Birmingham Botanical Gardens stars on Channel 4 show


© Channel4

The restoration of the magnificent Victorian rock garden and cascade in Birmingham Botanical Gardens is to provide the grand finale for Channel 4’s How Britain Worked series this Sunday, which has seen presenter Guy Martin travelling around the country to rescue masterpieces of Industrial Revolution engineering.

The Grade 2*-listed feature was designed and built by hand in 1895, using 250 tonnes of natural stone, but had fallen into disrepair, leaving the water cascade blocked and the rock garden in a state of collapse.

The Channel 4 programme charts the reconstruction of the rockery and cascade, which mimics a Himalayan gorge, over a period of five months as well as the addition of a new fountain powered by a ram pump. The self-acting ram pump was invented by Joseph Montgolfier, the French creator of the hot air balloon, and is ecologically sound as it uses moving water as its only power source.

Rebuilding the feature turned out to be far from straightforward, even with the benefits of modern machinery, with the foundations proving to be an unstable mix of natural springs and silt. “The restoration at the Botanical Gardens is a bigger job than we first thought, so we’ve had to get some contractors in to start shifting some rocks and we’ve come across a massive natural spring which is chucking water everywhere so all the land is caving away. It’s a big job to shore it all up,” Martin reports during the show.

The rock garden past and present credit: Birmingham Botanical Gardens

The newly-rebuilt rock garden has been planted with Himalayan and West Chinese plants, species originally introduced to the UK by Ernest Henry Wilson and George Forrest at the beginning of the twentieth century.

“If I could choose one picture to illustrate the importance of this project, it would be a memory I have of two visitors enjoying a romantic picnic at the foot of the restored cascade this summer. We often hear from past visitors who have proposed or made other important decisions on the bridge in front of this feature. It is a piece of living history that we are overjoyed to see back in action once again,” said James Wheeler, Chief Executive of Birmingham Botanical Gardens.

The programme also looks at other Industrial Revolution-era gardening inventions such as the Wardian case, a mini greenhouse which allowed plant hunters to transport their specimens safely back to the UK, the lawn mower, which originally required two people to manoeuvre it and Pulhamite, a form of artificial rock.


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