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Until the beginning of the nineteenth century this area comprised vegetated slopes and a marshy valley bottom. Development took place after 1840 under the influence of Decimus Burton (architect to the Meyrick Estate), but it was not until 1859 that the Meyrick Estate granted a lease for the area to the south of the square to be developed as a public pleasure ground. Between 1864 and 1872 leaseholds of the Upper and Central Pleasure Gardens were granted by the Durrant and Meyrick Estate making a linear public park c. 3km in length.
In 1871 a competition for the design of the Lower Pleasure Ground was held and the winning design by Mr Philip Henry Tree was put in hand. New walks, plantations and flowerbeds were laid out in the gardenesque style promoted by J.C. Loundon. The Central Gardens were laid out in a similar style from 1871 by the Bournemouth Improvement Commissioners, while the initial improvements in the Upper Gardens were made by George Durrant prior to its acquisition as a public park.
Extensive improvements to the park were made through the 1880’s and 1890’s, but the most significant phase of alteration occurred in the 1920’s with the creation of the Square at the north end of the Lower Gardens and the construction of the Pavilion. A large rock garden and series of waterfalls were laid out along the park frontage of the Pavilion.
In 1922 the War Memorial and associated rose borders were installed in the Central Gardens. Additional planting was undertaken in 1956 when the heather beds were laid out and in 1959 when the Rhododendron walk was planted.
The Pergola was installed in 1990 to mark the centenary of the Borough. Fabricated from sections of a Victoria Veranda salvaged from Boscombe Precinct during the construction of the Sovereign Centre.
Much of the design layout from the early 1870’s remains, to include many choice trees, shrubs and herbaceous perennials from around the world. These have been enhanced with planting undertaken in 1990 – 1992, within the borders adjacent to Bourne Avenue.
The Upper Gardens originally resembled a lake, being badly drained. The Durrant Estate drained the area bringing in broken pottery from the clay works higher up the valley as drainage material. The considerable strip to both sides of the stream was set out for the purposes of public recreation, with the higher ground being sold off as building plots.
The land included four grass tennis courts and “rustic dressing house”. Between 1883 and 1903 the water tower was built to supply water via a water wheel to a fountain in the middle of the stream. By 1903 the tennis courts had been relocated to their present location within the Central Gardens.
In 1992 the Upper Gardens were re-furbished to provide an interesting variety of walks and areas for passive recreation with good vistas. New trees have been selected to increase species diversity. Shrub planting has been chosen to provide interest at different times of the year in particular spring and autumn. Differing grass cutting regimes have been set to enhance the changing character of the gardens to include formal lawns, meadowland and naturalised bulb areas.
Since the gardens provide an inherently linear walk, trails have been marked with finger posts and interpretation boards starting at the Central Gardens near the War Memorial and leading through to the Poole Boundary.
These Gardens form part of the Gardens of Excellence concept; born in 1992 and developed from an idea for a Botanical Garden to further enhance the town’s reputation for its beautiful floral heritage.
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