How an urban garden oasis was built in the heart of Manchester

The RHS Urban Show (18-21 April 2024) celebrates greening urban spaces, like the transformation of Manchester Art Gallery in to a beautiful garden providing respite from the city

Manchester Art Gallery

Geena is dressed in full graduation garb, posing for pictures with her parents and celebrating with a chilled glass of champagne. They’ve come to the Derek Jarman Pocket Park at Manchester Art Gallery and although the sound of the nearby traffic rumbles along in the background, it still provides a moment of calm, and a lush backdrop for their photos. “It’s beautiful here,” says Geena, “a little bit of green among the concrete and brick.”

Derek Jarman Pocket Park

Building a city oasis

The garden is a recent addition, created as part of the Derek Jarman Protest! exhibition in 2021/22 when the Gallery, wanting to involve the LGBT+ community, reached out to Pride in Ageing to see if there would be way they could work together.

Curator Fiona CorridenManchester Art Gallery Curator, Fiona Corriden worked with the group to find a suitable idea they could develop. “They wanted something that would feel permanent, so that it wouldn’t just disappear when the exhibition finished. They wanted to use skills they already had, which is gardening, and they wanted somewhere that would be a bit of a refuge in the city, and also to tackle the fact that there’s so few green spaces in Manchester that are free where you can go to sit and relax in.”

“The site, outside the gallery, was a stone courtyard, it had tables and chairs, but there was no flora or fauna, it was quite grim.”

–Fiona Corriden, Curator

Challenges for the project

Among horticulturalists, Derek Jarman is known for his remarkable garden in Dungeness, Kent, as for his art. So, it seemed fitting that the project would create a garden in the middle of Manchester, but the plan was not without its challenges, as Fiona explains: “The site, outside the gallery, was a stone courtyard, it had tables and chairs, but there was no flora or fauna, it was quite grim. It’s a tricky space, an inhospitable windy corner. But that seemed to echo Jarman’s own garden on an inhospitable windy beach.”

Derek Jarman Pocket Park

Just as planning permission was granted, the country went into lockdown. The need for a communal green space seemed even more pertinent, and the group had the time to plan the garden and apply for funding. They connected with the communities team at RHS Bridgewater who helped to apply for IGNITION funding, a scheme to help develop environmental projects in and around Manchester.

Derek Jarman Pocket Park

Making a sustainable garden

The support proved invaluable to making the garden sustainable, as Fiona explains: “Originally we had quite a basic plan, and as we started to develop things we realised there’s no water supply here, there’s no external pipes to collect water in butts. So we had to be really clever with solutions. We managed to create planters that have reservoirs in them; we created a shelter with a sedum roof and a rain chain that would collect rainwater for us. There are hidden environmental benefits throughout the garden to try to encourage biodiversity and create this really kind of little peaceful oasis in the city.”

Inspiration from RHS Shows

The Derek Jarman Pocket Garden opened in June 2022 and it can be used by anyone in Manchester. It continues to be maintained by Pride in Ageing who also hold community events there.

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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.