Traditionally Royal Avenue Gardens was filled with Victorian style flower beds using plants raised by the gardeners in the community greenhouse.
A more sustainable approach has been developed in recent years by SHDC gardeners under the guidance of Stevie Rogers and with help from DGP volunteers. There has been a shift over several seasons to more permanent structural planting augmented by colourful, changing seasonal displays. In 2019 the gardens were transferred to Dartmouth Town Council.
The most recent new development by DGP, in 2016, was the English Cottage Garden, along the edges of one of the lawns. The site was cleared with the help of Naval College cadets, and planted by DGP volunteers.
A good example of traditional and new approaches is ‘prairie planting’ using a variety of grasses. They form a lovely border, moving gracefully with the wind, while seasonal annuals add splashes of colour. The rockeries had also been planted with seasonal colourful displays such as rock roses.
The aim is to provide the best of the traditional approach with the sustainability of the new. Themes include Antipodean beds featuring plants from New Zealand, Australia and Tasmania with their bold architectural foliage such as phormiums, cordylines and tree ferns.
A Japanese style garden, was created in 2015 with the assistance of DGP, on a dry grassed area beneath a large Monkey Puzzle Tree where little would grow. The area was covered with different coloured gravel evoking a river bed, including hostas, black grasses and Japanese painted ferns, crossed by a bright red painted rustic bridge made from fallen timber.
The Newcomen Plaza with its raised bed and coloured shale mulch, was developed when the town celebrated inventor Thomas Newcomen’s 400th anniversary in 2012. The beds featured permanent displays using contrasting colours and shapes, and aromatic plants.Dartmouth Town Council redeveloped these beds in 2019-20.
The British Legion Rose Garden was revamped recently with roses such as Freedom, Invincible, Remembrance, The Countryman, Peace and Simply the Best. DGP volunteers prune the roses.
The model ship of flowers first planted in 2013 and re-created at the Tatton Park Show in 2014 was replanted in the gardens in 2015.
History of Royal Avenue Gardens
The New Ground on which Royal Avenue Gardens was built was reclaimed from a former sandbank in the river between 1670-80. A strong wall was built around the 1.5 acres of reclaimed land, which was used as an extra quay space for ships. The New Ground was joined to the north corner of the Quay, by the Butterwalk, by a stone bridge. It became a recreation place used for bonfires and fairs, and a ferry was started from here to Kingswear.
Plantations and pleasure gardens are shown where the Naval College waterfront now is on an 1812 map of the Seale shipyards at Sandquay. The idea of turning the New Ground into formal gardens was first suggested by Jasper Bartlett, owner of the Warfleet Brewery. He wanted ‘Newcomen Gardens’, to be created with a park and a bandstand and fountain. The Town Council owned the New Ground. The influential and controversial Francis Charles Simpson, Rear Commodore of the Royal Yacht Club and mayor of Dartmouth several times over, wanted to to keep it available for wharfage. He also led objections to the building of the town’s Embankment for many years.
Eventually it was the Town Council which created the park, which was opened on 21 June 1887 using funds raised to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee. Sir Henry Paul Seale provided the Fountain. As Queen Victoria had landed at the New Ground when she visited Dartmouth in 1856, the park was named Royal Avenue Gardens.
(Sources: Ray Freeman ‘Dartmouth and its Neighbours’, Don Collinson ‘Chronicles of Dartmouth’, Percy Russell, ‘Dartmouth’)