Shropshire Star

GALLERY: How nursery is key to keeping Shrewsbury blooming marvellous

"Everyone needs a lift, and hopefully putting a bit of colour into the town will do that."

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Shrewsbury in Bloom team are planting 300,000 flowers in town to keep it bright and colourful during the summer. Pictured is Gary Farmer

Hundreds of thousands of flowers of more than 100 variations, will bring vibrancy and light to Shrewsbury amid the darkness of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Dingle in the Quarry Park will have 30,000 blooms in its stunning grounds, while the castle, roundabouts and many other locations throughout the town will also be treated to a bit of colour.

The key to it all? A nursery the size of a football pitch on the edge of town, which houses the plants while the expert gardeners tend to them, making sure they're perfect for the summer.

Gary Farmer, head of operations at the Weeping Cross Centre, has once again been overseeing efforts to make sure Shrewsbury continues to live up to its Town of Flowers moniker. "It's a 12-month task," he said. "About 1.3 million people go through the Quarry in a year. They expect the standards to be kept high.

"We normally put out 300,000 plants a year. It'll be a little bit less this year because we've had problems with suppliers due to the Covid-19 crisis.

"We're going to be mainly focusing on The Dingle, the Castle Grounds and the Quantam Leap. We've had to scale back some of the structures we put out because of social distancing to make it easier for pedestrians. The council and Shrewsbury BID are rejigging the town but we still want to make sure the town is bright and colourful and there are lots of flowers for people to enjoy."

The team has been setting up displays on the roundabouts, the English Bridge and Fish Street in recent weeks, and the "Dalek" tyre planters have been put out in The Square. Mark Bowen is in the early stages of preparing The Dingle. This summer a one-way walking route will be installed to keep people socially distancing effectively.

Pete Jenks is the nursery manager at Weeping Cross, and said the Covid-19 pandemic has brought with it various issues.

"We submit our plant orders but then you don't always know what's coming on the delivery," he said. "The suppliers have been short on labour so they've been sending less deliveries but more plants on those deliveries, so that's be another challenge but it's testament to the staff that they've done really well to keep everything going."

He added: "We've grown about 25,000 from cuttings as well as what we buy in. We've been using more peat-free compost to be as environmentally friendly as we can.

"We've been putting out as much as we can to get colour into the town. We've put out about 120 hanging baskets and some inserts in Fish Street and a few other areas.

"We were putting up baskets on the English Bridge and people were saying it's nice to see a bit of colour back, and a lot of people on social media have been saying they're looking forward to seeing the flowers.

"Each year we have a review and talk about what worked and what didn't work as we plan for the next year. We normally do a walk around the town and look at different colours and schemes that might work well."

Gary, who learned his trade from legendary gardener Percy Thrower and has been with the team for more than 30 years, believes the pandemic has also given them a chance to look at its work in a new way. Usually the target is to be in the running in the Britain in Bloom awards, but the national contest was scrapped for 2020 before lockdown began.

Gary added: "Our aim is always a Gold standard for the town and that won't be any different this year. But what it does give us is the chance to experiment a bit more with colour schemes we haven't tried before. We can try out some different plants and colour combinations.

"One positive about this year is that the pandemic has made us completely reassess. Because we have to accommodate for social distancing, we've had to remove flowers from some areas and find other places to put them, so it's given us a chance to think more about the best locations."

The team is also planning to share its leftover blooms with charities, community groups and schools. Any groups who would like some can contact Shrewsbury Town Council.

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