Manchester’s greatest former gardens inspire new installation

by Alice Wright

Credit: Clement Neveu

A major new garden installation opened at Manchester Art Gallery today showcasing the city’s rich gardening heritage.

“The Lost Gardens of Manchester” is intended to evoke the spirit of some of the city’s greatest former gardens from the last four centuries.

“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,” says Sean Harkin, National Trust gardener in residence, who created the displays with a team of 30 volunteers.

The stairs outside the gallery have been planted with exotic plants such as tree ferns and palms – plants that would have been found in a temperate glasshouse at the Botanical Gardens. A lower space depicts a garden that has been left to nature with plants appearing to push up the pavement, old benches and a dilapidated beehive. “The planting is prettier with cherry blossom, bulbs and wildflowers,” says Sean. Inside, a display of orchids, jasmine and tender foliage plants currently greets visitors, reminding people that Manchester was the first place in England to have an orchid growing society, in April 1897. The installation will evolve over the year, reflecting the changing seasons.

The installation took 12 days to create, using 10 tonnes of compost and 500 flowers and plants. An area with medicinal and edible plants is also to be added.

“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,” says Sean.

Manchester lost gardens

Planting was inspired by gardens such as Belle Vue Zoological gardens, credit Clement Neveu and Manchester City Council


Maria Balshaw, Director of Manchester City Galleries and Whitworth Art Gallery, says: “We are delighted to be partnering with 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.”

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.


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