When we first heard of the Art Garden opened to public in June 2016 at the Whitworth, part of the University of Manchester, we couldn't help falling in love with this beautiful project. Not only does it bring together nature, gardening and museum space, but also it has an important social component. Created together with fabulous Jo Malone fragrances, renowned garden designer Sarah Price, and the GROW project, the Art Garden is aimed for people experiencing social isolation or living with mental ill health. Jo Malone as well as the GROW project have long been supporting people with mental health difficulties. The fragrance brand famous for its beautiful natural smells believes that the cultivation and care of therapeutic gardens can well serve the healing purpose and introduce new aspects to art therapy. The Art Garden, run by volunteers, is a place to recover, grow, reconnect with community and find a peaceful place for rehabilitation. It is a learning aspect that encourages individuals to get together and through horticultural skills connect to other people. Sarah Price's beautiful garden designs include some of the most famous Jo Malone ingredients like aromatic peonies, sage, geranium and so much more. Impatient to learn more about this incredible initiative of an utmost social importance, we spoke to Francine Hayfron, the Whitworth cultural park keeper.

The Whitworth is a beautiful place for such a great initiative as Art Garden. How did this partnership start and why was it interesting for the museum?

The Art Garden, which officially opened in June 2016, has been created by renowned garden designer, Sarah Price, in partnership with the Whitworth’s GROW Project and Jo Malone London. The Whitworth is hugely excited to embark upon this new partnership and we were delighted when Jo Malone London approached us to become one of their supported philanthropic projects. We are very much looking forward to the growth of this very special garden in which art, plants and wellbeing coexist.

Prominent garden designer Sarah Price relished the opportunity to work on the landscape designs for the Whitworth, to bring together art and imaginative planting for the benefit of a wide range of people from the local community and visitors from far and beyond.

Have you had any projects for people with mental health difficulties before at the Whitworth?

Yes, the Whitworth has delivered many of these projects over the past 13 years. A large percentage of which were delivered in partnership with START Manchester, Manchester Mental Health & Social Care Trust and a 2year project called ‘Who Cares? If you only see the illness you miss the person’, with children from Galaxy House, a residential psychiatric unit at Central Manchester University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.

Credit: Andrew Sawyer Photography
Credit: Andrew Sawyer Photography
Credit: Andrew Sawyer Photography
Credit: Andrew Sawyer Photography

What was the role of the Whitworth curators and educational department in the Art Garden project?

With the support of Jo Malone London and the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, the Whitworth’s Horticultural Wellbeing program GROW, which is delivered as part of the Learning and Engagement program, has provided its beneficiaries with the opportunity to work with professional horticulturalists to help create and maintain the Art Garden, alongside our art gardener volunteer team and volunteers from Jo Malone London. During the weeks of the build, participants have had the opportunity to work alongside the designer Sarah Price and the gallery team, to plant up the garden into the final design.

Are there any special events or activities planned for the Art Garden?

The Art Garden will be a space for outdoor events and horticultural programs, such as GROW. Engagement takes place in the space whenever possible.

How do you find audience for the project? Are you collaborating with any art therapy associations?

We do not directly collaborate with art therapy associations but the GROW project receives referrals from Primary Care and Community Liaison coordinators working within the Manchester Mental Health and Social Trust’s Psychological services, Occupational Therapists and also from the Student Wellbeing Services. We also directly identify groups in the community that may be experiencing social isolation or who are generally looking to improve their mental wellbeing.

Credit: Andrew Sawyer Photography
Credit: Andrew Sawyer Photography
Credit: Andrew Sawyer Photography
Credit: Andrew Sawyer Photography

How long will the garden be at the Whitworth?

The Art Garden is a permanent fixture at the Whitworth.

Museeum is all about sensorial experiences and the possibility to enjoy art through smell is extremely interesting. How do you at the Whitworth feel about integrating senses in a museum experience?

Sensory learning and engagement is at the core of all our learning and engagement programs and activities.

Please share with us what other projects/initiatives you had at the garden before and how important this outdoor space is for the museum?

The ‘indoors outdoors’ initiative is central to the ethos of the Whitworth. Margaret Pilkington, the gallery’s first female director, said in 1932, “a good museum or gallery should be a place where people feel comfortable. If it stands in a garden or park, the visitors should be able to enjoy the beauty of the outdoors as a counterpoint to what is within.” Five years ago this space was unloved and unkempt, now this space is an urban sanctuary in the heart of the city, where people can come to pause for a moment and escape the everyday.

Recently there have been a lot of projects in the museum world connecting art and nature. Have you heard of any that you particularly liked?

Jupiter Artland near Wilkieston, in West Lothian, Scotland continues to be a very inspiring environment.

Can you share with us any exciting future plans for the Whitworth Garden? Perhaps for next summer?

Along with continuing our engagement outdoors, next summer we plan to install new sculpture in the art garden.