Birmingham’s parks and open spaces promoted through 2023 Chelsea Flower Show display

Published: Monday, 17th April 2023

The 631 parks and open spaces of Birmingham will be celebrated and promoted through this year’s RHS Chelsea Flower Show entry from the city council.

Sponsored by Lendlease, the display will showcase a wide range of aspects of the history of parks in the city, as the council bids for its eleventh consecutive gold medal at the event.

Parks and open spaces account for 3,700 hectares of land in the city, but that was not always the case.

As the city moved into the industrial age, access to good quality parkland was limited to those who could pay or travel out of the rapidly-developing Birmingham.

The city was doubling in size, building homes close together with only a courtyard for outside space. These back-to-back buildings not only were residential but were small factories, including butchers and slaughterhouses.

The condition people were living in led to the Public Health Act 1848 and the rise of a small band of people who were dedicated to provide a free park network for the residents of Birmingham.

This display tells this story with a representation of a row of back-to-backs. There were over 2,000 of these courtyards across Birmingham with over 50,000 people living in them.

In 1849, Robert Rawlinson, a drainage engineer, started the call for public parks. He recognised the need to improve drainage and give people access to quality open spaces to relax, participate in sport and breathe a better quality of air.

A number of influential people then started to join the call for parks in Birmingham.

In 1850, Charles MacKay, a special correspondent from the Morning Chronicle, criticised Birmingham when Colmore Row was developed with the loss of trees and open space. In his column he wrote: “The public require a park where they may stroll without payment not only on a Monday but on every day”.

This was a reference to the city’s Botanical Gardens, which opened in 1832 but charged one penny for entry, except on a Monday – when most people were at work.

The Mayor, James Baldwin, responded to the growing pressure in 1853 and passed a resolution for the council to ask parliament for the power to enable the council to accept grants and to purchase land to be used as places of recreation.

In 1854, the Birmingham Parks Act came into force – and in 1856, Adderley Park was then opened as Birmingham’s public free park.

A series of land donations saw a number of parks open to residents, but often with a series of restrictions and conditions.

In 1858, Queen Victoria opened Aston Park. The land was donated by the Holte family, but the maintenance of the park was funded through events. In 1863, a tightrope walker performing in one of these events fell and died, prompting Queen Victoria to write to the corporation to request it fully funded the park, which it duly did.

There was a second tightrope event with the world-famous Blondin successfully tightrope walking across Edgbaston Reservoir – the display highlights this event.

Louisa Ryland is the unsung hero for Birmingham parks, donating several pieces of land, helping to fund the purchases of other parks and paying for others to be designed.

In 1873, Cannon Hill Park was one of these, and opened in September of that year. Cannon Hill is therefore celebrating its 150th anniversary this year.

To celebrate this, the display includes a replica of the bandstand, the dovecote that was in the park and a central bed of traditional Victorian plants.

The planting around the central bed is softer and more typical of the schemes found across the park network. Three giant tulips symbolise the importance the flower has had in horticulture, with traditionally over one million planted across the parks. Cannon Hill Park had a tulip festival each year until the 1970s.

The fountain was part of the show house situated in Cannon Hill Park. Many of the plants on display in the show house are now planted in the open park. Around the display there are gardeners tending the flowers. Over 400 people work across the park network in Birmingham, often unseen but carefully maintaining each park and growing all of the plants used.

The display also features photographs of the parks service through the years and displays exhibited at previous Chelsea Flower Shows.

Cllr Majid Mahmood, Cabinet Member for Environment, said: “Despite the perceptions of many – in particular those that have never been here – Birmingham is a green city, with plans in place to protect and enhance the natural environment.

“This year’s Chelsea Flower Show once again showcases the creativity of our parks and nurseries team and will positively project our city to attendees from across the world.

“The history of our parks and open spaces is fascinating and helps explain why Birmingham is the fantastic place it is today.”

Neil Martin, CEO, Lendlease Europe, said: “Our support for Birmingham to continue in the rich tradition of local authorities competing for the Wigan Cup at the Chelsea Flower Show is something we are proud to sponsor this year. I’d encourage everybody to come along and enjoy this creative and beautiful garden.”

The RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2023 is open to the public from May 23-27.

rating button