A garden in the sky

An artist impression showing what this 'sky park' above Castlefield could look like

Creating an accessible green space in the heart of the city is a key part of the viaduct project. We’ve already got lots of plans for the garden that will take up half of the deck, with the aim of creating interest and a nature-filled retreat all year round.

The selection of plants has been inspired by the existing vegetation, while also wanting to create a unique garden setting. The garden team will be trying out new planting techniques, working with limited growing depths and untested growing conditions. The planting will take a little while to establish and will develop through the seasons with the care of our Castlefield Gardener and volunteers.

Garden areas

The Welcome Area planting gives a hint of a cultivated space and is an introduction to the planting you’ll experience on the viaduct. This area will feature some garden versions of more familiar native species such as spurges, elder and broom.

After the Welcome Area you’ll find yourself on the ‘Naked viaduct’, which will be left untouched to provide a sense of how nature has reclaimed the space since the site was closed in the late 1960s. This area really shines in the autumn, when existing species like Sorbus and Cotoneaster create swathes of russet, red and gold.

The ‘Secret Garden’ area will be at its peak from July to October, supported by dense foliage planting in a range of textures and colours. The canopy will be filled with half hardy annual climbers which will tumble across and hang down as you approach the building. .

There’ll also be some experimental planting with areas using peat free compost filled hessian sand bags to support plant growth through the viaduct's ballast.

The National Trust’s Plant Conservation Centre has been growing some of the more specialist plants and the garden team and volunteers at Dunham Massey are also helping to grow plants for the viaduct.

Year-round interest

The chosen plants will provide a long season of interest. During the summer months, the focus falls on densely planted ferns, grasses and many herbaceous perennials. The raised elevation and the structure of the viaduct will create ever-shifting light, highlighted by swathes of grasses that will move with the wind and reflect the golden tones of summer evenings.

During autumn and winter species like Sorbus and Guelder rose will come to the fore, adding splashes of colour through foliage and berries. Our gardening team will be planting bulbs on a regular basis and assessing and adding to the planting to make sure there’s plenty to see throughout the year.

Links to the city

Many of the species used have connections to the local area, such as cotton grass which is Manchester’s county flower as it grows on local moorland and hints at the city’s industrial cotton mill heritage.

The planters separating the partner plots are underplanted with winter flowering hellebores and native ferns, some of which are included in Manchester Museum’s herbarium collections. Elsewhere you’ll find oak trees underplanted with the Red Rose of Lancaster, reflecting the partnership between the National Trust and the people of Manchester.

We’ll be keeping a close eye on the garden to see how it gets on over the next 12 months, and taking every opportunity to learn from this experimental ‘sky park’ project. Please do share your thoughts with us when you visit, and let us know how you’d like to see the viaduct garden develop in the future.