In the days of the transatlantic passenger liner, the English city of Liverpool was one of the world's premier ports, its hotels constantly filled with visitors from around the globe.
But today outsiders know little of the city beyond the fact that it gave the Beatles and their music to an appreciative world.
Now all that could change. The city has something new to show off: 125 acres of once-derelict dockside, rehabilitated and beautified beyond anything the original builders ever imagined. Moreover, it is to be the site this year of the first-ever International Garden Festival (May 2 through Oct. 14) held in Britain.
Not since the ''Merseyside Beat'' era of the 1960s, when the Beatles dominated popular music, has Liverpool offered so much to attract outsiders. Several million visitors - professional horticulturists, amateur gardeners, and town planners - are expected during the almost six-month-long festival.
As a local poetic phrase has it: ''There are hills now on the Cast Iron Shore and trees where nothing grew before.'' The Cast Iron Shore, that area of the riverfront where the festival will be staged, got its name from its proximity to a former iron foundry.
The hills have been built from the rubble of abandoned buildings. Covered with soil and planted with shrubs and trees, including some 30 feet tall, they have replaced the previously flat surroundings with an undulating landscape that has universal appeal.
More than 20 countries, including the United States, will display national gardens. Theme gardens along the riverfront will include a nursery garden, butterfly garden, bee garden, kitchen garden, sunken garden, vine garden, and alpine garden, to name just a few. There will be glass-house gardens, house-and-garden exhibits, and displays of garden furniture and equipment.
Because the city is so intimately connected with the Mersey River, fountains, streams, a canal, and waterwheel will be strong features of the landscape. And everything in the two-mile-long site will be connected via a narrow-gauge, steam-powered railroad.
For would-be North American visitors, two tour organizations have banded together under the name of Garden Tours International to provide 10- and 20-day visits to Britain with the Garden Festival as the principal focus. The tour will also take in London, Canterbury, Leeds, Edinburgh, and several other renowned garden centers, including Kew and Wisley Gardens.
Several United States garden writers will come along to host one or more of these tours. For details write to Garden Tours International, MCA Building, 484 Central Avenue, Newark, N.J. 07107.