but the spirit of the glasshouse was undeniably broken.
Beneath, Dave’s bullet points continued with the
I remember thinking: there is nothing more broken than a
geographical origin of the garden’s plants, listed like an
broken glasshouse. I was with Dave Kelly, Senior Horticultural
imperialist’s mantra – Europe, North America, South
Officer, at Liverpool City Parks Department HQ in
America, the Middle and Far East, the Pacific Islands,
Calderstones Park. He said: people think that once the last
Australia and Russia – the world, in fact. The first botanic
botanic gardens closed in the eighties, all the plants were
garden was so successful that it outgrew the facility, Dave
lost. They have forgotten that this vast collection exists. He
said. So they built a bigger one further out of the city at a place
added: The plant collections are thriving, they just don’t have a
permanent home. It was cold and we went back to his office. I
On the next page of his presentation, headed ‘Botanic
asked if there was a book or history about the gardens or the
Garden at Wavertree’ came reproductions of picture
collections, but Dave said none existed. He had photographs
postcards, images of Victorian splendour showing a great
though. First he produced a CD of dozens of images of
domed glasshouse flanked by huge gleaming wings, bearing
plants, each isolated against a primary coloured background.
the legend ‘Palmhouse, Botanic Gardens Liverpool.’ Here
It looked like a psychedelic nursery catalogue. There were
Dave’s bullet points highlighted royal visits from Queen
pictures of little pots of leafy Coleus some palms and orchids.
Victoria and Czar Alexander II, of the change of hands of
Nothing to set the heart racing. One picture showed a white
the gardens from private ownership to a public popular
orchid with bright pink spots. To me, it looked as though
attraction and in capitals ‘IN 1850 ALMOST 40% OF THE
it was a victim of some vicious orchid pox, the colour of its
POPULATION VISITED’ as though tempting prospective
affliction heightened by the intense sky-blue backdrop.
funders of today with the potential visitor numbers that
Dave then got out a power-point presentation of the history
might be attracted by any future garden. The last bullet point
of the gardens; he had put it together a year before to try
read ‘The Collection continued to grow until 1941, but the
and raise awareness amongst local community groups.
glasshouse was destroyed in the blitz.’ What happened to the
The first page said ‘City of Liverpool Botanical Collection
plants? I asked. They were taken into safe keeping, Dave said.
1803–2005’ and featured the Liverpool crest – a Liver bird
I asked if there were any remnants of either garden. The
rampant with a sprig of foliage in its beak. For a moment
first one’s all gone, built over, Dave said. There’s a footprint
I wondered if the sprig was symbolic – was it a plant from
of the old glasshouse and garden at Wavertree.
one of the former botanic gardens? On the second page was a heading ‘Origins of the
Turning the final pages, Dave showed me images of the third and last garden, styled ‘Harthill Botanic Gardens’.
Collection’ beneath which Dave had posted a portrait from
He pointed to a black and white aerial photograph of a vast
the nineteenth century. It was of a noble man of about 60
range of low industrial looking glasshouses. Dave told me
years, seated cross-legged in a red armchair with quill and
that this futuristic, yet functional sequence had been built
paper to hand, turning toward the viewer as if momentarily
after the war as the Council’s plant propagation nursery, but
pausing from his work. All around him were ranged the
the mundane municipal bedding stock (the salvias of civic
presumed articles of his labour – books, a globe and behind
pride) had slowly given way to the exiled tropical plants from
him a swathe of lush red curtaining artfully drawn back to
the earlier bombed garden. There was an interior scene – a
reveal a library strewn with sunlight. That’s William Roscoe,
beautiful ferny greenhouse and a map of the site, orientated
said Dave. He founded the Botanical Collection. It was his vision.
to match the aerial photograph. Two final bullet points were
Dave then said, quietly: we seem to have lost some of his original
on this page, the first again in capitals:
ideas. He turned the page: this was the first botanic garden, he said, pointing to a beautiful engraving of a long low Georgian glasshouse framed by magnificent trees. Beside it was a delicate plan of the layout of the garden, a triangular shaped plot, bounded by streets named, it seemed, after the plants of biblical times – Myrtle, Laurel and Olive. With its neatly divided rows of botanical ‘family’ beds, stove-house, ponds and curator’s lodge it reminded me of plans I had seen of the early botanic gardens of Padua and Pisa. It was as if a
THE CITY REPRESENTED BRITAIN AT INTERNATIONAL SHOWS INCLUDING PARIS, COLOGNE, VIENNA AND THE FLORIADE AMSTERDAM, AND ALSO EXHIBITED AT HARROGATE AND CHELSEA.
And last of all: The glasshouses were demolished in 1984. Dave said: People are under the impression that when the
template of renaissance Italy had been lightly placed upon
glasshouses were dismantled at Harthill that the plants were
this corner plot of northwest England.
thrown away too. But it wasn’t the orchids that were being put
Published on Oct 14, 2012
'Mr Roscoe's Garden' is a key outcome of The Fragrant Liverpool project. Conceived by Jyll Bradley, this is a unique international art proje...