With one of Weymouth's most stunning gardens once again awarded a prestigious Green Flag Award, Laura Hanton goes behind the scenes to see what makes this green space so special.

STROLL through Greenhill Gardens in Weymouth and you won't be blamed for thinking you've stepped into paradise.

Situated at the quieter end of The Esplanade, the gardens have attained national Green Flag status for the past decade, boasting beautiful floral displays tended daily by gardeners from Weymouth Town Council. A wishing well looked after by the Rotary Club raises money for local causes, while a shoal of wooden fish decorated by local school children add a splash of colour to the fences of the tennis courts.

The floral clock takes pride of place in the centre of Greenhill Gardens. Installed in 1936, the big hand is 8ft in length and covers a circle of 10m in diameter. With the mechanism housed in a nearby shed, the clock is one of only a handful in the country that continues to work.

The town's history is commemorated with two attractive structures, including the Bennett Shelter donated by the mayor in 1920 to mark the Armistice at the end of World War One. The Stainforth weathervane from 1932 also stands tall, offering recognition for the moment in 1931 when Flight Lieutenant George Stainforth set a world air speed record, reaching 406.92mph in a Schneider Supermarine S6B seaplane. An old boy from Weymouth College, George died in a plane crash in 1942.

Greenhill Gardens belongs to the council, after Sir Frederick Johnstone, MP for Weymouth between 1874 and 1885, gifted the land to the borough at the beginning of the 20th century. Yet the credit for the gardens' impeccable upkeep lies mostly with the dedicated Friends of Greenhill Gardens (FOGG).

Established in 2007, FOGG began when council proposals to build a new restaurant on the tennis courts were fiercely opposed by local residents. After success in getting the authorities to reconsider the plans, the group of impassioned volunteers decided to take their love for the gardens one step further, and formed the Friends.

Iain Campbell, who heads up marketing and publicity for FOGG, said: "The gardens have been described as Weymouth's hidden gem. One of our main functions is to make it more well-known."

And more well-known it now is: the group estimates the gardens have a footfall of around 40,000 a year, with more than 500 hits on their website every single day throughout the summer months.

Of greatest popularity are the open-air music concerts which take place on Sunday afternoons from May through to September. These are performed in the gardens' bandstand, whose recent construction was financed by funds raised by FOGG.

As council property, entry is free of charge, but all money raised by the Friends, through collections, donations and special events, are plugged back into maintaining the gardens' glory. The group run two quiz nights a year and hold a Christmas singalong in December, where turnout is strong whether rain or shine.

"No matter what the weather, people come along," Iain said. "Two years ago, it was cancelled, but 40 people turned up anyway because they just love it."

The most recent addition to the gardens is the celebration arch at the entrance from the Esplanade. Designed by Tina Walton and constructed by Simon Meiklejohn from Herefordshire, the tasteful structure depicts a wave coming off the sea and crashing onto the esplanade. Speaking of the shape on top of the arch, FOGG committee member Graham Dubben, who masterminded the project with his wife, Barbara, said: "When you look from the seafront, it's a seagull. But when you stand beneath the arch, it's like a whale's tail."

The structure was opened by Angus Campbell, Lord Lieutenant for Dorset, on April 1 this year.

This summer will see the arrival of 200 metal sunflowers upon the banks of the Greenhill Gardens, installed by Joseph Weld Hospice, who often hold events on the grassy banks of the gardens. FOGG's biggest event of the year, the sizzling summer fayre, will also see the gardens come alive on Sunday August 18. Alongside stalls, games, and performances by Twirl Academy pupils and local singers, the much-anticipated day will feature the Switch Saxophone Quartet, fresh from their gig at the Goodwood Festival of Speed.

When the land was donated to the borough in 1902, a covenant was imposed: "This land shall at all times hereafter be kept and maintained for the benefit of the public as an ornamental garden and recreation ground."

The relentless efforts of the Friends of Greenhill Gardens have enabled these intentions to be met: now one of the most beautiful spots in Weymouth, the gardens mix relaxation with entertainment to create an unbeatable ambiance warmly welcoming residents and tourists alike.

With a stunning sea view and the sun shining above, what could be more blissful?

With thanks to FOGG committee members Iain Campbell, Tony Tunbridge, Tim Spooner and Graham Dubben. For more information about volunteering opportunities or the events taking place at Greenhill Gardens, visit www.greenhill-gardens.co.uk

*You can enjoy an afternoon of music at Greenhill Gardens tomorrow from 2pm, when The Omega Project will be performing in the gardens' bandstand.