Garden Clubs meet – Digitally

On March 10th a collective of Garden Clubs met digitally from across the country; Wales, Derbyshire, Dorset and elsewhere joined together to see and hear the remarkable story behind the RHS new venture near Manchester,   RHS Bridgewater – headed up by Marcus Chiltern Jones of the RHS who enthusiastically gave his presentation.

Started by Francis Egerton 3rd Duke of Bridgewater, called the Canal Duke as his nearby canal was dug on his orders to service and transport the nearby coal mines.  This, being a financial success enabled his successor, on the proviso of changing his name to Egerton, to build a house and garden during the period 1830-1840.   The extensive grounds flourished under the care of 30 full-time gardeners.  Not just ornamental, there was a vast kitchen garden which became a hub for growing food supplying the local area. A curious feature was the clock, striking 13 at 1pm so that the workers would be sure to hear the time for their meal break!

In the 20th century the house became a WW1 hospital. Photos show patients, no doubt recovering from the horrors of the war, in a peaceful setting.    WW11 saw the establishment of a nursery; the Dig For Victory campaign enthusiastically taken up.

Sadly the house was demolished in 1948; the estate became overgrown; a scout camp; agricultural tenancies; another nursery and then a nuclear bunker, this latter being used as a ‘rave venue ‘.   A lack of care prevailed.

In 2017 the RHS took over the site and a master-plan was drawn up.  The site will eventually have an orchard, arboretum, lakes and woodland garden, but the first efforts have been focused on the existing walled garden.
The great clean up began; brick walls 16′ high had broken glasshouses leaning on to them; self-seeded trees had toppled; ivy was thick and damaging the bricks. Where the old nursery had been there were now layers of hardcore spiced with arsenical pesticides.   All this contamination had to be removed; the walls repaired and re-pointed. 

During 2018 the walls, nearly 1 mile in length, were re-pointed using lime mortar, cleaned and repaired.  They now have 7kms of wire, 5590 vine eyes and 570 tensioners. The objective is to use the walls to display differing forms of trained fruit.

Meanwhile, in the wooded acres, the war was won with the invasive Rhododendron Ponticum;  many volunteers spent happy hours digging and sawing to remove it.

In 2019 planting started.  The ethos will be on sustainable planting, eg cornus and hazel grown for pea sticks.  The garden designer, Tom Stuart Smith, known for his love of floaty soft pastels, is responsible for the first stages of plantings.  His award winning garden from Chelsea has been re-created to great success.

The next big design is to create a Chinese Garden.  The integration of this within an English woodland has been a big challenge. Seven acres will be a fusion of styles with appropriate buildings necessitating a visit to China, further input will be from the local Chinese community in the area.

This involvement, RHS studentships, community work gardens, apprenticeships, and being a centre for learning resource has attracted funding from Salford Council and some infrastructure changes eg road alterations.

All the above, along with trial beds, 800 volunteers and community input add up to an exciting project, using modern ideas in a traditional space. Mr Chiltern Jones announced that he anticipates opening to visitors from the middle of May 2021.   Part of the site will be guided only until more paths are laid.

A visit for the future, and definitely one to watch.

To join future Zoom talks watch out for details on this site and contact us via e-mail:

Margaret Genender