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RHS Bridgewater takes shape

The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) have five gardens around the country: at Wisley in Surrey. Rosemoor in Devon, Hyde Hall in Essex, Harlow Carr in North Yorkshire and now Bridgewater in Greater Manchester. You may have visited the first four, but you’ll have to wait until next year to see the first phase of Bridgewater because, weather permitting this winter, the magnificent 11 acre walled garden will be the first part of the 154-acre garden open to visitors next summer.

The garden is being created in the grounds of what was Worsley New Hall, adjacent to the pretty and historic village of Worsley, noted for its attractive black-and-white houses. The site was chosen from a final short-list of two with Stoke as the other contender. The history of the Worsley site swung the decision. In its heyday, Worsley New Hall stood proudly overlooking glorious formal landscaped gardens with terraces, lakes and fountains. Built for the 1st Earl of Ellesmere between 1840 and 1845, the Gothic-style mansion was designed by architect Edward Blore and cost today’s equivalent of around £6.7 million.

The grounds were landscaped over a 50-year period to include a large lake with an island and grotto, accessed by a footbridge, croquet lawn, tennis court, formal gardens and the 11-acre walled kitchen gardens. Queen Victoria visited twice and in honour of her arrival via the nearby Bridgewater Canal, the water was dyed blue.

As the walled garden will be the first section of the garden to open, the initial phase of work has concentrated there and on the new Welcome Building. Visitors will pass into the garden and have a choice of which way they enter the gardens. The walls themselves have been restored using new “old” bricks to repair fallen areas and parts that had bowed out dangerously. Two glasshouses that leant against the sunny south-facing wall are being restored, one to house fruit trained in the traditional way used in such situations and the other to house a contemporary selection of heat-loving plants. The idea is to have a modern garden that does not forget its roots.

The site was completely overgrown when the RHS moved in, but amidst the tangle of plants were several old pear trees that had survived the years of neglect. They were over 100 years old and in too poor a state to revive, but by pruning and feeding them carefully, enough shoots were produced to be grafted onto new rootstocks and the resultant plants will be returned to the garden. During this process, they were DNA tested to try and identify the varieties but there was no match in the British database. Luckily, there was a match elsewhere and it looks like they were actually Belgian varieties. They will form part of a “mother orchard” for fruit varieties from the north-west, including apples from Cheshire, Cumbria, one from the Isle of Man and ‘Florence Bennet’, once rescued from a rubbish heap in Liverpool.

This magnificent site keeps on giving and, during the clearance process, substantial brick-built tunnels are being discovered all over the place. Some have no clear purpose at present, but future excavations may yet yield clues as to their use.

We will cover more of this exciting project over the coming weeks, but if you would like to know more now, go to

www.rhs.org.uk/gardens/bridgewater



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