Our Colchester

New Urban Garden for Colchester

The former bus depot at Painters Yard in the centre of Colchester is to be transformed into a unique urban garden by Beth Chatto Gardens, who have been granted a licence to install temporary planting on the currently empty plot between Firstsite, the Minories art gallery and the Curzon cinema

The site in the St Botolph’s quarter of the city is currently an used brownfield site, and had been identified by Colchester City Council as an opportunity to provide an additional green space in the dense urban area and to increase biodiversity. The idea was first proposed by Cllr Pam Cox during her time as Colchester’s portfolio holder for culture and heritage. 

Cllr Pam Cox, New Town and Christ Church ward, Colchester City Council, said, “Beth Chatto is a global brand in gardening. Beth herself did so much to pioneer eco-friendly planting. I’m delighted to have helped to make this plan come together and I can’t wait to see how it shapes up.”

Situated nearby in Elmstead Market, Beth Chatto Gardens have an international reputation for pioneering sustainable planting for gardens, so they were an obvious choice to participate in the project. 


Julia Boulton, Beth Chatto’s grand-daughter and Chair of Beth Chatto Gardens, said, 

“My grandmother had strong connections with Colchester. This year we’ve been celebrating the centenary of her birth and this is a lovely way to mark her local links and to create more green space for residents, visitors and wildlife.”

The community garden, will involve the input of a number of other other important local organisations including Firstsite and The Minories, who both back onto the site, as well as Our Colchester, who will be co-ordinating ongoing volunteer-led aftercare for the garden once it has been completed. The project is intended to be an example of how unused urban spaces can be transformed into biodiverse-rich community spaces on a low budget, through the collaboration of local groups and businesses.

An ecological survey carried out by ecologist Chris Gibson, has identified a range of plants and insects already existing on the site, so the intention is to retain as many of these important habitats as possible and to supplement them with additional ornamental plants suited to the sunny, free-draining conditions, inspired by Beth Chatto’s famous Gravel Garden. Choosing the right plant for the right place will be key to the selection of the plants, which will be drought tolerant and only require initial watering when planted, after which they will be simply reliant on rainwater.

Sustainability is at the heart of the project and mounds of recycled and sand and crushed concrete will be used as low nutrient substates to plant directly into, which will enable the plant’s roots to establish first and ensure more robust growth in the future. Additional reused materials will be used for planters and to shape and define the garden. 

Darryl Moore, Beth Chatto special projects lead, said, ‘We’ll be using recycled materials and sustainable planting to create a low-maintenance garden for everyone to enjoy. Working with our stakeholder partners, we will be getting things underway in November.”

Furniture designed by local teenagers through a workshop led by architects Matt+Fiona, will be made to provide seating and dwelling spaces for visitors.

Ownership of the site is currently divided between Essex County Council and Colchester City Council. Plans by the developer, Alumno, to build student housing there fell through in 2022. There are currently no other long-term planning applications in relation to the site.

The garden will be ‘reversible’, meaning that should the land should be needed for other purposes in the future, it will be removed and the elements relocated elsewhere. The garden construction is likely to be delivered in stages starting in November with additional planting carried out in the spring.