Category: Dig The City


Halfway up King Street, at the King Street Fesival, was Frog Floral Artistry, an installation put together by FROG, a rather beautiful flower business on Turner Street in the Northern Quarter. It’s run by a French guy which might account for the name. The French are famous for eating frog’s legs which I’m told taste like chicken. I couldn’t comment as I have carefully avoided this delicacy (along with snails) on trips to that beautiful country. In The UK the French are sometimes referred to as ‘frogs’ while they call us ‘les Rosbifs’ after our liking for that delicacy. 

This guy has been in Manchester for nearly twenty years. He arrived and fell in love with the city and has been here ever since. I’m delighted he stayed and many do succumb to the charms of the city but I have to say I was stunned. He comes from the Alpes Martimes part of France. It’s right in the south next to Provence, one of the most desirable places to live anywhere in the world; great climate, great food, beautiful scenery, wine, enviable lifestyle. In Alpes Maritimes it is possible to ski in the mountains  in the morning and then sunbathe on Mediterranean beaches in the afternoon. The coast is lined with beautiful towns like Nice, Cannes, Antibes and, though not actually a part of it, Monte Carlo. He must have fallen for Manchester big time to give that lifestyle up to live in a city where we don’t see the sun for weeks on end in the winter. His English is faultless but does still have his French accent.

He has his business in the Northern Quarter, providing spectacular flower arrangements for the city. Every bar, restaurant, office seems to have wonderful arrangements of flowers in their foyers. They are pricey. Upmarket weddings aren’t complete without some stunning floral art. He’s worked with Dig The City. One of his biggest commissions was to turn the fountain in St Anne’s Square into a huge floral display with cotton plants and moving water, a celebration of Cottonopolis. It won a gold. I saw it being put together but I was busy with my own floral enterprise at the time and we didn’t get a chance to speak.

At the King Street Festival he did the hanging baskets around the lamp posts. I liked the ideas he came up with to display his plants on his installation. I’m tucking them away to use should I get the chance to do something else garden like.

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Regular readers of this blog will know that I did a garden for the Dig The City Urban Garden Festival last year. It’s become a much anticipated festival in the city’s calendar. It took me a year to design, plan, build and grow the plants for the garden. I’d never done anything like it before and had quite a few wakings-up in the middle of the night worrying what had I got myself into? But in the end it all came right and we had something of a success on our hands.

The guys I was working with wanted to do another one in 2016 and I did a plan. And then there was nothing said about it from Dig The City all Autumn. We’d had a meeting for the 2015 festival back in September 2014. I kind of forgot about it but by Christmas it struck me as odd that no one had said a thing. Eventually I called Dig The City to see what was going on. I got through to one of the organisers who I’d had a lot to do with in the planning of my garden and he said, sadly, that it wasn’t going to happen this year.

He was sad, I was sad. But there was nothing much I could do about it so I shelved my plan and left it at that. I saw the two guys who had a lot to do with the festival last year, at the Chinese New Year Festival that they also organised. Nothing was said then. So I was very surprised to see an email pop up in my email box from them saying that the garden festival was back on, albeit in a slightly different form, alongside the Jazz Festival and the Manchester, European City of Science 2016 Festival and a couple of other events. They were looking for gardens and were contacting people who had a proven record of producing the goods and those goods were of a good quality. *blushes*

A first I thought no way. Not enough time and the garden I’d planned was too big and complicated to do in the shortened period of time. But I thought I’d go in and have a chat (see ‘cakes’). As I rode into the city centre on the tram I had no idea what sort of garden I could do. Then inspiration struck. By the time I’d got to Blackfriars House I could actually see it in my mind. I didn’t promise as I needed to talk to the other guys about it. 

Well, they are on board as well. So last night, with one eye on the England/Ireland Six Nations rugby match, I did a quick design. With help, good luck and good organisation, it should be doable. Here we go again….. 

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I had an unexpected meeting in Manchester this morning. It was at the offices of CityCo in Blackfriars House by the river. They are the umbrella organisation that looks after the Dig The City urban garden festival that I was heavily involved in last summer. It was hard work but good fun and very rewarding to do. The meeting was about this year’s festival. We had been wondering what would happen. Now we know. More information as I get it. I like the people who run this festival so I took cakes. Here they are from Patisserie Valerie on Deansgate. They were delicious but one was more than enough. Gary and I had one each and left the rest of the office to finish off the rest.

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I’ve blogged about Moss Cider before. But for those who don’t know about it. Moss Side is a roughty toughty suburb of Manchester just to the south of the city centre. ‘Roughty toughty’ is a kind description of this area. Back in the 1980s and 1990s it was downright dangerous. There were gangs and gun crime and at one point it actually burned in riots. It was Manchester’s little bit of Detroit. At the height of the troubles in Northern Ireland you were still more likely to be shot in Moss Side than in Belfast.

