More than 500 people packed into a three-hour open session at a botanic garden whose future is clouded in doubt.
The attendance, double the number for a normal open day at Moorbank in Newcastle, was hailed as another example of the level of public support for the retention of the attraction off Claremont Road.
Already an online 38 Degrees petition to keep Moorbank as a botanic garden, with more public access and educational use, has been signed by more than 3,700 people.
The controversy over the 90-year-old site began when Newcastle University decided not to renew its lease with landlords the Freemen of Newcastle.
The four-acre site has outdoor grounds and plants, and tropical and desert glasshouses.
The Friends of Moorbank, who have tended the garden for the last 10 years, put forward plans to run the garden, in partnership with Kirkley Hall College in Northumberland, but they were rejected by the Freemen.
The Freemen, who want to take back control of the site, say that they do not have the expertise to maintain the rare and specialised plant collections in the tropical glasshouse and they will be removed by the university later this year.
It appears unlikely that the tropical glasshouse will be retained, although Moorbank’s outdoor grounds are set to stay, with volunteers continuing to be involved in their maintenance, and with some public access.
Eileen Killing, lead member of the Friends’ Growing Moorbank committee, said: “We were very pleased at the open day turn out and for all the support visitors gave to keeping the botanic garden in its entirety. People love the outdoor gardens, but it is the tropical house which really adds to the visitor experience.”
There are concerns that without the tropical house and its exotic plant collections , Moorbank will no longer be a truly botanic garden.
“We have not given up on trying to keep the tropical house and we are hoping that there may be some scope to do something,” said Eileen, who is contacting all Newcastle city councillors about the future of Moorbank.
The open day raised £1,362 for charities under the National Gardens Scheme.
David Wilson, vice-chairman of the Freemen’s stewards committee, said the Friends had been assured that the site would not be cleared and grassed as part of the Town Moor.
“We will be looking after it on a care and maintenance basis and making an appraisal. But I don’t think the tropical glasshouse will continue in its current form,” he said.
“The Freemen’s decision to take on the running of Moorbank themselves and not transfer the lease to the Friends means we have no other choice but to safeguard those plants of special research interest.
“While the Freemen have given us assurances that they will manage and tend to the large outdoor plants, they have made it clear that they do not have the technical expertise to look after the rarer plants and those with research interest.
“With no guarantee that the plants in the tropical house will be tended to, we have a duty to look after them ourselves. This will involve relocating the plants to our farm at Cockle Park in Northumberland and other facilities.”