Unforgettable Garden of the Month nominated by John Clark, Devon Gardens Trust
Designed by Major Garrett, Borough Engineer and Surveyor
Registered Grade II
These formal Victorian seaside gardens and picturesque terraced cliff walks were created in Torbay in the 1890s. Their layout and signature planting of Torbay palms and colourful flower beds remains substantially unchanged, despite some later additions. In 2015 an obtrusive development of flats and a hotel threatened their setting. Fortunately, following an objection by the Devon Gardens Trust on behalf of the Gardens Trust, the plan was eventually turned down and Torbay Council are now restoring and enhancing the gardens.
Princess Gardens, situated on the seafront, is an exotic place of colourful flower beds, an ornate fountain and lawns. The open expanse of the gardens is a great favourite, offering wonderful views of the bay, the Pier and harbour. The garden was the first public park in Torbay and remains substantially unchanged since the resort was in its heyday. The layout of the flower beds follow the original fleur-de-lis design. Cordyline or Torbay Palms are an historic feature of the gardens as is the grade II-listed three-tier cast iron fountain which was restored and repainted to its original colour scheme in 2018.
Princess Gardens is featured in one of Agatha Christie’s most popular mysteries, The ABC Murders (1936). The gardens are a feature of both the Agatha Christie Mile and the Agatha Christie Literary Trail.
Torquay became a fashionable seaside resort when the Napoleonic Wars interrupted continental travel in the late 18th century. By the 1870s the resort needed more facilities for visitors, and after a couple of failed schemes, the town planned a pier and public gardens.
Princess Gardens, named after Princess Louise, daughter of Queen Victoria, was created on reclaimed land alongside Princess Parade at the foot of the hill opposite the picturesque terraced cliff walks of the Royal Terrace Gardens. The foundation stone was laid by Princess Louise in 1890
A pavilion at the eastern end of Princess Gardens was added in 1909-11, followed by a war memorial designed by Sir Reginald Blomfield in 1920. The gardens were extended to the south in the 1930s, and the Princess Theatre was built at the western end of the gardens in the late 1950s. The addition of a double-decked seaside walkway in the 1960s has thankfully been removed recently during repairs to the sea wall.
In the early twenty-first century the hillside of the Royal Terrace Gardens became unstable, necessitating the removal of the majority of the trees and extensive engineering works. Torbay Council are to be congratulated on the extensive redesign and regeneration of Royal Terrace Gardens with a new planting palette, cliff side paths and viewing platforms. This new planting gives the gardens a fresh twenty-first century design.
In 2015 there was a planning application for a proposed four- or five-storey 60-bed hotel and fourteen-storey block of residential apartments on Princess Gardens. The design was mediocre and the overall scale and massing would have had considerable environmental and visual implications for Princess Gardens and the wider townscape of Torquay. The Devon Gardens Trust, on behalf of the Gardens Trust, objected to the application as this inappropriate development would have caused significant harm to the significance of Princess Gardens.
Fortunately, a change in control of the Council meant that the scheme was eventually refused. The Victorian fountain was restored in 2018 and Torbay Council are to be congratulated on commissioning a conservation management plan for Princess Gardens which is being restored and enhanced.
Princess Gardens on Torquay website
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