As a youngster, SevenStreets visited the Liverpool Garden Festival and saw some incredible sights; including a man setting himself on fire and diving sixty feet into a small pool of water.
There were also the gardens, which were so good they impressed a six-year-old, a rare feat. Yet returning to the city 13 years later, SevenStreets was astonished to discover that virtually the whole site had been derelict for years.
The reasons appeared numerous and complicated; another bizarre quirk of the kind that Liverpool seems to be rather good at. That this wonderful site, this wonderful gift to the city had been left to rot seemed unthinkable.
That sentiment was apparently echoed by the foreign governments, who had sent their not-inconsiderable gifts of trees and shrubs to the Oriental gardens, only to see them abandoned to the elements and locked behind high steel fences.
There’s certainly a tale to be told regarding the Garden Festival site, and walking around the site now brings a peculiar mix of emotions to the fore.
For now, we’ll restrict ourselves to observations of the gardens that are currently being restored in time for a 2011 opening, courtesy of a £3.7m grant from the Northwest Regional Development Agency (NWDA).
The gardens will be a first phase of landowner Langtree and contractor Mayfield’s plans to redevelop the rest of the site when market conditions allow.
For now, work restoring the Japanese and Chinese gardens is proceeding apace, although there’s still something rather post-apocalyptic about the site, with its overgrown car-parks and obliterated remains.
Happily, many of the more remarkable artifacts on the site are recoverable; particularly the Chinese pavilion and pagoda. Still in existence, too, is the dragon slide, though the developers seemed unsure as to what they could do with it.
Many new features will sit side-by-side with the Oriental gardens, with the gardeners responsible for planting the original trees consulted on how best to look after them. Wildlife will slowly be reintroduced to the areas; though a thriving wildflower and insect habitat appears to be flourishing, fish within the remaining lakes were apparently killed off by a sewage leak last year.
That the site will be restored to its former glory is something to give thanks for; that the enthusiasm of the developers for the project is palpable is also pleasing.
The gardens will provide a much-needed connection from Riverside Drive to the promenade, and will hopefully provide a boost to an area of the city – stretching from the Dingle to Otterspool – that is, frankly, pretty weird.
Individuals will have to judge the results for themselves next year. For now, the fact that this remarkable site may take on a new lease of life – rather than a continued existence as some fading memorial, ravaged by nature – seems long overdue; a vital slice of Liverpool’s history rescued, perhaps just in time.