Designed to evoke the experimental spirit of Victorian walled kitchen gardens by showcasing cutting-edge design, unusual species and new growing ideas, the walled Kitchen Garden designed by Harris Bugg Studio is located at the heart of RHS Garden Bridgewater.

The 154-acre Salford site is the Royal Horticultural Society’s fifth public garden and is currently the largest gardening project in Europe.

Selected following a national competition, Harris Bugg Studio’s Kitchen Garden takes the visitor on both a historical and horticultural journey.  It is a distinctive productive space with a design inspired by the rich heritage of its surroundings.

The main pathways of the garden are inspired by the route of the Bridgewater Canal – the construction of which marked the beginning of the golden age of canals. The canal bounds RHS Garden Bridgewater and was the transportation lifeblood of the Industrial Revolution in Greater Manchester.

The smaller pathways and layout of the beds follow the pattern of local field boundaries of the exact area at that time, found in historic Ordnance Survey maps of the 1890s. These smaller pathways  invite visitors to get close to the planting, with the smaller bed sizes of a scale that can be imagined at home – inspiring productive growing whatever the size, aspect or setting.

The horticultural intention is for the Kitchen Garden to be an experimental productive space that evolves and develops over time. The garden has four distinct zones: an edible forest garden, a formal kitchen garden, and a herbal garden. The fourth zone weaves around the stunning and historic surrounding walls, and showcases the very best of horticultural creativity and skill in fruit training. There are 106 trees on the walls, ranging from apples, plums and gages to pears, cherries and apricots.

Appearing throughout the garden are several designed features which honour the heritage of the site. Long reflective water tanks bring light and animation, attract beneficial wildlife and enable the growing of water edibles. They are constructed with a brick detail to echo the surrounding Victorian walls, and with stone quoin corners that are inspired by the historic doorways between the gardens. Seven four metre-high climber towers provide opportunities for vertical growing, with design abstracted from the impressive “lighthouse” chimney stack that is one of the original architectural heritage assets of the site.

Marcus Chilton-Jones, Curator, RHS Garden Bridgewater, said: “Charlotte Harris and Hugo Bugg are pioneering design talents of their generation, and I could not be more delighted that their innovative plan for the Kitchen Garden will be made real.  Their ideas have truly captured the spirit of RHS Garden Bridgewater in reflecting the wonderful history and unique identity of this area whilst creating an important, forward-looking source of knowledge and inspiration for gardeners across the North West.”

Speaking about the garden, Charlotte Harris said: “We have approached the garden as both a historical and horticultural journey. Our garden looks back as well as forward – connecting to and reflecting Bridgewater’s rich and important past as well as embracing and experimenting with new growing ideas.  Food is the umbilicus that connects us all to plants and has been a delight and a privilege to bring all of this together for the Kitchen Garden at Bridgewater.”

Speaking about the garden, Hugo Bugg said: “Historically, kitchen gardens have always been a combination of utility and beauty. Their purpose has always been more than solely culinary, featuring plants with a wide range of uses to support the household. Every single plant in the Kitchen Garden has a multi-faceted and productive role, whether that’s providing food, improving the soil or attracting pollinators. We hope to inspire visitors to re-imagine productive growing and to create a restorative, inclusive and inspiring space.”

The Edible Forest Garden

Inspired by the principles of agroforestry and framing them within a more formalised design interpretation, the east side of the garden emulates a natural woodland ecosystem with richly productive layers of shrubs, perennials and bulbs supporting each other in beneficial ways. Trees such as Sea buckthorn, Autumn olive and Sichuan pepper are planted with elder, hawthorn, and aronia. Below these are plants that will naturalise and cover the ground, like sweet woodruff, wild strawberries and nettles. The plants not only provide food, but fibre and fuel as well as injecting natural nutrients into the soil and encouraging beneficial wildlife. The space is intentionally low maintenance, allowing it to become a self-sustaining, balanced ecosystem. It is the one of the few major public agroforestry gardens of its kind in the UK.

The Formal Kitchen Garden

The middle third of the garden exhibits a more traditional approach to the kitchen garden, featuring both new and traditional annual and perennial productive plants, and cut flowers.  The planting strategy is one of companion planting and juxtaposes traditional heritage varieties with new ones and aims to push the boundaries of exotic edibles that can be grown in the north west climate.

The Herbal Garden

Progressing to the west side of the garden, everything in this space reflects a modern apothecary garden.  Every plant has a use whether as medicine, dyes, soaps, teas and tinctures. The plants in these beds are just a few of the many horticultural examples of hard-working and beautiful plants. Dahlia, Coreopsis, Yarrow and Woad are included in the dyes beds; Echinacea, Bergamot, and Hyssop in teas and tinctures; Witch hazel, Saponaria, Irises and Lavender in beauty and perfume; and Rosemary, Meadowsweet, Feverfew and Calendula in health and medicine.

Walled Fruit

Following years of neglect, the walls that surround the Kitchen Garden have been returned to their former glory by master craftsmen and now fulfil their role as a valuable vertical growing resource. The craft of the master pruner is celebrated in the 106 fan-trained and espalier-trained fruit trees cloaking the walls to create a range of beautiful shapes and displays. There are apples, pears, plums, apricots and cherries, with a mix of modern and heritage varieties such as Egremont Russet apple, Victoria plum and Comice pear.

RHS Garden Bridgewater opened to the public on 18 May 2021.  Tickets are on sale via the RHS website.

The transformation of the 154-acre garden in Salford, Greater Manchester, is the biggest hands-on horticultural project undertaken in Europe since planning permission was granted in 2017 and it is the first-ever RHS garden to be located in an urban area.  Masterplanned by Tom Stuart-Smith, it features cutting-edge design by RHS Chelsea Flower Show gold medal winners alongside numerous community spaces.