In May, the Royal Horticultural Society unveiled its newest garden in what might be considered the unlikely location of Salford, Greater Manchester. In recent years parts of Salford have been transformed by the dockland regeneration which has produced Media City, the Lowry and the Imperial War Museum North, but that's been about urban and brownfield regeneration. RHS Garden Bridgewater is in Worsley, with its mix of footballers' mansions on leafy avenues and post-war overspill estates, on the western fringe of the city.
The garden takes its name from the Bridgewater Canal on its southern boundary. The canal, the first entirely new 'cut' in the country, was built by the 3rd Duke of Bridgewater to carry coal from his collieries in Worsley to the centre of Manchester.
In the 1840s his nephew, Francis Egerton, who became 1st Earl of Ellesmere, built a fine Gothic-style mansion, Worsley New Hall, on high ground with views over the north Cheshire plain.
The slopes below the house were laid out as a formal terraced garden with, beyond, landscaped parkland and a lake. Screened from the house by woodland was an 11-acre walled kitchen garden, one of the largest in the country.
In the First World War, the house was used as a Red Cross hospital, and was requisitioned by the War Office in the Second World War. A disastrous fire in 1943 led to the house being demolished. From then until about eight years ago, a nursery and garden centre operated on part of the site but most of the original gardens were abandoned to nature.
By 2017, the RHS had acquired the grounds and started work on creating a major new garden which blends the historic garden and landscape with contemporary design and practice. The planned 2020 opening was postponed to May 2021, due to the pandemic. The photographs were taken a few days after the official opening. Plant growth was two to three weeks behind, due to the abnormally cold spring.
The garden will evolve and mature quite rapidly, of course. To see it at this stage is to be able to see clearly the structural and architectural elements behind a major new garden plan, alongside the neglected charm of the unrestored areas, such as the island in the Ellesmere lake.
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