Dramatic urban gardens in Didsbury

PUBLISHED: 00:00 07 September 2017 | UPDATED: 18:38 07 September 2017

Looking down part of the garden from the patio by the house in William Godfrey’s garden

Looking down part of the garden from the patio by the house in William Godfrey’s garden

Linda Viney

Living in a busy urban area needn’t stop you creating a little quiet corner for yourself. Linda Viney visits Didsbury.

We may dream of turning our gardens into a sanctuary but few of us achieve it. However, I recently met three gardeners who have come very close to their ideal.

They are all based in Didsbury Village on the southern edge of Manchester. They and four others are part of the National Garden Scheme, opening on Sundays in May and June most years to raise money for charity.

Anne Britt, who lives in Brooklawn Drive, has been a designer for 25 years and specialises in cottage garden styles and she also holds ten week courses to teach the subject.

So her own garden should be a stunner – and it is, of course; a testament to her style with what looked to me like a Gertrude Jekyll approach to design. She and her husband, Jim, who is happy to be the labourer, moved there 16 years ago.

One of the many roses in Anne and Jim Britt’s cottage gardenOne of the many roses in Anne and Jim Britt’s cottage garden

‘I drew the plan on the back of an envelope and I’ve spent the last few years finally achieving it,’ Anne said, as we wandered through her garden accompanied by the perfume from her roses.

I remarked on all the artefacts she had. ‘EBay is a wonderful source, as are reclamation and builders’ yards,’ she explained, pointing out a window frame which she had backed with a mirror to bring light into a dark area.

A water feature made from a metal tank caught her eye because of the rivets and an old hand pump provided the gentle sound of running water. Gravel paths in a figure of eight lead us round and, despite the garden being fairly small, there is an illusion of it being much larger. Towards the rear of the garden there’s a summerhouse and a wooden jetty over a pond.

Anne believes gardens should be a sanctuary but tranquillity was not much in evidence when she had a telephone call from a television production team wanting to feature her garden in Alan Titchmarsh’s ‘Love Your Garden’ programme.

Crittals window frame with mirror and water tank water feature in Anne and Jim Britt’s gardenCrittals window frame with mirror and water tank water feature in Anne and Jim Britt’s garden

‘I went into panic mode,’ Anne said. ‘All the things that needed doing! But finally the garden was chosen and Alan came. Two friends were called in to help, flowering plants added, seating areas dressed and titivation everywhere. A farewell kiss on each cheek from Alan made it all worthwhile as I sat down exhausted from the day with a glass of Prosecco.’

Leaving Anne’s garden, I then went off to The Drive to discover another beautifully tranquil garden where you can see countless shades of green among an array of deciduous plants and trees as well as shade-loving evergreens with varying textures.

It was created by Peter Clare following his purchase of the property in 1999 when the site was pretty much derelict. He was joined there by Sarah Keedy six years ago. They are both passionate about wildlife and do everything to encourage it into the garden – including foxes. They are also passionate gardeners and their plot comes into its own in spring with flowering bulbs bringing a splash of welcoming colour. There are numerous artefacts placed all around and there’s even an old army ambulance which is shielded on three sides with bamboo screening while the roof is planted up with sempervivums. This is their ‘shed’.

Alpine troughs and rockery areas take you on a journey and trees forming the boundaries ensure privacy. Seated areas allow you to view the garden from different aspects and clipped box adds formality. I noticed how creative people are with their summerhouses, complimenting the style of the owners much as houses do in their furnishings.

Rambling rose up wall of house in William Godfrey’s gardenRambling rose up wall of house in William Godfrey’s garden

William Godfrey lives at Moor Cottage within a short walk of the busy high street in a Georgian house. A door from the house opens onto a beautiful large family garden where, again, roses feature prolifically. They have had an amazing season this year. The large patio area has plenty of seating which he and his pupils from the Language School he runs can enjoy. He also does garden courses.

‘These are great fun and of course gardening is universal and a great way to learn a language,’ he said. His garden is divided into different areas with each one having its own charm. Archways invite you through as you catch a glimpse of each vista. Herbaceous plants and shrubs are very much a feature and rambling roses abound, both over a pergola and training over the wall of the house.

One of the first features he wanted to show me was the very tall echium which he said was 18 feet. Its young offspring were starting to grow in the soil below, ready to shoot up to the sky next year. He also showed me how he manages to keep a gunnera under control by placing it in a pot. We followed on, passing a shady area with attractive tree roots and ferns before coming to the vegetable garden where he also has pots of dahlias, a flower he loves.

An auricula ‘theatre’ is placed on a red brick wall where an old tin bath hangs. Again, in this garden there are quirky corners and features while clipped box adds to the formality. His space is so tranquil and peaceful because the trees and hedges absorb noise from the busy road just a stone’s throw away.

If you are looking for sanctuary in a city setting, make a note in your diary for a trip to Didsbury next year. I’ll certainly be going back.


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