Manchester Art Gallery hosted a special garden party yesterday to mark both Pride month and the official opening of its brand-new Derek Jarman Pocket Park.
The new urban garden space in front of the gallery’s main entrance, now resplendent with blooms and greenery, is the result of a unique partnership between Manchester Art Gallery and volunteers from Pride in Ageing – LGBT Foundation’s programme for older people.
Drawing its inspiration from artist, filmmaker, activist, and gardener Derek Jarman, the project to establish a Pocket Park at the gallery was devised to complement the Jarman exhibition Protest! which was on show at the gallery earlier this year following a delay of nearly 18 months due to Covid.
Designed and created in association with gardening experts and landscape architects, as well as gallery curators, the park’s creation has been a labour of love for the group of volunteers who are all over the age of 50.
The green-fingered group worked with the artist Juliet David-Drufayard, landscape architects from Exterior Architecture, the community team at RHS Garden Bridgewater, award-winning garden designer Leon Davis, and a gallery curator, to develop the design and planting scheme for the outdoor space that surrounds the gallery.
The unique garden design and planting scheme they came up with references Prospect Cottage, Derek Jarman’s own cottage and garden at Dungeness in Kent, where he spent the last few years of his life working and developing his iconic garden, before dying of AIDS related illnesses aged just 52 in 1994.
The plants used in the garden have all been chosen as plants that will thrive in the urban environment of city centre Manchester, as well as featuring some of the volunteer gardeners’ own favourite plants.
The yellow and black structural design of the garden, with its echoes of Prospect Cottage in its yellow and black colour scheme, includes quotes within the design that reflect Jarman’s writing and LGBTQ+ history.
The Pocket Park is already proving to be a hit with Manchester Art Gallery visitors, who can now add plants to paintings as part of their gallery experience.
Plans are being developed to use the new urban garden for a whole range of different year-round activities – both gardening related such as masterclasses in gardening for green-fingered amateur enthusiasts, and other gallery related activities whether that’s outdoor drawing classes, or supporting the gallery’s wide programme of health and wellbeing activities.
“The volunteers have done an amazing job in creating an oasis of green tranquillity on the doorstep of what is one of Manchester’s most popular visitor attractions,” said Councillor Luthfur Rahman OBE, Deputy Leader Manchester City Council.
“It’s the perfect addition to the gallery which is otherwise surrounded by the sights and sounds of city life.
“As well as providing a new space for the gallery’s community and well-being programmes and for its climate emergency work, it also provides an inspirational place for people to come together, share ideas and spend time in a quiet and uplifting place for nature right in the heart of the city.
“We hope this fabulous new urban garden at the gallery will continue to grow and flourish in recognition of the living contribution to our city of our over 50s LGBT communities, as well as being a reminder and living legacy of Jarman and his peers who fought so hard for an equal and fair society for all LGBTQ+ people.”
The garden contains a number of innovative urban solutions to combat the effects of climate change, including planting to encourage biodiversity, sustainable planters, and other elements that it’s hoped will provide ideas to visitors for them to try and come up with their own green gardening solutions at home.
A sustainable shelter which includes a water feature to re-use rainwater to water the Pocket Park plants has also been incorporated into the garden design.
Commissioned by United Utilities the unique shelter features a green roof that helps slow down rainfall flow by 50 percent, letting the water flow through the steel guttering and into a chain-link downpipe, creating a relaxing and peaceful sound.
Derek Jarman was one of the first public figures to be openly HIV positive in Britain. He had always been openly gay in his work but after being diagnosed, he took on a leading role as a campaigner against the prejudice that proliferated in Britain as HIV/AIDS, along with huge amounts of misinformation, began to spread.
Many of the Pride in Ageing Pocket Park gardening group had their lives touched by Jarman’s work and activism in the 1980s and early 1990s and revisited his legacy and influence through workshops and discussions via video calls during the Covid-19 lockdowns of last year, before getting to work on the Pocket Park project.
“Taking part in the project with a group of other LGBTQ+ over 50s has brought me so much joy, and some lifelong friendships have formed between the volunteers,” said David, a volunteer gardener with Pride in Ageing who worked on the project.
“My mental wellbeing and my self-worth have improved as well – I no longer feel invisible as an older LGBTQ+ person and feel more connected to my community.
“We’re all so excited to be launching the garden and sharing our creation with visitors to Manchester Art Gallery.
“And we hope this new green space in our city will be here for years to come.”
The Pride in Ageing programme was launched by LGBT Foundation in Manchester to ensure the voices of LGBTQ+ people over the age of 50 are heard when it comes to ageing policy and activity in Greater Manchester.
Now the urban garden is complete, volunteers plan to stay on and maintain it through the seasons.
“It’s been an honour to work in partnership with the art gallery to open this brand-new Pocket Park, which has been designed and planted by volunteer gardeners from LGBTQ+ communities in Manchester and the city region who are of the same or similar generations to Derek Jarman,” said Lawrie Roberts, Pride in Ageing Manager at LGBT Foundation.
“LGBT Foundation exists to continue to work towards an equal and fair society for all LGBTQ+ people, which is something that activists such as Jarman and his peers brought to wider public consciousness in the 80s and 90s.
“We’re delighted to be celebrating his legacy and historic links to Manchester through this project and to have created this fantastic new green space in the city centre for everyone to use and enjoy.
“As we all know, a gardener’s job is never done, and now the garden is finished, our volunteers will be staying on to help maintain the garden through the seasons.”