The Forest Side Garden & Grounds
The Forest Side was originally built on the site of an earlier farm, for notable Manchester Solicitor Stephen Heelis, in 1853, as a statement of position and wealth.
He didn’t stint on the gardens either, planting extensive pleasure gardens with Rhododendrons the dominant planting scheme – the very height of fashion, with rare and exotic specimens brought back to these shores from China and the Himalayas by some of the great Victorian plant hunters.
Plant hunters who to this day have an influence on many a traditional English garden, you will probably note Lilies (Lilium regale), with their white trumpets dusted with purple and their lingering fragrance – these were introduced to our shores by Ernest “Chinese” Wilson in 1900’s.
Perhaps the greatest collector of them all was George Forrest, who during his career collected over 31,000 plant specimens, introducing many new varieties of Rhododendrons. Forrest also discovered Camellia saluenensis, which formed the basis of the hardy Williams hybrid camellias, which grow in gardens all over the country.
By 2014, the Rhododendrons here at Forest Side had taken over – some of them were the height of trees! This meant that Forest Side was a dark and gloomy place, with overgrown unloved gardens. So the garden team rolled up their sleeves and removed every single Rhododendron (a carrier of Sudden Oak Death, which attacks native species of tree) to bring in light, remove the risk of disease to established trees and help protect animal and bird habitats, including that of our resident Red squirrels.
There are a number of other original Victorian features dotted about in the gardens, including an old Fernery, based around a small pool fed by a mountain stream, which over time will be restored to its former glory. Just off the main entrance driveway you can see a collection of huge limestone monoliths – this folly in the form of a stone circle is also a bit of a fashion statement and marks the Victorian interest in the ‘Celtic Revival’. We’ve planted this area up with Ferns and Primroses to accentuate the stones.
Forest Side is also fortunate enough to have its own Fellside, which is home to a herd of Roe Deer, Red Squirrels and native plant species, including Foxgloves, Wood Sorrel and Common Sorrel.