Wirral’s Ness Gardens: A Place To Learn Whilst You Enjoy
Ness Botanic Gardens, owned by the University of Liverpool, are a delightful example of how learning and enjoyment can come together. They are the creation of a cotton merchant who wanted to share his absorbing interest in plants from across the world (and especially from the Himalayas) with the people of his hometown, Liverpool. This work, begun in 1898, continues to prosper to the present time.
Ness Botanic Gardens are on the Wirral near Chester, away from the River Mersey facing the splendid windswept views of the Dee Estuary which overlook the North Wales coast. They offer delightful views which take one back to more pastoral times, and include the habitats of many species of birds and wildlife.
This apparent tranquility and timelessness has not however prevented some very forward-looking management on the part of those responsible for the site. Just this week (14 April 2006) saw the opening of the new Horsfall Rushby Visitor Centre, designed alongside a wider programme of development to encourage year-round enjoyment of this special location.
Where academic excellence meets family fun
The story of the Gardens is both unusual and enlightening. They were created by a Liverpool cotton merchant, the Fabian Arthur Kilpin Bulley, who wanted to establish in Britain the ‘new’ Himalayan and Chinese mountain plants he had funded the plant explorers George Forrest and Frank Kingdom Ward to discover . And so in 1898 began the adventure which was to become Ness Gardens, a place of elegance and education, as it welcomed vistors from near and far.
In 1942 Arthur Bulley died and left his ever-expanding Gardens to his daughter Lois (1901-1995), who presented them to the University of Liverpool in 1948, with an endowment of £75,000 per annum on the understanding that they be kept open for the public. Her intention that this beautiful place continue to fascinate and inform both young and older people is reflected in the current Visitor Centre, scientific programme and educational developments.
Journey of discovery
Our own involvement in Ness Gardens began back in the 1970s, when a reseach student friend at Liverpool University experienced what, at that time, seemed like a cruel blow. He had been assiduously observing a derelict site in the city centre to find out what sort of road-side plants and grasses best grew on such unpromising terrain when, because of a misunderstanding by a Council employee about location, a ton of topsoil was dumped on his experimental venue. The anguish was terrible – should there be an official complaint because the experiment was ruined; or should there be celebration of the act of reclaiming the derelict site for better use, albeit by mistake?
Resolution of this dilemma arrived in the form of an offer to recreate the dereliction by transporting a huge load of rubble to a fenced-off location at the edge of the University’s Ness Gardens. Our humble role in this adventure was occasionally to give our friend a lift over to the site to continue his work. The experiment was repeated, the results brought forth much in the way of understanding how to use grasses to reclaim land, the young scientist’s career was launched to great acclaim – and we became regulars at Ness Gardens.
The research and development continues
The striking thing about Ness Gardens is that, not only does it change dramatically with the seasons, but it has consistently expanded and grown over the years. The Gardens have spread across much more of the site, with a growing number of areas of specialist interest (the latest is the ‘Prehistoric Garden’ just created from an existing clay marl pit); and the world-class science has similarly developed over time.
Here is a place always worth the journey, where there is a conscious intention to deliver first-class research in the context of a welcome for everyone. Support the Friends of Ness Gardens if you can – and be sure to visit their new Centre and see the Gardens for yourself.
Posted on April 15, 2006, in Arts, Culture And Heritage, Education, Health And Welfare, Events And Notable Dates, Knowledge Ecology And Economy, Liverpool And Merseyside, Politics, Policies And Process, Sustainability As If People Mattered, The Journal. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.