Inflatable art, pop-up forests and Monty Don: Dig the City comes to Manchester

Phoebe Hurst

The urban gardening festival returns to the city centre this August.

Manchester harbours many an unexpected thing within its urban sprawl. A sixteenth century hop kiln with a year-round barbecue? Try The Oast House. A public toilet that found a new lease of life as a pub? Strangely enough, that would be The Temple. A hidden observatory? Yep, got that too, courtesy of Sackville Building’s Godlee Observatory. But when it comes to gardens, the city draws an uncharacteristic blank. Manchester may have an abundance of questionable watering holes and secretive telescopes but flowers and grass prove slightly harder.

In spite of this, Manchester’s defiantly concrete exterior will bloom into life this August as it hosts the country’s only urban gardening festival. Dig the City features picnics, flower markets and gardening workshops aimed at bringing greenery into urban spaces and encouraging sustainable food production. The nine-day festival is supported by the National Trust and takes over St. Ann’s Square, King’s Street and Cathedral Yard, as well as Exchange Square, which will be transformed into a forest for the duration of the event.

It seems that Manchester can add “pastoral wonderland” to its list

In amongst the foliage, the Dig the City also stages two talks from horticultural high priest, Monty Don who takes to the festival’s Exchange Square hub to discuss the importance of encouraging children to garden. The Gardeners’ World presenter will also reflect on his experience of dealing with depression through gardening and hopes to “inspire, encourage and inform” green-fingered visitors of all ages. Meanwhile, Manchester Museum and the Whitworth will be rolling up their sleeves and “going green” with a workshop that explores the history of allotments.

Dig the City culminates with the release of three enormous latex balloons designed by American artist Jason Hackenwerth. The sculptures will be created with the help of volunteers during the festival’s launch before being unleashed from a boom lift in Exchange Square over the second weekend. Inspired by Manchester’s long held connection with the honeybee and the interaction between man and nature, Hackenwerth’s installation has been specially commissioned for the festival. So despite an initial aversion to greenery, it seems that Manchester can add “pastoral wonderland” to its extensive list of attributes. Now, what was that Ian Brown said about Manchester having everything but a beach…?

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