Due to open on July 30 this year, Bridgewater will be the fifth garden to join the Royal Horticultural Society portfolio.
RHS Bridgewater will transform the historic grounds of Worsley New Hall in Salford into a beautiful green place for the local community and visitors to enjoy all year-round.
MM joined one of their site tours on a foggy February morning to find out more.
Currently the largest gardening project in Europe, Bridgewater spans 154 acres and will have a whopping 130,000 plants.
Over a 10 year plan RHS are hoping to create 140 jobs, with a total of 240 in the wider community. These jobs will include apprenticeships.
Our knowledgeable and chirpy tour guide, Elaine Marchment, has been a volunteer at the site since September 2017. She led us from the large car park to the head gardener’s cottage.
The charming grade II listed cottage appears one of the best preserved features of the garden. For many years this was the home of William Barber Upjohn, who was head gardener at Worsley for the 1st Earl of Ellesmere. He had a team of 34 gardeners.
GRADE II LISTED: Head gardener’s cottage with Rapunzel-esque tower
The site will be home to the largest walled garden in the country that’s open to the public.
Impressively, they have managed to save 80% of the original bricks.
Behind the wall, a chimney pokes out. During the Victorian times the walls were heated from coal fire and the warmth was fed through cavities. However Elaine said today biomass is used.
In the paradise garden they had to excavate the soil as Victorians used arsenic to remove the pests.
The neighbouring kitchen garden will grow organic produce, or ornamental edibles, which will be served in the cafe.
“Our ambition is to source everything as locally as possible,” said Elaine.
The kitchen garden has been designed by Charlotte Harris who made her Chelsea Flower Show debut in 2017. The design takes its inspiration from the underground canals which used to transport coal between Worsley and Manchester.
NUMBER ONE: The chimney poking out behind the walled garden – the largest in the country open to the public
There is a hive of activity around us with machines and workers in high-vis jackets at every corner of the site.
“We are still dependent on funding to finish the project,” said Elaine.
National Lottery funding helped them to complete work on a row of potting sheds. All the features are original or carefully crafted in the original style, apart from a series of skylights.
“This will be an exhibition space and a way of bringing the history back to life,” said Elaine.
“We are going to invite school children to come to learn, free of charge, to encourage the next generation of green fingered people,” she said.
NATIONAL LOTTERY FUNDED: The potting sheds will be a new exhibition space
Opposite is a bothy, or small cottage. Elaine revealed they discovered undercrofts beneath the bothy which were found in “pristine condition”.
“We did not know they were there!” said Elaine.
Undercrofts were common in the Victorian period and used for overwintering the harvest.
Outside the bothy, aubergines, chillies, and peppers will be grown as trials in the hope that one of them will win the prestigious RHS Merit award.
VICTORIAN DISCOVERY: Bothy where undercrofts were found in pristine condition
RHS have involved the wider community in the design of the garden, holding competitions, employing local firms, and even providing a space for Manchester’s Chinese community to create their own garden.
“This will be a fusion, streamside garden with stepping stones and areas of open meadow,” said Elaine.
Happy Chinese New Year! We’re working with the Chinese community in Greater Manchester and horticultural experts from Yangzhou to create a unique Chinese Garden. Pictured: Dr. Peng Hongming, Deputy Secretary General, China Flower Association https://t.co/L7jBjM6fph pic.twitter.com/aMsFYZsA21
— RHS Bridgewater (@RHSBridgewater) January 25, 2020
Placed right at the end of the large car park, the welcome building is low and linear to reflect the horizon.
The building has eco features including a ground source heat system, a wild flower meadow on the roof, and rain water will be collected to flush the toilets.
From a distance we could see the giant skylights on the roof that look like greenhouses.
ECO FEATURES: Welcome building in the distance
Elaine showed us a bird’s eye plan of the entrance garden designed by Tom Stuart-Smith. She pointed out the paths and their “voronoi pattern” which resembles giraffe skin.
Over in the woodland, Elaine showed us a clearing where they planned to build a children’s play area.
“There will be no plastic,” siad Elaine. Instead there will be a storytelling chair and hobbit holes made of stone, one of which we could see poking through the trees. There will also be an assault course for older children.
The yew trees surrounding the clearing were once a yew hedge. But with 100 years of non-management they have since grown into trees.
We traipse through the woodland and reach the “lake” which is essentially an empty bowl of silt and mud. Elaine shared an amusing story about one of the diggers getting stuck in the middle of the lake.
“They are excavating the silt. Wildflowers do not like rich soil,” she explained. The lake will eventually be furnished with bullrushes and water lilies.
“Oh, there is something I want to show you,” said Elaine excitedly. We followed her on the grass walking towards a fence. The hall used to be behind where the fence and wall of trees are now.
We stared into a small bed of water in the field lined with bricks. This is what’s left of the ornate fountain which used to be part of a terraced garden overlooking the lake.
New Worsley Hall was demolished in the 1940s, exactly 100 years after it was built for the 1st Earl of Ellesmere.
When the Egerton family moved out of the estate the hall and gardens started to fall into disrepair. The hall was used as a British Red Cross hospital during the First World War and more recently parts of the grounds have been used as a garden centre and Scout camp.
However, dry rot and a fire outbreak in 1943 weakened the building and it was eventually demolished by a scrap merchant, who bought it for just £2,500.
You can still see the gates from the main road heading from Salford and Eccles direction, teasing the idea of a grand manor house.
Other exciting plans for the new garden include an orchard, wellbeing garden, learning garden, and community space.
A collaborative project between landscape designer Ben Brace and local health trusts, the wellbeing garden will not only be a tranquil place to reflect but a place that is friendly for sufferers of anxiety and dementia.
We’re delighted to announce that the opening date for @RHSBridgewater will be Thursday 30th July 2020. We can’t wait to share this beautiful green place with our local community and visitors.https://t.co/c78KqffVPM#GreeningGreatBritain pic.twitter.com/fxCZzo3uBr
— RHS Bridgewater (@RHSBridgewater) January 20, 2020
There will also be outdoor yoga and Tai Chi sessions to promote wellbeing.
As for the community space, this is designed to promote horticulture at any level within the community. “The produce will go to a local food bank,” Elaine revealed.
The entire site will be relaxed, informal and have disabled access.
“It could have been a housing estate so thank goodness for RHS,” Elaine said, pondering on what could have been the fate of this incredible place, rich in both history and geology.
It’s safe to say that the gardeners and landscapers have their work cut out for them, but if they manage to pull off all their plans RHS Bridgewater will not only be one of the finest gardens in the country, but a place that will have a lot to give.