A BOTANIC garden has been awarded a cash boost in a bid to increase opening from four days a year to at least once a week.
Newcastle University’s Moorbank botanic garden currently holds four open days a year under the National Garden Scheme.
But after being awarded a development grant of £12,200 by the Heritage Lottery Fund, it hopes to develop plans to open up the site on a regular basis to the public.
The aim is for the facility, which is used for teaching and research, to open to the public at least one day a week and also involve the local community with the garden.
The seven-acre garden off Claremont Road in Newcastle has features such as tropical and desert glasshouses with major collections of plants from both climate zones.
Moorbank will use the HLF grant to work up its proposals to back its submission in June for a £200,000 grant for the project.
It wants to boost the number of garden volunteers and offer them training in skills relating to horticulture, plant biology and associated topics.
The plants at Moorbank have been collected over the past 90 years by locally and internationally renowned botanists and plant hunters.
The glasshouses are home to the best collection in Europe of strangling figs, with 25 different species. These tropical plants wind around trees and throttle their hosts.
The garden also has important collections of tropical ferns and cycads – primitive plants which were around in the time of the dinosaurs but which are now vanishing in the wild as rainforests are felled.
Outside in the grounds are exceptional collections of conifers and an array of rhododendrons which were part of a plant collection donated to Moorbank by collector Randle Cooke, who lived near Corbridge in Northumberland.
The HLF award recognises the importance of the plant collections at Moorbank which continue to inspire internationally important scientific research in areas ranging from photosynthesis to treatment for Alzheimer’s.
For much of its existence, Moorbank has been a closed facility for use only by students and academics at Newcastle University. However, over the past 10 years, the Friends of Moorbank have come together as volunteers to renovate and develop the garden.
“The aim of the Heritage Lottery Fund project is to expand, diversify and empower the garden’s volunteer force so that they can learn new skills and take on a range of roles that will enable us to maximise Moorbank’s potential as a sustainable venue for educational and leisure activities,” said Moorbank director Anne Borland.
“We are keen to recruit new volunteers from among the local communities that surround the garden and I also hope that some of our own students will be inspired to take on volunteering roles that could include general gardening, design of interpretive exhibits or leading educational tours and activities.
“We want people to enjoy the garden and help preserve its heritage.”
Moorbank, opposite the Town Moor, has been leased from the Freemen of Newcastle since 1923.
Ivor Crowther, head of the HLF in the North East, said: “We are delighted to give our initial support to a project that will stimulate people’s interest in this wonderful hidden garden.
“This project aims to provide the community with the chance to learn new skills, discover new passions and play their part as custodians of our wonderful natural heritage. We look forward to working with the university and seeing these plans progress over the coming months.”