The Storey Gardens are attached to the Storey Institute, which was built to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee. It was paid for by local entrepreneur and philanthropist, Thomas Storey, its purpose to be ‘the promotion of Art, Science, Literature and Technical Instruction.’
The walled gardens are recorded as being used for gardens and orchards as far back as the 1600s. In the 2nd World War they provided space for air raid shelters, for outdoor recreation for young evacuees, and as a plot in the Dig for Victory campaign.
In the 1980s ownership of the gardens was transferred to Lancaster City Council. By the early 1990s they had become overgrown and unused. Having re-established use of the magnificent but neglected art gallery in the Storey Institute, Storey Gallery was keen to open up the unused gardens and work with an artist to do that.
Storey Gallery attracted funding from ArtTranspennine98, an internationally significant project across the North of England which commissioned a series of contemporary public artworks across the Transpennine Corridor, to fund the creation of The Tasting Garden: An environmental artwork created by celebrated American artist Mark Dion.
The Tasting Garden is a site specific, living landscape. It is a testimony to the labour and skills of generations of men and women who cultivated varieties of fruit, some now endangered or extinct. It is a moving tribute to Lancaster’s history, to community gardens and to the allotments which may be the guarantors of future biodiversity.
The Tasting Garden was Mark Dion’s first major commission in the UK and the only freely accessible piece of his public work in Europe. His subsequent commissions in this country include pieces for Tate London, Natural History Museum, Folkstone Triennial, and Porthmeor Studios, St Ives.
The Storey Gardens, including The Tasting Garden, were successfully open to the public from 1998 and this tranquil green space in the city center was popular and well used.
In 2006 the Storey buildings began a large-scale refurbishment, overseen by a private company (which later went into administration). At this time the building and gardens were closed to the public and during this time the bronzes fruits were stolen and plinths broken, destroying large parts of the public artwork which constitute The Tasting Garden. The gardens became inaccessible and remained closed.
Responsibility for the site returned to Lancaster City Council, which has since completed extensive repairs to the historic walls surrounding the gardens.