The history behind RHS Bridgewater and 6 things to look out for when you visit

The cottage garden

The cottage garden - Credit: RHS / Andrew Montgomery

The UK’s biggest and most ambitious horticultural project for many years opens in Salford.

The Royal Horticultural Society are preparing for the grand opening of their first new garden in more than a century. RHS Garden Bridgewater has been created on the site of the historic seat of the Earls of Ellesmere – Worsley New Hall in Salford. 

Designed by renowned architect, Edward Blore, Worsley New Hall was a grand Gothic-style house built in the 1840s. Alongside the hall, extensive and magnificent gardens were landscaped over a 50-year period by notable designers of the day, including William Andrews Nesfield. Sloping areas were transformed into formal terraces with ornate fountains, a lake was created as well as a croquet lawn, tennis court, and an 11-acre walled kitchen garden. When Queen Victoria visited in the 1850s, the Earl of Ellesmere commissioned a Royal Barge to bring her down the Bridgewater Canal which he had dyed blue in her honour. 

Aerial view of RHS Bridgewater at Worsley, Lancashire, under development

An aerial view of the new garden taking shape - Credit: RHS/Kestrel Cam

After being used as a hospital and army training ground during the war and weakened by dry rot and a fire in 1943, the historic house was demolished. When the RHS took on the site in 2017, nature had reclaimed the once grand gardens which, along with the legacy of soil pollution from the Victorian era, presented an extremely daunting prospect.  

Curator Marcus Chilton Jones said: 'The RHS was aware that of its four gardens, only one was in the north of England. It was a strategic ambition to find a suitable site for our newest project in either the Midlands or the North West and after visiting more than 20 potential sites and shortlisting two, Bridgewater won by a country mile.' 

Welcome Garden at RHS Garden Bridgewater, Worsley, Lancashire

Welcome Garden at RHS Garden Bridgewater - Credit: RHS/Neil Hepworth

The Victorian Weston Walled Garden
At 11 acres, the Victorian Weston walled garden is one of the largest in the UK and once housed a series of kitchen gardens manned by an army of gardeners producing fruit and vegetables for the house and surrounding community. Happily, along with the Garden Cottage and a Bothy, the original walls escaped demolition and after a painstaking restoration, it has become the heart of the new garden. 

The Paradise Garden
The Paradise Garden and the Kitchen Garden are in the centre, with the outer walls housing a series of spaces dedicated to serving the local community, with facilities including Learning, Growing and Wellbeing as well as areas for community coppicing and flowers. There is also a large, sustainably heated plant house, the new orchard and a Bee and Butterfly garden. 

READ MORE: 10 National Garden Scheme open gardens to visit in Lancashire this summer

The Kitchen Garden
Chelsea gold medal winners collaborated on the Kitchen Garden – Charlotte Harris and Hugo Bugg discovered maps and drawings of local underground waterways dating back to the Industrial Revolution. They overlaid this with an Ordnance Survey map of the area, as well as the historic field network of the surrounding countryside to create the layout. There are more than 100 beds with 29,000 plants in four styles through the forest garden, formal vegetable garden, edible ornamental garden and the fruit trees that have been trained up the walls within the space. The latter is a true masterclass, designed by RHS horticulturalist Dr Sylvia Travers, and featuring heritage varieties in fans, espaliers, Belgian fence and U-shaped cordons.

The Chinese Streamside Garden
A meandering stream leads to a new lake and the whole area has been designed in collaboration with the local Chinese community and horticultural experts from China. Designed by Fan Xuquan of the Yangzhou Classical Garden Company the garden includes a large pool, cascade, rock features and stylised planting. It’s a miniaturised Chinese vision that works cleverly within the English landscape context and has big plans for future development. 

The Lake
Ellesmere Lake is another area that is a work in progress. It has its own fascinating history. Following extensive ecological survey work, the whole of the west end of the lake has been dredged and after the removal of 3,000 cubic metres of silt and debris, the lake has been repaired and re-clayed and filled with pure rainwater to provide a lovely new wildlife refuge and home to water iris, water lilies, crowfoot and monkey flower. 

The Woodland
The woodland has been here since at least 1799 and its origins are probably older. The approach to the ongoing development of this part of the project is led by its topography and soil conditions but will all be aimed at enhancing woodland floor species and creating better biodiversity for wildlife.  

Please check current restrictions before planning your visit which, at the moment, must be pre-booked. www.rhs.org.uk/gardens/bridgewater

The creation of RHS Bridgewater is also the subject a new BBC series called The Great Northern Garden Build.

Read more about RHS Bridgewater in the April/May issue of Lancashire Life
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