Councils need to stop destroying flower beds – and hand control to the people who enjoy them

Residents in Cockenzie, near Edinburgh, woke to discover flowers at the memorial garden replaced with grass turf
Residents in Cockenzie, near Edinburgh, woke to discover flowers at the memorial garden replaced with grass turf - Google

Marigolds. Petunias. Lobelia. Marigolds. Petunias. Lobelia. Begonias. And repeat. From Land’s End to John O’Groats.

Council flowerbeds: could there be anything more comically dreary than the rigid repetition, the stern predictably, the wilful banality of municipal displays?

Neat to the point of OCD, every stiff primula placed just so, they symbolise purse-lipped town hall power at its most Pooterish.

But now they are under threat and I find myself springing to their defence. As councils are feeling the financial squeeze they have started removing the beds and turfing them over to save cash that would otherwise be spent on bedding plants and gardeners.

The latest casualties are flower beds surrounding a First World War memorial in the centre of Cockenzie, near Edinburgh, which were torn up by East Lothian Council due to financial constraints at an “extremely challenging time”. Flower beds at Bexhill Cemetery in Bexhill, East Sussex, are to be grassed over by Rother District Council as part of a cost-cutting drive. Others are bound to follow, despite protests.

Joanna Marchong, of the TaxPayers’ Alliance isn’t happy: “Residents are fed up with mean-spirited cuts taking away the small joys in life. Whilst councils undoubtedly need to cut back on spending, they should consider whether there are other areas with fat to trim.”

Even I would hesitate to describe council flower beds as “joys”, but I feel the real issue is a shocking lack of imagination.

Instead of destroying the beds, why not let locals use them? Support groups, businesses, green-fingered pensioners who have downsized to flats – let them take over, bring bulbs, plant perennials and tend them throughout the year.

Invite guerrilla gardeners in to showcase their talents. Hold competitions to create a buzz and make parks and memorials into green community hubs.

Instead of the regimented planting of old, every new bed would be different. I for one would be happy to donate the plants in danger of taking over my own garden; it’s hard to keep persuading neighbours they need yet more of my infelicitously named Stinking Iris.

And if all that sounds far too much fun there’s always the wildflower option. North West Leicestershire District Council opted for wildflowers last year and reduced its outlay from £20,000 to just more than £4,000.

Admittedly, these beds don’t supply the year-round colour of traditional municipal displays, but it’s a small sacrifice for a greater good.

I don’t live far from the London 2012 Olympic site, where more than 10 football fields’ worth of nectar-rich wildflower meadows were sown in preparation for the event.

The hedgerows and verges on the surrounding roads were also seeded with poppies, cornflowers, oxeye daisies and more. Over a decade on, they still produce a blaze of colour to gladden the soul.

So please don’t dig up any more precious growing spaces. Consult the residents who use them and suggest ways in which they could be repurposed, whether that’s creating or improving existing habitats for wildlife, building rockeries, sowing wild strawberries or giving a home to armfuls of Stinking Irises.

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