Starting from the first working party in October 2015 all the invasive nettles, elder and scrub had to be cleared, and invasive tree roots poisoned. The Danesbury volunteers were reinforced by teams from the Friends of Mardley Heath and the Sherrardspark Wood Wardens.
Contractors carried out the skilled work of poising and removing old tree roots that were threatening the integrity of the Pulhamite rock work.
In November 2016 the careful task of excavating the original pathways started, during the course of which we began to uncover hidden rock work. It came as a shock to discover that over the intervening years most of the site had been covered in about 18″ spoil and Borough Council contractors with mechanical equipment were needed to work with the volunteers.
Apart from a very old Ordnance Survey map that indicated the routes of paths, they were no longer in evidence. Great care was needed to find them, and the mantra was ‘find the original gravel – find the paths’.
In the autumn of 2016, 2000 English daffodils and 2000 snowdrops were planted.
The Fernery Project was well established by this stage and attracting a great deal of local interest, and more widely from focus groups. The Friends of Danesbury Fernery (FODF) was formed with a Committee structure and banking.
During the year the volunteers continued to remove more spoil from the site and more rockwork was uncovered, including a cistern which holds hundreds of gallons of water; a basin at the foot of the dropping well; and a ‘lost’ path which undoubtedly would have led to the gorge over which a rustic bridge had been thrown, and called ‘a Pass’ in the original specification.
In February 2017 50 hawthorn, field maple and hazel were planted in the perimeter area and in June 2017 a huge advance was made when the garden was opened to some 200 visitors as part of the annual Welwyn Festival. This opening brought so many more people out into the park to see the progress for themselves, and local ‘walking for health’ groups began to make regular stops.
In November 2017, Garden Design Objectives, were agreed which took into account the fact that there were no records of the original design by Anthony Parsons. A Planting List was agreed by the end of 2017 with local garden designer Sarah Marsh, who had volunteered to plan a layout ready for the volunteers to start planting in April 2018.
Volunteers attended Pulhamite conferences, and visited other similar Pulhamite sites to learn how it should all be done. In all this we are guided by the original research undertaken by Ann MacDonald of the WHBC, and encouraged by the Hertfordshire Gardens Trust’s, Kate Harwood.
By February 2016 the site had been cleared and it was possible to stand back and regard it as a virtual blank canvas.
In May 2018 the big engineering challenge to trace water pipes, was met when it was discovered that the Victorians had installed an elaborate system of underground water pipes that irrigated the principal planting beds. Up to that point we had been uncertain whether water was pumped from the basin at the foot of the dropping well back up to the cascade at the top. But current thinking is now that, on notice of a site visit, the Victorian gardeners would have turned on a tap, (which we have discovered at the foot of the dropping well), and relied on gravity to slowly empty a cistern at the top of the rock face down to the dropping well basin. Rather than being re-cycled by pump to the top the water would then have drained away into the sump which was subsequently discovered in the ground in front of the grotto.
The principal central planting bed was planted out in time for the June 2018 Open Garden Day.
In 2020 a system was set up to simulate the action of the dropping well, with the intention of operating it for visitors on ‘high days’ and ‘holidays’, or by special arrangement.
This community led project is attracting much interest from county focus groups and is encouraging visits from Welwyn’s residents and local organisations, many of whom just 5 years earlier did not know that the Fernery existed. Donations of plants were made by local Gardening Clubs, and donations were given by the Welwyn Festival group, the Welwyn Wailers (Concert Group), other local charitable groups, and private benefactors too.
In August 2020 the final piece of the original jig-saw was completed when a replacement ‘rustic’ bridge was installed by contractors.
Having opened up the Pass over the grotto that led to the gorge, we had found the marks in the cement where the original supporting beams had been placed. But we had no records of the original bridge and what it looked like. The replacement bridge, funded by the Borough Council as a result of a Government Grant, was therefore able to be placed in exactly the same place as the original, although of modern metal construction. It has since been skillfully ‘decorated’ by volunteers to make it look ‘rustic’, by carpenting fallen timbers gathered from the parkland,
During the long 2020 Lockdown due to the Covid-19 Pandemic, the Fernery has proven its value to the community by fast becoming another ‘special’ local feature of Welwyn’s long heritage providing, as it now does, a restful place to quietly rest and enjoy.
The installation of a second ‘formal’ garden bench was donated by a benefactor and has been sited on the south bank, above the path.
Although the 2021 summer Welwyn Festival had been cancelled, the Festival Committee organised an Autumn Festival which included the celebration of the recovery of the Fernery Garden by the promotion of an Open Afternoon and Evening in the Fernery Garden.
Some 200 visitors enjoyed being entertained by the Welwyn Harmony Choir and inbibing in refreshments provided by the volunteers. The Gate entrance moneys were given to the Festival Committee for ultimate distribution to local charities.
The spring bulbs that have been planted over the years now present a wonderful show.