But the world moves on. Some pretty determined work by the police and local residents determined to improve their neighbourhood have improved the area no end. Back in the summer of 2011 when the misrule that caused riots in London moved to Manchester and the city centre was looted, Moss Side remained calm. It’s now being touted as the next big thing in the Manchester’s housing market. It’s a way off being Didsbury or Chorlton but it’s getting there.

A guy living there noticed that there were a lot of apple trees in the area. The fruit grew, matured and then fell to the ground unused. He decided to collect the apples and press them to make cider. Cider, for US readers, isn’t the apple juice you are used to, it’s a quite potent, easily drunk alcoholic beverage. And the apple cider from Moss Side, wittily called Moss Cider, make a damn fine drink. They have trouble keeping up with the demand for it. It wins awards for its taste and seems to have sparked a demand for urban cider across the country. Trendy bars and restaurants in places like Chorlton and Didsbury serve it.

Dig The City is all about greening urban areas so this Moss Side enterprise was a perfect partner for the festival. They are always looking for apples. They must be organic and local. I’ve checked the trees in our garden and the apples are doing well. I’m hoping to take some along to be pressed and I can do a post about it. You can then have some cider at a reduced rate if you donate some apples. Here’s their garden at the festival. You could buy trees for your own garden.

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And here’s some of their limited edition Dig The City cider that mace it to my garden. And then home. Cold, it’s deliciously appley and dry. Loved it. 

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I’m still catching up with posting my pictures that I took at the Dig The City Garden Festival. It wasn’t just about gardens, there was food, drink, education, talks, music, dance and art. There was something for everyone from the flowers and plants on show to the water fight for the kids on Greengate Square. Sorry I missed that.

Venessa Scott is an artist who worked with Dig The City. She spent days painting this floral art work on the windows of an empty shop unit on King Street…

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It was then connected over the heads of the people attending the festival…

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To this beautiful textile art installation behind the Moss Cider cider garden…

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After finishing it she look fabulous in a bright yellow floral dress as she showed her mum around the festival. She came to see my garden and was very kind about it. Sadly, I didn’t think to take a picture of her. Hope she returns to do something next year and I’ll make sure I take a pic.

It was always the intention that the garden that we built in St. Ann’s Square should have a second life on the terrace of the Post Box Cafe in Chorlton. The garden took a year of planning, months of growing plants, a week of intense hard work to put it together in St. Ann’s Square and about a hour to take it apart, load it into a van and take it to Chorlton.

Yesterday evening we quickly reassembled the superstructure of the garden which had been cleverly designed to be done with speed and ease and today I was there all day replanting it yet again. I kind of changed the planting about a bit so it’s not exactly like it was in the city centre. There’s no Belfast sink pond to begin with; it’s gone off to Kew Gardens via Liverpool. One of the gardeners from there is going to install it in the garden of his new house in Margate on the Kent coast. But I was still pleased with the result. 

It will NOT be moving again though….

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Andy came into the city today. He was taking the theory part of his driving test. How did he do? Well let’s say that one point makes all the difference and leave it at that. He was at my garden in St. Ann’s Square when I got there. We set up the garden for the day and then went off for breakfast. People have been very respectful and appreciative of the garden and you can leave them unattended for periods and they don’t come to any harm. It kind of reaffirms your faith in human nature. They vast majority of people on the planet are thoroughly nice and decent.

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We went off to Koffee Pot in the Northern Quarter and had two full English Breakfasts with mugs of tea. Something went wrong with the bill and we were charged over £4,000! You get a good breakfast at Koffee Pot but not worth a couple of weeks holiday, 5*, in the Seychelles.

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Koffee Pot is something of a N4 institution, serving good breakfasts to N4 Hipsters and builders alike. It used to be on Stevenson Square but closed down suddenly a few months ago. But it’s reopened in bigger premises round the corner on Oldham Street extending the N4 up to Great Ancoats Street. Happily, the atmosphere and mood of the cafe has transferred well.

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Andy needed a suit for a wedding he’s going to so we had a bit of a wander and he finally decided on this one. It’s blue but has a grey sheen to it as the cloth moves. So breakfast and finding the suit made up for earlier disappointments.

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The garden, that had taken a year to plan and execute, went from this….

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….to this in less than a hour.

