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Merseyside History, Liverpool Garden Festival

What was it?

THE International Garden Festival took place in 1984 from 2 May to 14 October on a site in the old south docks area by the Dingle and was the first event of this kind to have been held in the UK. 

In 2 years, 500 firms and thousand of workers coordinated by Merseyside Development Corporation had transformed 125 acres of rubbish and neglect into an imaginative and undulating parkland. The docks have been renovated, the riverside landscaped and new industrial sites created.

Described as “a five-month pageant of horticultural excellence and spectacular entertainment”, the event presented more than 60 individual gardens and a succession of floral displays and competitions. Thirty countries took part in the event and twenty of them had major gardens outside during the whole of the festival, reflecting their own national horticultural tradition and their culture.

The Festival grounds was divided in four sections:-

- the permanent features, with the Festival Hall, the Arena and Arena Theatre, the water features, the Marine Esplanade and the Pathway of Honour;
- the national themes, illustrating many aspects of gardening in Britain;
- the international themes, presenting every continent and a wide range of climate;
- the home and gardens features, with show-houses and their gardens.

Impact/repercussions on local life:-

The Festival was at the time a means for the government to stimulate the regeneration of inner city areas and improve the environment of local people. 

A lot of repercussions were expected in term of tourism and trade. The Festival was the occasion to generate important and wealthy flows, intermingling and cross-fertilization, stimulating the local activities as well as through the country.

3.4 millions of visitors walked and discover the activities of the Festival during five months.

At this time, Liverpool was this kind of city burdened by high unemployment and low morale. The ability to organise a event on a such scope brought vigor and new life into the area.

The Festival and its aftermath:-

What was planned?

AFTER the Festival, part of the site should be converted into leisure and recreational facilities, with the Festival Hall as a major venue. Another part should be available for housing and industrial purposes, such as the show-houses and their garden, which should be sold for private occupation and the development, extended. There also should be left a wide parkland, a number of specialist gardens and a Riverside walkway.

What happened?

HALF of the original Festival grounds have been indeed used for a residential housing development. For the rest of the site, after a few attempts of conversion into entertainment facilities, the place remained empty, abandoned and deteriorating over the last 20 years. The lease has changed hands several times. And in order to counter the risk of misuse, of the site, by not very scrupulous builders and contractors, the organisation Garden Festival Campaign has been founded, in 2002, by a group of south Liverpool residents.
In May 2004 a deal was finally concluded, selling in  a multi-million pound deal, the site from Planestation Group, formerly known as Wiggins, to Haydock-based Langtree Group, which plans a residential and leisure scheme. The sale seems to have been welcomed by the Council leaders.
On June 30th, the festival site has won a historic award for being the most influential landscape development in Britain, built since 1970. Dr John Ritchie, former director of development for the Merseyside Development Corporation, has received the award, granted by the Landscape Institute.

In 2004 hope remains that something may be on the way to take advantage of this exceptional and historical land.


International Garden Festival (1984) Festival Guide, Liverpool 1984. 2 May to 14 October.  Published by 
Brunswick Printing & Publishing Co. Ltd.
BBC (22 April 2004) Garden Festival-20 years on.
JAMES, Deborah (30 June 2004) Garden festival proves it's still best in BritainGarden festival proves it's still best in Britain. Daily Post. 
HOOKHAM, Mark (14 May 2004) Garden Festival deal at last. Daily Post. 
HOOKHAM, Mark (29 April 2004) New deal for derelict Garden Festival site. Daily Post. 
MCDONOUGH, Tony (19 March 2004) Decision time for Festival site. Daily Post. 

Useful links:- The Garden Festival Campaign 

Historical research conducted by Alexia Wodli.

Mersey Reporter and Liverpool Reporter are Trade Marks of Patrick Trollope.