Gardens of the Rose in St Albans may be set to close

17th May 2017

The future of popular St Albans tourist attraction Gardens of the Rose is uncertain after its owners went into administration this week.

The Royal National Rose Society, which ran the gardens in Chiswell Green Lane, was taken over by joint administrators Stephen Goderski and Peter Hart, of PKF Geoffrey Martin & Co, on Monday.

The latest development follows the closure of the neighbouring Butterfly World in December 2015, which was open for six years before being shut by owners the Breheny Group due to a succession of trading losses.

A statement from Geoffrey Martin & Co said: “The Royal National Rose Society, the world’s oldest specialist plant society formed in 1876, has been placed into administration.

“The Society’s world-renowned gardens, the Gardens of the Rose, have closed.”

The society’s stated aim was to create a ‘living dictionary’ of roses, with gardens covering five acres and containing thousands of different types of rose. While the society was formed in 1876, the gardens themselves were opened more than 50 years ago by Mary, Princess Royal and Countess of Harewood, who was a patron of the society at the time.

St Albans MP Anne Main, who has supported both Butterfly World and the Gardens of the Rose over the years, said: “Obviously it’s a real shame but it’s been in trouble for a really long time.

“The demise of Butterfly World didn’t help it at all – it was a piggyback ticket so people would visit both. There were concerns that it would decline.

“The real concept with Butterfly World was that this would become a destination point. They relocated the offices of the Royal National Society there.”

Mrs Main said that the business going into administration was not a surprise as it almost closed a few years ago, and that the end of Butterfly World meant the end of the Gardens of the Rose was inevitable.

“It was a bit of a niche destination. It was not terribly well advertised,” she said. “It’s not even easy to find – you really have to seek it out.

“There aren’t enough people who are prepared to travel a long distance to see what are very beautiful examples of roses.

“It’s struggling because of the lack of offering for a more diverse audience.”

Chiswell Green parish councillor John Bell said: “It’s all to do with the pension deficit. Apparently there’s £2 million that was needed to make up the deficit and there was no way that they could raise that sort of money.

“It’s really disappointing because it’s the loss of a really beautiful local asset. We’ve lost Butterfly World and now we’ve lost the rose gardens so things aren’t looking too good for St Albans.

“It’s very sad for the staff that work hard there.”

Members of the campaign group Save Butterfly World, which previously fought to save the gardens’ neighbouring attraction, were also dismayed by the closure.

Chair John Horsfield said: “All at Save Butterfly World have expressed their regret at the closure of the Gardens of the Rose adjacent to Butterfly World.

“The closure is in part another victim of the closure of Butterfly World. The two projects share an entrance road with many visitors visiting both attractions.”

He told the Herts Ad that the gardens had been due to reopen on Saturday, June 10 before the news came that the society had gone into administration. He also emphasised that the campaign to reopen Butterfly World “continues to gain momentum”, and that they will continue to fight to reopen the site and run it as a charity.

A spokesperson from St Albans Visitor Partnership said: “The Visitor Partnership is very sad to see the Gardens of the Rose close. The Royal National Rose Society Gardens had a stunning collection of blooms and was a real gem for visitors to enjoy.

“The gardens were a great asset to the visitor economy in St Albans district, popular with groups due to being fully accessible and very close to the M1 and M25.”