Growing a garden for the community

An exemplary feature of RHS Garden Bridgewater is the Community Grow Garden, which has been designed by Weston Walled Garden team member Katie Irwin

Katie Irwin, Designer of the Community Grow Garden
With a huge amount of work still to do before opening, we grabbed 5 minutes with Katie to find out more about the significance of the new garden.

What is the Community Grow Garden? 

A series of connected gardens fill the space between the inner Walled Garden and the outer wall. Many have a community theme and purpose to them, and none more so than the Community Grow Garden. This garden is a dedicated space for selected local community groups to bring their members into the garden to get involved in regular growing activities, learn new skills and benefit from being in a green space. The RHS Community Outreach team has been working in the locality with these groups on many different projects and now we’re inviting them to become directly involved in creating the garden here at Bridgewater.

Exciting garden features 

Artist impression of the unique hexagonal planting pods The space will be divided into hexagonal pods, one for each group, with four central larger pods that all groups can work on and benefit from. “Plot-holders will be able to access a range of support and learning from the RHS, including targeted workshops,” says Katie. The hexagons are different sizes and depths – some are raised to make gardening easier for people who need accessible spaces to garden. They’re all made from timber sleepers and there are simple benches and cubes placed under trees for seating.

The communal plots will be used, in the short term, to grow green manures as well as things to eat to support a local food bank. Green manures have multiple benefits, since they suppress weeds on bare earth, and once dug back into the soil while still green, return valuable nutrients to it.

Importantly there will be a communal space where people can gather, offer encouragement to each other, share knowledge and make friends. The communal seating area is located beneath striking umbrella-shaped mulberry trees, which will provide dappled shade and create a focus, and there’ll be a sense of enclosure from the bordering hedge.

Taking on the mantle of designer

Katie is originally from the Peak District and has a genuine love for the outdoors. Her career in horticulture began when she studied RHS Level 2 and City and Guilds Level 3 qualifications while volunteering at Chatsworth Gardens. An internship at Kew Botanic Gardens followed. After completing the RHS Traineeship at RHS Garden Harlow Carr, Katie went on to work at RHS Garden Hyde Hall and then when she heard about the new RHS Garden near Manchester she says she instantly knew she wanted to be part of it. “So along with hundreds of other people, I applied and was the second gardener to be taken on back in February 2018,” she says.
“The best thing has been the wonderful people I work with. It’s been so rewarding to be part of creating this amazing new garden, alongside people who are passionate about horticulture and want to share their knowledge and inspire everyone to grow. I can’t wait until next year to see how the different community groups transform their plots and see how the space has come to life,” adds Katie. 

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The Royal Horticultural Society is the UK’s leading gardening charity. We aim to enrich everyone’s life through plants, and make the UK a greener and more beautiful place.