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Garden created from lost stately home grounds opening after pandemic delay

·5-min read

A garden created from lost stately home grounds opens to the public next week after nearly a year’s delay due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Bridgewater, the Royal Horticultural Society’s fifth public garden, has been created from the historic grounds at Worsley New Hall, Salford, Greater Manchester, with a focus on the local community.

It had been due to open in July 2020, but after lockdown forced the team to all-but halt work on the site, send volunteers home and delay the opening, the garden’s doors are being opened to the public nearly 10 months later.

RHS Bridgewater Gardens
Bridgewater is the Royal Horticultural Society’s fifth public garden (Peter Byrne/PA)

At the heart of the 154-acre site, which the RHS expects to attract as many as a million visitors a year, is the historic estate’s 10-acre Victorian walled kitchen garden – one of the largest in the UK which is now full of tens of thousands of plants.

It features a kitchen garden designed by RHS Chelsea Flower Show gold medallists Charlotte Harris and Hugo Bugg which references the local industrial heritage of underwater canals taking coal to the nearby Bridgewater Canal.

The kitchen garden includes a section highlighting agroforestry and permaculture, even growing – in a first for an RHS garden – nettles to highlight their value for nettle soup, wildlife and to make fertiliser.

RHS Bridgewater Gardens
Staff prepare for the opening (Peter Byrne/PA)

There is also a paradise garden designed by Tom Stuart-Smith, a wellbeing garden for local people complete with a grassy “cloud-gazing” mound, and an orchard filled with regional apple varieties and historic pears rescued from the remains of the kitchen garden.

Restored Victorian greenhouses are heated by a biomass boiler using wood taken from the site and hexagonal allotment plots have been provided for community groups working with vulnerable people and for schools.

The lake and woodlands, which feature a Chinese streamside garden created in collaboration with the local Chinese business community, have been restored and a play area installed.

The Chinese Garden
The Chinese Garden (Peter Byrne/PA)

There are bee hives rescued from under the floorboards of the garden cottage, pigs, bat boxes and butterfly and bee-friendly planting.

But deer which had lived on site could not be rounded up and moved due to lockdown, and a decision to cull the animals to protect the garden from damage prompted a local backlash.

The delay to opening the garden has proved to have a silver lining: while it significantly slowed work last summer, it has meant areas such as the orchard and Chinese streamside garden are much further along than they would have been.

Curator Marcus Chilton-Jones said he was pleased overall with the extra time, “although I didn’t think that at the time”.

He said RHS Bridgewater is different from the charity’s other gardens because of elements designed to deliver community benefits first and foremost.

RHS Bridgewater Gardens
the site is spread over 154 acres (Peter Byrne/PA)

“It’s not something that’s been done and tucked in the back corner because it’s not quite smart or well done enough, it’s front and centre,” he said.

“Building in all of these aspects from the outset rather than building them on afterwards means it’s very much part of the DNA of the site.

“It’s not just for middle class people to come somewhere posh for tea and cakes.”

The site will welcome thousands of schoolchildren each year, and the garden team will be doing community outreach at the same time as maintaining the site and developing new elements including back-to-back gardens and trial beds to test plants in a northern climate.

RHS director general Sue Biggs said: “We feel that the opening of RHS Garden Bridgewater, our fifth garden, could not be more timely after the terrible time everyone has endured over the last year.

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“We have been looking forward to this day for more than six years, during which time so many people have come together and enabled us to create a stunning new garden that we hope the people of Salford, Greater Manchester, the North West and beyond are proud of.”

She thanked Salford City Council and landowner the Peel Group which have collaborated on the project, as well as the local community, staff and volunteers who have worked to get it ready.

“This is just the beginning as our garden will give people pleasure for generations to come, but right now I could not be more proud of this incredible group of people, and the monumental achievement of bringing to life our shared vision to create what we believe will become one of the UK’s greatest gardens, right in the heart of Greater Manchester,” she said.

Tom Stannard, Salford City Council’s chief executive, said: “It’s fantastic that RHS Garden Bridgewater will soon be open to everyone, creating another world class attraction in Salford and contributing towards tourism and economic growth in Greater Manchester.”

He said the council played a pivotal role in making the garden a reality, had negotiated an agreement for local residents to visit for free every Tuesday, and would see a return for the city of several pounds for every pound invested.

Salford City mayor Paul Dennett added: “RHS Garden Bridgewater will be a world-class visitor attraction, bringing a range of important social, environmental, economic benefits and opportunities on a huge scale to the City of Salford and along with other developments such as MediaCityUK, which continues to strengthen Salford’s reputation nationally and internationally as a vibrant city to live, work, visit and play.”