Ness Botanic Gardens was born of one man's passionate interest
in plants and his desire to share that interest with others.
When the Liverpool cotton merchant Arthur Kilpin Bulley began to
create a garden in 1898, he laid the foundations of one of the
major botanic gardens in the United Kingdom.
Expeditions to the Far East
Bulley was interested in
introducing new plant species from abroad. As he believed
that Himalayan and Chinese mountain plants could be established in
Britain, he sponsored expeditions to the Far East employing the
renowned British plant collectors George Forrest and Frank Kingdon
Ward to prove his theory.
In this way Bulley was responsible for introducing hundreds of
new plants to Britain. Two species introduced by Forrest,
Rhododendron griersonianum and Camelia
saluenensis, have both been used in hybridisation programmes
resulting in many hybrids common in Britain today.
The beautiful blue Gentiana sino-ornata, in flower at
Ness in the autumn, is another of his introductions, and the Pieris
formosa 'Forrestii', which can be seen in all its glory on
the Specimen Lawn in spring, was actually grown from seed collected
by Forrest in China. Part of the Bulley's garden was devoted
to the propagation of these plants, and it was here that many of
the seeds from the Far East were first cultivated and where his
plant and seed company, Bees Ltd, had its beginnings.
Presented to The University of Liverpool
After his death, Bulley's daughter Lois presented the Gardens to
the University of Liverpool in 1948 with an endowment of
£75,000. There is a stipulation that they be kept as a botanic
gardens as a practical and fitting tribute to the memory of her
father. Bulley's policy of opening a specified area of
ornamental ground to the public was also to be continued.
These were not, however, the pre-war gardens
which had, at times, maintained a staff of 48. In the war
years only the elderly Josiah Hope and his assistant, Bill Cottrell
were left to care for the Gardens and, when the University
inherited them, the Gardens were in sore need of attention.
When Ken Hulme was appointed as Director in 1957, it presented
him with both a challenge and an opportunity. Bulley who was
interested in rare plants and massed flower displays but not,
garden design had compartmentalised the Gardens, separating one
area from another with Hawthorn hedges netted against
rabbits. Ken Hulme envisaged a more naturalistic setting for
the plants and spent the next three decades achieving his
During this period the size of the ornamental gardens increased
from 2.4 to 18.4 hectares (six to 46 acres) and superb collections
of Rhododendrons, Azaleas, Camellias, Cherries and Heathers were
To the present
Today, the commitment to maintain and develop the
beauty of the Gardens remains, but there is an increasing emphasis
on research, conservation and education of the public - areas
reflecting Bulley's original interests.
In addition, there has been an increased emphasis on educating
On a larger scale, the Horsfall Rushby Visitor Centre opened in
2006, featuring a central courtyard area with reception, indoor
cafe with outside seating area, shop, lecture theatre, conservatory
and exhibition space.