Springfields Festival Gardens in Spalding celebrate 50th birthday

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Springfields Festival Gardens’ first bulbs were planted 50 years ago by some local schoolchildren.

Those children will be adults now, with children and even grandchildren of their own.

David Norton (right) and head gardener Andy Boyton in the gardens. Photo: SG300416-107TW

David Norton (right) and head gardener Andy Boyton in the gardens. Photo: SG300416-107TW

The display gardens in Spalding have also grown and evolved, and 50 years on form what Springfields Horticultural Society chief executive David Norton calls “a unique offering for a site of this type and size and in a town such as Spalding”.

A series of events have been planned to celebrate the gardens’ 50th anniversary, including children’s entertainment during the summer holidays and, later in the year, workshops on bulb growing for adults.

In between, there is a commemorative tree planting ceremony in tribute to a founder member and life-long supporter, the late Francis Hanson, who was also part of the founding group of Spalding Flower Parade.

The history of the flower parade and Springfields Festival Gardens are entwined, both intended to showcase the once highly successful tulip industry in this district.

All aboard Springfields' land train with driver Graham Merrill. Photo: SG300416-114TW

All aboard Springfields' land train with driver Graham Merrill. Photo: SG300416-114TW

Once, for a few short weeks in the spring, “colour stretched as far as the eye could see”, with field after field of brightly coloured tulips. Thousands of visitors arrived by train in Spalding to tour the spectacle that was South Holland’s tulip fields.

From 1959, they also came to see the parade of floats decorated with tulip heads, a by-product of the bulb industry.

In 1966, the gardens were opened, a permanent feature to display what could be achieved with bulbs.

A 20-acre plot of what had been farmland was transformed, with more than a million bulbs and 30,000 trees planted to create the early gardens.

David explains that the gardens’ purpose is two-fold, and one is to maintain the tradition and heritage of bulb growing in the area.

While the majority of tulips are no longer grown out of doors, David says there is a forced tulip industry, with millions being forced under glass, both for flowers and their bulbs.

The gardens also fulfil its original charitable objective of encouraging people to get involved in gardening, for health, relaxation and leisure purposes.

The gardens also have links with various groups and local schools, such as the Priory School, giving students a chance to work in the gardens on a regular basis.

By the 2000s, visitor numbers were in decline, but that changed with a new partnership with Springfields Outlet Shopping.

Now, there are over 2 million visitors a year, and David estimates that ten per cent of those visit the gardens.

David wonders if any of them are part of that original planting team from 1965/66.