.

“The planting is overgrown and shaded by too many trees. The flowers have gradually disappeared and the whole thing is looking tired and threadbare.

“Key to reinvigorating the ‘garden’ element will be thinning and removing trees; most of those proposed for removal were not part of Jellicoe’s design and were planted later without understanding how the design works.

“The Garden History Society are delighted that this unique twentieth century garden is being cherished by Dacorum Borough Council and fully support the need to remove trees in order to reinvigorate the gardens.”

Kate Harwood, conservation team co-ordinator for the Hertfordshire Garden Trust added: “We are delighted that work is to start on opening up Jellicoe’s Water Garden and restoring the sunlit lawns and vibrant flower garden.

“The deep gloom and muddy river bank will be transformed by the clearance of some of the newer trees, showing the replanted Lovers’ Walk and the islands.

“This special twentieth century garden will once more be the jewel envisaged for Hemel Hempstead New Town.”

Measures to encourage wildlife including installing new bat and bird boxes and planting scented flowers and berries to encourage bees and butterflies will also take place during the redevelopment.