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Gardening: Bridgewater Garden

13 September 2019


THIS autumn, 100,000 plants will arrive at the Royal Horticultural Society’s new Bridgewater Garden, near Salford. It is on track to open to the public in a year’s time.

Lord Francis Leveson-Gower inherited the Bridgewater estate in 1833, and became the 1st Earl of Ellesmere. He demolished “Brick Hall” and replaced it with a grand Gothic mansion built between 1840 and 1845. Worsley New Hall, as it was known, lasted until 1949, when it was demolished. The head gardener’s house and 11 acres of walled gardens survived, and they are at the heart of RHS Bridgewater.

The garden that is enclosed by the highest walls will be the Paradise Garden, designed by Tom Stuart-Smith using Mediterranean-climate and Asian plants around a central lily pond.

The new garden’s curator, Marcus Chilton-Jones, is excited about how the philosophy and purpose of the garden changes as one moves out from its core. The head gardener’s house, now known as Garden Cottage, occupies a key liminal space with views into both the Paradise Garden and the Kitchen Garden.

Visitors leaving the angular geometry of the walled garden will enter a Bee and Butterfly Garden that has billowing planting, freeform rather than rigidly pruned plants and sinuous paths. This will lead into an orchard with heritage fruit trees grown on vigorous rootstocks so that they will become large trees in old age supporting a wide diversity of wildlife.

Between the outer and inner walls of the walled garden complex, in the “slip gardens”, the focus is on engaging with people, their learning and development. A Well-being Garden, designed by the landscape architect Ben Brace, is already linked to a social-prescribing project. GPs can refer mental-health patients for a course of gardening, and people living with autism, dementia, anxiety, and depression, and those with a history of substance and alcohol abuse are already helping to create the therapeutic space.

Although reminiscent of a traditional allotment, the 25-metre-square “microplots” are hexagonal, knitted together like honeycomb to encourage social interaction and exchange of ideas. “Hotspots” within the “hive” will be tended by RHS apprentices after a rigorous horticultural training programme that requires them to grow top-quality vegetables over a year.

The RHS has a great track record of engaging the next generation in horticulture, notably through its Campaign for School Gardening. Bridgewater will have a learning centre with two classrooms linked to a Learning Garden.

The television presenter Carol Klein is from just up the road. Her grandfather was a garden boy on the estate for a short time, and she used to play in its woods. She describes the new garden as an enormous asset, stating: “What we want for our children and our children’s children is the opportunity to enjoy places like Bridgewater, to invest in nature away from screens within something real.”


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