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I have some pretty illustrious neighbours by my garden in St Ann’s Square. With my back to the Royal Exchange, to my left I have the National Trust. For those outside the UK, the National Trust is an august institution that looks after some of the most iconic landscapes in the country. They also own and run some of the country’s great country houses with their attached gardens. Sometimes they are criticised for this as being elitist and too middle class. But, in Manchester we have a National Trust Gardener who has organised projects right in the heart of the city. Snowdrops were planted everywhere last autumn and he’s been involved in the planting of the wildflower meadows along the airport road that look so wonderful at the moment. And he’s done the wonderful, ‘Lost Gardens of Manchester’ on the terrace at Manchester Art Gallery. Planted in the spring, it’s been evolving all summer and will continue until Halloween.

And to my right we have Kew Gardens no less. The country’s, if not the world’s, foremost botanical garden. The beautiful, manicured gardens in the affluent, west London suburbs are the public face of an institution that does important research into plants and flowers that have important implications for our future food security.

They have brought a moveable wildflower meadow into St. Ann’s Square for the festival. I’d finished my garden before they had done theirs so offered my help to plant theirs up. They accepted and I now have the bragging rights that I was able to help plant a Kew Garden (see second picture down).

The wildflower meadow did actually move. It started out from the Hulme Garden Centre and was walked into the city centre past the wildflower meadows on the airport road and then past icons like the Hilton Tower to St. Ann’s Square. Once there it was met by music and dancing. Pictures of the event…

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And a cool video of the march…

And let’s not forget the brilliant oboe player who entertained by my garden one day. He’s just graduated from the Royal Northern College of Music with a degree in musical composition. He’s starting out on his musical career but before that was doing some busking before flying out to Berlin.

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Some pictures from today. After I’d set up my garden for the day I went to the Dig The City Den to listen to a talk from a guy called Rob Smith. He won the BBC’s ‘Big Allotment Challenge’ programme this year. A lot of the ladies who were working for Dig The City seemed to be in a bit of a flutter. Any ideas why? He talked about companion planting (you grow certain plants together and they help each other fight disease and pests) and showed us how to make our own, safe, potions to deal with pests and diseases. It was a lot more interesting than it sounds.

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I got back to my garden across the square and someone was sitting on an independent cafe’s garden drinking coffee from Starbucks!

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And look who’s been to BarberBarber and had a cool new haircut. I think it make him look younger and a bit of a N4 hipster (lacking the beard of course). Andy, who cuts my hair, did this. Others are not so sure about the change.  

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We went to Harvey Nichols to have a cocktail to celebrate the Silver Gilt we’d got for the garden. I had a Rhubarb Mule, a potent and delicious mix of  rhubarb vodka and homemade ginger beer. I can recommend it next time you’re in Harvey Nick’s cocktail bar channelling your inner Edina or Patsy.

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A guy called Chris climbed on top of the post box by my garden to take this unusual picture from above. He was kind enough to email it to me instantly.

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I’m so behind with all the pictures I’ve taken at the Dig The City Garden Festival. These ones are from Sunday. It was the day that the garden festival did a collaboration with the Manchester Jazz Festival which is on at the same time due to Manchester being in a constant state of festival from now until Christmas. There has to be some doubling up and overlap.

The little girl in these pictures was incredibly interested in the garden and asked all manner of inquisitive questions of her dad and then of me. She was a sweetie and a bit of a gardening star.

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Well, the sun came out, the temperatures soared but the beer was cold and the jazz was cool. Friends came over to enjoy the vibe in the city and support me on my garden. Lynn and Kerry came over and watched over my garden while I did a bit of a dash about taking pictures elsewhere. Now, as soon as you stand on a garden, people assume you are the fount of all knowledge on all things horticultural. And so it happened to Lynn and Kerry. We are pretty sure that Lynn has killed some woman’s lavender stone dead by telling her to cut her leggy plants to the ground and they will re-grow. You should NEVER cut into old wood with lavender as it won’t shoot again. You have to give it a light trim of the new wood just after flowering. Once it gets leggy you really need to take cuttings and start with new plants.

They both enjoy music, especially Kerry, so the went off to listen to the jazz. But not before I’d sent them round the corner to see The Hoochie Coochie Mancunian who was belting out the tunes near Marks & Spencer’s. They came back to thank me. He is a bit of a star.

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Later on Andy and his lovely girlfriend, Leanne, came over. They’d really come for the jazz festival but came over to be supportive and look at the garden. They enjoyed the Samba band that played by my garden all afternoon. Here they are doing  just that. And posing for the camera, they make a nice couple. 

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Later they went over to Albert Square where they had tickets for a jazz concert that sounded interesting. Apparently it was, but for all the wrong reasons. It was somewhat experimental and people soon began to leave. I think I’d be embarrassed for the musicians in such a situation. They stuck it for a while and then left themselves joining me in the Dig The City Den back on St. Ann’s Square where the jazz was more traditional, the beer was cold and the sun shone. The concert was free and we had a good time. It was a good day.

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