Liz Ratcliffe visits RHS Garden Bridgewater in Salford; the first new garden that the Society has designed and created from scratch in more than 100 years.
Being a keen gardener, which I have inherited from my Mum, I decided to book us both a day out at the new Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) gardens in the North West – RHS Garden Bridgewater.
The RHS was founded in 1804 to inspire passion and excellence in the science, art and practice of horticulture. During the last 18 months, gardening and gardens have played a massive role in helping boost peoples’ mental health – mine included. The RHS is committed to bringing the joy of gardening to millions of people around the world and inspiring the next generation of gardeners, and judging by the people enjoying RHS Bridgewater, that certainly appears to be true.
RHS Garden Bridgewater is located on the site of the estate of Worsley New Hall in Salford. The Hall was demolished in the 1940s, but in its heyday was a notable residence featuring extensive formal landscaped gardens. In fact, Queen Victoria visited the Hall in 1851 and 1857. For her first visit, the Queen travelled to the Hall via the Bridgewater Canal, and in honour of her visit, the canal was dyed blue.
This garden is part of the RHS’s £160 million investment programme, to bring the health and environmental benefits of gardening and gardens to millions of people and was the largest gardening project in Europe at the time of construction. The project is anticipated to add £13.8 m each year to the local economy by 2029.
Greater Manchester was the first local authority in the country to take charge of its own healthcare budget. The RHS recognised this opportunity to forge partnerships with local universities, GP surgeries, hospitals and social services. Healthcare practitioners are able to refer people to the garden to take part in gardening activities to promote better health and wellbeing. Specific garden areas at RHS Garden Bridgewater are designated for this purpose from which local people will benefit.
Way before RHS Garden Bridgewater was open to the public, the community outreach team worked with 20 schools and community groups in Salford. Also volunteers from all walks of life have given up their time, in all weathers, to clear areas of woodland, dig over borders ready for plants to go in, and led tours through the site. Some have a connection to the garden through local and family history, other love gardening or are interested in playing a part in developing this fantastic resource for the Manchester community. Some community projects have accepted the opportunity to have their own designated space at Bridgewater.
In 2017, the RHS began work on an ambitious project to create a world-class garden for the north west of England and is named after the Bridgewater Canal that runs along its southern edge. RHS Garden Bridgewater is actually the first new garden that the Society has designed and created from scratch in more than 100 years. It comprises the fifth RHS Garden, established on the edge of a large and diverse conurbation, on a site with an existing horticultural heritage.
The new garden design, spearheaded by Tom Stuart-Smith, embraces the heritage of the old site, but also incorporates innovative designs that connect to different cultures, eras and gardening styles. Together with being absolutely stunning, I have to say that I have never seen so many bumblebees in a single garden before! The bees certainly seem to be giving RGS Bridgewater the thumbs up!
When you arrive, there is a massive free car park, complete with up to 50 cycle stands for 100 bikes and also electric-charging stations for vehicles. You enter the Garden via the contemporary Welcome Building, clad in warm larch and flooded with light. Its roof is a green roof, covered in wildflowers and sedum and gravel channels allow rainwater to be collected for recycling both within the building and outside in the wider garden. The building has a superb café, shop and one of the best stocked plant centres I have seen (needless to say, we left with a fully packed car of plants for our own garden additions!).
Award-winning designers have crafted areas throughout the Garden, each demonstrating the latest thinking and best practice in garden design to help mitigate the effects of a changing climate. The Weston Walled Garden is an original feature of the historic estate. This is where fruit, vegetables, exotic fruit and flowers were grown on a vast scale. Today it comprises a series of themed gardens including a stunning Paradise Garden, complete with fantastic water features, a kitchen garden, greenhouses and more.
A short walk takes you to the Chinese Streamside, which recognises and is sponsored by the local Chinese community. This is a work in progress, which in time will comprise seven different zones, celebrating different styles of planting, with traditional Chinese buildings occupying some of the space.
Continuing on, you come to Ellesmere Lake, an original boating lake that has not been partially restored. The lake was carefully drained and cleared of debris before it could be transformed into the beautiful spectacle that it is today, surrounded by mature woodland.
We only managed to explore a small fraction of the entire gardens but were astonished by the sheer magnitude of what has been achieved here. The plants, shrubs and trees are absolutely fantastic – and all coordinated in terms of colours, spread and height to give the most stunning displays. There are seats provided throughout to just sit and drink in the scenery around you. Also dotted around are places to buy a coffee and cake. Volunteers are working constantly through the gardens.
You get such a sense of pride from everyone you interact with – from the lady who meets and greets you at the Welcome Centre, to the catering staff in the shepherd’s huts which serve as coffee shops, to the volunteers themselves. And proud they should be – this is an absolute gem in our back garden!
Having only been open this year, I will enjoy visiting the gardens regularly over the coming years to see them grow and how the various plants establish themselves and continue to create even more superb displays. RHS Bridgewater has many more plans for expansion and this is something I want to continue to monitor and support. As an RHS member, entry is free and for others you must (at the moment) purchase your entry in advance. This is definitely a super day out for the whole family, and it was wonderful to see so many families, including 3-4 generations – all together enjoying their picnic and day out in fantastic surrounding so close to the City. Well worth a visit.
For details visit the RHS Bridgewater website.