Dig the City is Manchester’s urban gardening festival.

In the past, ‘urban’ and ‘gardening’ were never uttered in the same breath because most green spaces in cities comprised unused city parks, the only flora and fauna being the trees that the Victorians planted and the dog shit left behind by pet owners. Green spaces in Manchester during the 1980s became synonymous with crime; some parks were neck and neck with the Arndale Centre for muggings, beatings and street sellers who chased you down the road. It has taken decades for the city of Manchester to catch up with the idea that green spaces are productive places rather than areas to host pop concerts or provide spill-over parking for these gigs.

For the past two years, Dig the City has been the vanguard of a new way of thinking; akin to a guerrilla operation, the organisers hit the city, build gardens, pull in gardeners from all over and make shop and office workers that little bit happier in their lunchtime hour. I suspect that while Dig the City was in Manchester productivity went through the roof, such is the power of green spaces to promote positive health.

Best-in-Show-and-Gold-medal-Hulme-Community-Garden-Centre’s-edible-tunnelExcuse the gardening pun but Dig the City has not rested on its laurels. On King Street this year it revealed a tour de force in small, sustainable city gardens. We met Clive and Emma from Growing in the City, Bridge College & Manchester Mind at the bus stop. As buses don’t run down King Street they’d built their own stop – a sign of Northern optimism – waiting patiently for the 219 bus (you can listen to our online interview with them here). It wasn’t just any bus stop, it was a recycled community bus stop complete with green roof, vertical growing and edible walls planted with herbs, fruit and vegetables. For us, this installation was the best in show because it displayed a remarkable community spirit and the positive impact of growing food in the city. They came away with a Silver Gilt.

The great thing about Dig the City is that it embraces community groups from around Manchester, and this was reflected this year in the overall best in show garden, which was by Hulme Community Garden Centre. These guys created an edible garden tunnel that, on the day we were there, provided shelter from the rain and challenged how we grow. Fruit arches are fabulous things and can be used over paths in front gardens to provide privacy and food. Hulme’s living arch incorporated elements of grow your own in a beautiful garden arch arcing from wooden planters. How they garden could be put in anyone’s small front garden and every front garden should have one. Hulme Community Garden Centre came away with Gold as did Ordsall Hall.

Dig the City is becoming a national gardening festival as well as a festival that celebrates all the North has to offer. I hope it goes from strength to strength; even if you don’t garden it will damn well make you want to.

By Andrew Oldham

Main image: Bridge College & Manchester Mind Show Garden




Life on Pig Row is the story of Andrew and Carol Oldham’s lives as they raise Little D. It all takes place 1,330 feet above sea level in a small hamlet on top of the Pennines surrounded by the Yorkshire Moors. Pig Row is the tale of their move from a semi-urban life at Drovers to a more self-sufficientish lifestyle in their cottage set within a quarter of an acre. It’s not quite The Good Life but it’s getting there. Come take the road less travelled with Pig Row, you’ll find it makes all the difference.