Manchester Content Curator Simon Donohue speaks to head of RHS Bridgewater Richard Green about preparing to welcome visitors to Salford’s new urban oasis.

Photographs by James Donohue. 

By this point in 2020, RHS Bridgewater should have been welcoming thousands of daily visitors to the Royal Horticultural Society’s first urban oasis. 

Precautions to contain the spread of coronavirus have delayed opening to May 2021 but garden head Richard Green is confident it will be worth the wait. 

"The opportunity that's given us is the chance to develop a few additional areas of the garden, to extend the footprint, so there will be more for our visitors to see when they get here. And of course, the garden itself, the plants, will be more established as well," he says. 

Under construction on a 154-acre site in Worsley, a leafy district within the Greater Manchester city of Salford, RHS Bridgewater is reviving the extensive gardens which once graced Worsley New Hall. Visited in its day by Queen Victoria and King Edward VII, Worsley New Hall survived a fire and two World Wars before demolition in the 1940s. 

A number of potential uses were mooted by landowner Peel L&P, including a racecourse, but with the guidance and support of Salford Council, the site won the RHS’s bid to find a location for its fifth garden, the first in an urban setting. 

Green had his eye on this role for around two years before joining RHS Bridgewater in March 2019. He previously worked at Chill Factore in Trafford and the Science and Industry Museum, Manchester, and was excited about the site’s potential. 

There’s still considerable work to do but arriving into RHS Bridgewater’s neatly arranged car park already brings a sense of anticipation. The Scandi-style blonde wood and glass Welcome Building provides a taste of the modernity and elegance which has been added without disrupting the existing green aesthetic. The kitchen garden is a hive of activity, with RHS Bridgewater workers temporarily using it to grow their own produce. The stunning walled Paradise Garden is now nearing completion and is where Green shares his enthusiasm and ambitions. 

"This site lends itself really well to what we want from a garden,” he says. “We're in this wonderful historic setting, the former land of the Duke of Bridgewater, the Earl of Ellesmere, the former home of Worsley New Hall. The topography of the site, the soil types, as well as the wonderful Victorian infrastructure, means that it's the perfect setting for the garden. 

"We're on the edge of the Greater Manchester conurbation, here in Salford, and we've got 8 million adults within an hour journey time. And what that means is it won't just be a place for people to come and pay and look around, it will be a place to participate. We want to inspire the next generation of gardeners.” 

Green’s predecessor, Project Director Anna Da Silva, got the ball rolling on the redevelopment of the site and he is proud to pick up on progress to date. 

"Back in the 19th Century, when Worsley New Hall was standing, this was the home of the Earl of Ellesmere, and the grounds were some of the grandest in the country. The architect was Edward Blore, who also designed Buckingham Palace. That gives you an idea of the scale and ambition of this place, and he built this incredible walled garden, which is 11.5 acres and will be the largest walled garden in England that you will be able to visit when it opens next year. 

"Five years ago, when the site was discovered, its former glories were long gone. It was overgrown, it was derelict, the glass houses in the Paradise Garden had collapsed, everything was decaying. And really, it needed someone with a keen eye to see the potential, and thankfully we had the right person in the RHS to see that. So we've had to uncover years and years of neglect to bring that back and create what you see today.” 

Green is determined that RHS Bridgewater will be a community asset for Greater Manchester as well as a visitor attraction, providing jobs and opportunities for local people. The garden has forged links with educational establishments locally, including the University of Salford, which has supported GPs in piloting prescribing gardening to patients. That will now become a permanent aspect of the community garden. 

Green adds: "The community connection is really important to us. Even though we're not open, we have a community team of three people who have been working out with various schools, community groups, charity organisations, to green up various locations in their spaces. 

“We've worked on 22 community projects so far and when the garden opens next year we hope to welcome those community groups back to RHS Bridgewater. One of our really important spaces is our community grow area and that will be an area for 10 or 20 groups, to come and work side by side to grow fruit, vegetables, flowers, alongside our professional garden team. 

"The connection with Salford Council is really important. They've been really strong advocates and they've helped fund the establishment of the garden. We're working very closely with their work and skills team because we want to create lots of jobs - we're creating up 100 jobs here at the garden - so, as much as possible, we want to recruit local people. Many of the team, we've got around half the team on site, walk or cycle to work. And we want to get as many Salford postcodes as possible among our team members.” 

"I’d also like to thank the incredible team who have worked so hard at RHS Bridgewater. I am fortunate to work with a truly talented bunch of designers, architects, gardeners, project managers, engineers, technicians and many more specialists; all experts in their own field and working together as a brilliant team to build create these wonderful spaces and plant more than 100,000 plants, trees and shrubs.” 

And while the timing hasn’t been right for RHS Bridgewater, in some ways it’s been perfect. 

"One of the things that's happened in recent months is that there seems to have been a real yearning for the natural environment and green spaces and we're the perfect place for that to happen,” Green adds. 

“Salford's got a reputation and it's not about green space and that's just not true. So we already know that Salford's got lots of green spaces and this is one of the best, or will be one of the best when it opens next year. The scientific links between green spaces, the natural environment, and all of our wellbeing, are really well established, so I think this definitely a great benefit for everybody in Salford." 

Opening on 11 May 2021, RHS Bridgewater is a new spectacular 154-acre site transforming the grounds of Worsley New Hall in Salford, Greater Manchester. Visit https://www.rhs.org.uk/gardens/bridgewater to find out more. 

Related

RHS Garden Bridgewater
Formal Garden
RHS Garden Bridgewater visitor centre

Opening 30 July 2020. Reviving the gardens of the historic 156 acre Worsley New Hall estate to create RHS Garden Bridgewater represents one of the largest gardening projects in Europe at this time.

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