The plants attract my attention, typical colonisers of cleared areas after a demolition or a fire: rosebay willowherb now in flower will produce tiny airborne seeds with a parachute made of hairs to carry it far away; seeding dock, dry and brown indicating that the season is late summer; coltsfoot leaves, all the flowers over and done with. These days you would see more buddleia and ragwort, both of them now high on the invasive weed list. Ragwort, poisonous to grazing animals is controlled by law. Buddleia bushes reach16 ft. in ideal conditions but clinging to inhospitable cracks in pavements and walls, they bide their time as shrubs a few inches tall. Three million tiny wind borne buddleia seeds are released by each flowering plant every year.
But this slide takes me further than a comparison of colonising plants. A quick search into the history of Hulme tells me that the area has been densely colonised by humans too. There have been two major demolition events in Hulme – cycles of development and decay with windows of opportunity for plants to grow. Nineteenth century terraced slums were demolished in the 1960s to be replaced by intensive housing developments. The four concrete Crescents alone, completed in 1972, housed 13,000 people with deck access and no gardens. The Crescents suffered from leaks, condensation, broken lifts, and cockroach and mice infestations which flourished in the hot water ducts. There were social problems too: vandalism, theft, drugs, suicide and deprivation labelled the Crescents as another notorious slum. By 1984 the conditions were so bad that the council stopped taking rent and in the early 90s the Crescents were demolished. In this faded slide there are bricks showing between the plant growth rather than broken concrete indicating that we are looking at the earlier demolition site.
Intrigued by the history, I take a walk through the MMU campus into Hulme to see if there are any visible clues to place the image on the slide. I find a derelict building with red and white brickwork at the end of Warwick Street, similar to the building in the slide. Most importantly, I find the Hulme Community Garden Centre, a place of unexpected joy and warmth which completes the circle: plants and humans thriving happily together.
Every slide holds a unique story for each person who cares to look for it.
Book Artist and MPhil/PhD Researcher, MIRIAD