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RHS brings their first-ever indoor show to Manchester in Depot Mayfield 

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Featured image: Makenna Ali

Students from Manchester Met transformed Depot Mayfield into an urban gardener’s dream for the RHS Urban Show this weekend in collaboration with the ‘Cloud Gardener’ Jason Williams.

The show marked the Royal Horticultural Society’s (RHS) first entirely indoor urban show in Manchester and was a collaboration between the viral gardener and university co-curricular initiative Man Met Rise.

Four teams of five students took part in a series hands-on workshops with well-known Manchester gardener Williams who shares small space urban gardening tips and content from his Salford flat and has featured at flower shows including Chelsea and Tatton.

The balconies they created, titled RHS City Spaces: Cloudscape, were designed to challenge horticultural retailers, local authorities, and developers to rethink the ways they interact with communities in order to make cities greener.

RHS floor market manager, Mike Cohen, said: “It’s our first RHS Urban show [and] a new idea for us. It’s going to be really interesting because we’re appealing to a new audience, and younger people are the future of gardening.

“This would appeal to me as a younger gardener. This is where I would want to come – Chelsea [Flower Show] is maybe not for me, but this is made for me.”

Mike explained the challenges of hosting a garden show indoors, in the heart of Manchester: “The main challenge has been [designing the gardens] inside because of the light levels and it’s a bit colder inside.”

The RHS’s chosen venue for this show was also home to the Warehouse Project. Mike said, “It’s great for a rave, but not for our plants.”

He added, “Being located in the city meant that it was quite hard to get materials in, but it is right in the heart of the city centre and exactly where we need to be to attract an audience.”

The project was part of the university’s extra-curricular programme Man Met Rise.

According to project leader Matthew Carney, the students have been working late into the evenings leading up to the show’s opening, to get the gardens ready for the big day.

He said: “Our students have worked so hard on this project and we’re really proud of it.”

The students designed four balcony gardens, each facing a different direction: North, West, East, and South.

The North Garden

The theme of the North-facing garden was ‘Woodlands in Manchester’. The garden was designed to have shady spots, while still maintaining a strong artsy aspect.

Carney describes this garden’s persona: “An art student who enjoys sitting in their garden and creating art. It reflects what students are… they are artists.”

The West Garden

The West-facing garden was aimed towards children, with all of its plants being edible or safe to eat for ‘little hands’. All the materials and planters were upcycled.

Student designer Abby Westerside shared the inspiration behind her group’s design: “We thought about what we would like to see in a garden, and it all led back to being affordable and accessible. This led to [designing a space where] family and kids are able to do crafts and outdoor activities.”

She added: “My favourite part of the garden is the pipes which Hector did.”

Fellow student Hector Smets shared his source of inspiration was Spicy Moustache on Instagram, a content creator who introduced green spaces into urban spaces.

He said, “I saw the idea and thought it was perfect. As we don’t have much space, the use of vertical space was great.” Each tower of the pipes had a different type of plant: herbs, leafy greens, and berries.

The East Garden

The East garden was designed with the idea of an international student from China living in Manchester. The design was an ode to this persona’s home and culture. The garden gets early afternoon sun and shade, making it an ideal space for a kitchen garden.

Carney added: “Our students designed [the East garden] to have a space to chill out and grow your own foods for sustainability.”

Tara Burdett added: “The ethos of the garden is: Don’t pay for food, just grow it.” The kitchen garden had plants such as; coriander, lemon balm, wasabi, chives, and more.

Student participant Otto Mendelsson shared it took roughly six hours to build his gardens’ planter, using upcycled pallets from the Hulme Community Garden Centre.

Otto said: “Working as a team has been pretty impressive. It’s been so nice getting to know each other because we’re a group that would not usually hang out.”

The South Garden

The South-facing garden was Mediterranean-themed with hints of greens and a maroon colour pallet. The team describes the persona as a widower who used to garden with his late wife, but moved to Manchester to downsize. This persona likes a trip, and wants his garden to make him feel like he’s on holiday.

Carney explained, “The idea is that he can sit here and have his coffee, think about his holidays and plan his next holiday from Manchester.”

Student designer Ethel Arolka said: “As it’s a south-facing garden, we came up with the idea of the rain harvest. The funnel is quite small so all of the water won’t get collected but we thought of it as the persona’s small attempt to conserve water.”

Student participant Rithika Chidambaram shared her favourite part of the process: “The best part was putting together the barrel because it was this big blue industrial ugly-looking barrel and we tried our best to cover it up. The entire group was twining the barrel and we had a lot of fun with it.” 

The first RHS Urban Show is a step in the direction of sustainability, with gardens being repurposed to new homes – a new initiative for the RHS.

The North garden is being donated to Brunswick church and the West garden is being donated to Mindscroft Nursery in Hulme, to be enjoyed by children, while the South and East gardens are being relocated onto Manchester Met’s campus for students.

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Makenna Ali

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