A major new garden installation at the Manchester Art Gallery, which opens tomorrow (Thursday 2 April), will showcase the city’s rich gardening heritage over the last four centuries.
‘The Lost Gardens of Manchester’ produced by the National Trust, has been created by a team led by the conservation charity’s gardener in residence and 30 volunteers using 10 tonnes of compost and 500 flowers and plants to include favourites such as foxgloves, peonies and dream like grasses. The installation took 12 days to create.
Sean Harkin, National Trust gardener in residence says: “With the help of volunteers and local historians we delved into the past of Manchester’s major former gardens and came up with various ideas for conjuring up their beauty and sensory elements within the gallery space.
“We took as inspiration the bountiful orchards of Shudehill from 1753 and the palatial glasshouses and grounds of the Royal Botanical Gardens at Old Trafford and the Belle Vue Zoological gardens which were both at their peak in the mid Victorian era; all set against the historic architecture of the building to create stunning spaces for visitors to sit and enjoy.
“For the opening there will be a magical display of orchids inside the stairwell of the gallery and there will plenty of Juneberry and Cherry blossom throughout the spring. They will evolve over the course of the year and reflect the changes to the seasons.
“We hope visitors will be amazed by the sheer scale of the installation and will be able to enjoy the sights and smells of the plants, relax amid the foliage and find themselves a world away from the hustle and bustle of today’s Manchester.”
Plants such as exotic tree ferns (Dicksonia antarctica) and phoenix palms (Phoenix canariensis) have been selected to give the true sense of what it would have felt like in each of the gardens. The Trust has also commissioned hand painted old signs similar to the ones people would have seen at Belle Vue and The Royal Botanical Gardens.
One of the 30 volunteers, Peter Clark, 59, a former police officer says: “I have always had an interest in art and when the opportunity to volunteer on this project – to transform the front of the gallery with a beautiful garden came up – I leapt at it.
“It has been extremely hard work at times, but always fun and we have worked really well as a team. I have enjoyed making new friends and talking to visitors and passers-by who want to know more about what we’re up to; and pause to admire the work.
“The garden enhances a wonderful building in the city centre and I cannot wait to see it in full bloom.”
Commenting on the installation at the gallery, Maria Balshaw, Director of Manchester City Galleries, Whitworth Art Gallery and University of Manchester and said, “We are delighted to be partnering the National Trust who has produced this spectacular project.
“This exceptional installation will transform the stunning Grade I listed architecture of Manchester Art Gallery into a green and lush space, a place for reflection, relaxation and verdant beauty.”
The Trust started working with Manchester Art Gallery in December 2014. This partnership demonstrates just some ideas that the conservation charity will be exploring over the next decade as part of its new 10 year strategy partnership work launched last week which explores new and different ways of working with partners beyond its boundaries.
John Darlington, regional director for the North West says: “This project presents a great opportunity for us to bring the gardening heritage of this great city alive. Our aim with our partnership work is to open up access to green space, nature and gardens to more of our city dwellers.
“We’ll be asking people to share their memories of gardens in Manchester as part of the project and our aim is for the exhibition to help keep alive Manchester’s gardening heritage, while inspiring the next generation.”
Opening for Easter weekend, the gardens will evolve over the year with events running alongside, culminating in a huge display of pumpkins on October 31 (Halloween).