Billy’s happy memories of Alexandra Park’s cactus house

  • Story Lynda Foy. 
  • Pictures Colin Foy & Marianne Hopwood 

Working to install a perimeter fence at Alexandra Park’s historic greenhouse has brought back happy memories for contractor Billy Piggott.

Billy, a team member with the parks and gardens contractor Idverde at the Hastings park, often worked in the greenhouse when it was a cactus house in the 1980s.

Billy Piggott.

He recalled: “I started work in 1979 at the age of 16. I was employed by Hastings Borough Council (HBC) and there were two greenhouses here then. When I started we were still using the existing greenhouse as a cactus house and then the other one was an aviary, part of the park’s Pets Corner.

Mr Piggott, who worked with colleagues Lionel Mann and Ben Eldridge to install the perimeter fence and an emergency gate for safety, added: “In the second greenhouse there was a mynah bird that used to talk and at weekends we used go in and feed the animals.

“There was a dedicated gardener who used to look after the cacti, but we used to go in the cacti house sometimes and whitewash the windows – the top panels. I can remember getting sunburnt.

Alexandra Park Greenhouse Group leases the former cactus house from the borough council. The softwood timber fence was paid for by some of the money donated during the successful Let’s Raise the Roof crowdfunding campaign in August last year.

Idverde, whose depot is next door to the greenhouse, provided the skilled team to install the fence, saving the greenhouse group vital funds to spend on other restoration work.

Billy says: “I think it’s really nice to have this back as a working greenhouse because, once it is gone, you are never going to get it back. It would be like losing part of the history of the park. It will be lovely to see it fully restored and in use again.”

He said the fence took about a week to install and will provide the greenhouse site with more security and space.

Meanwhile, donations are continuing to flow to the greenhouse group’s website at www.our-greenhouse.org to help put a permanent roof on the 1930s structure and restore its teak and cast iron frame.

Young entrepreneur Toby Hopwood, who donated £20 to the group’s crowdfunding campaign last summer, has raised another £40 for the fund.  

Toby Hopwood, right, with brother Ollie.

Last year the eight-year-old, with help from his brother Ollie, aged 10, sold packets of home-grown seeds, grew plants, and made bath bombs and lavender bags which he sold on his Facebook page called Toby’s Happy Home and Garden Shop. 

Now the lads, who live in Hastings, have made wooden seed trays with personalised names inscribed in poker-work, paper pots for seedlings and Ollie also made wellington boot stands which they sold on via the Facebook page.     

The boys’ mother, Marianne, said: “They made them with a little help in the power tool department.”     

When the greenhouse is restored, its volunteers will be working on projects with horticultural students to improve their skills, housing associations to improve their gardens and with supermarkets on Growing Family Food, a greenhouse group initiative as part of its Let’s Grow Together campaign.

The greenhouse is currently closed due to lockdown, but the group hopes to start restoration work in April this year.

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