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  • Writer's pictureMarie

The Creation of RHS Bridgewater, Salford.

The new RHS Bridgewater garden near Salford is sited on the old grounds of Worsley New Hall, which was demolished in the 1940s. William Andrews Nesfield was the original designer who landscaped the gardens in the 1840s and it included a lake, formal terraces and an 11-acre walled kitchen garden for Lord Bridgewater who owned the Hall. Over the years various members of Royalty visited and when Queen Victoria arrived via a barge up the Bridgewater canal, the water was dyed blue to mark the special occasion!

Now the site is being transformed by the RHS and will cost around 30 million pounds to renovate. At 156 acres, it's one of the largest garden projects of this kind and only the second of the RHS’s gardens to be located in the North of England. To have a world-class garden like this close to the cities of the North West is so valuable in terms of amenity, education, and well being of the local community, these were some of the main aims in creating Bridgewater.

The large Kitchen garden had an incredible heating system which warmed the glasshouses so pineapples could be grown for Lord Bridgewater and his guests.The entire kitchen garden was heated with flues running through the walls to create a micro-climate to boost vegetable and fruit production.The chimney from the heating system is still standing and has inspired elements of the re-designed garden such as obelisks which echo the chimney shape - a nod to the industrial past of the North West.

Inner Walled Garden Glasshouses and Pool
Inner Walled Garden Glasshouses and Pool

Inner Walled garden, the obelisk with roses is inspired by the original chimney
Inner Walled garden, the obelisk with roses is inspired by the original chimney

The main man behind the new design is an award-winning landscape architect Tom Stuart Smith. He is famed for both his prairie inspired planting, and re-inventions of formal gardens.

His style combines contemporary elements with naturalistic planting. He likes contrast and it can be found aplenty in the garden which features an Islamically inspired pool together with the restoration of original elements of the traditional Victorian walled garden, such as the glasshouse.

Harder features such as the metal obelisks and Corten steel pergolas are tempered by the softer textures of flowing grasses, ornamental trees and flowers such as Irises. The Pergolas create dimension and lead the eye, then the visitor to walk through the garden.

The Pergolas are quite severe looking now but will be tempered by the planting as demonstrated at the Chelsea Flower show. Amongst these plants are Iris and Bistort which I've helped to plant over the last year.

Tom Stuart Smith Design at Chelsea Flower Show
Tom Stuart Smith Design at Chelsea Flower Show

I have been volunteering weekly at RHS Bridgewater for nearly a year now. Hundreds of volunteers have been involved in the creation of the garden. From digging gravel into beds, clearing rubble, planting hedges, clearing rhododendron, to planting. We have done it all! At times we have got stuck in the mud and ended up extremely wet but being part of a team with funny, interesting people combined with weekly cake sessions can be great motivators!

My Bridgewater Team and me ( left), weeding before and after.
My Bridgewater Team and me ( left), weeding before and after.

As a volunteer, I have helped plant some of the 1000s of plants that have been painstakingly laid out to the designer’s plans. In October of last year, many of the herbaceous perennials were dormant and didn’t look like much at all in the bare soil! I made a point of selecting some bright yellow Achillea to plant in this bed so in the Summer of 2020 I can see exactly what I planted. Over the months there have been so many new plants to learn, loads of grasses including the feathery reed grass calamagrostis, types of ginger and Rodergia which should like the wet Northern soil!

Planting, September 2019.

When the garden is finished it will have a lake, a Chinese stream side garden, a permaculture area, community plots and a large visitor's centre. There are also some resident pigs who after enthusiastically clearing parts of the garden and chomping down on weeds will get to stay on at Bridgewater.

Although we've had a year of wet weather that has made planting difficult and now recent restrictions due to coronavirus, The grand opening is scheduled for the end of June 2020 and hopefully the garden can open for the people of the North West and Salford as planned.

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