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The Sale garden that boasts leafy plants, sculptures, a pond and an extraordinary grotto

PUBLISHED: 11:02 08 October 2012 | UPDATED: 22:01 20 February 2013

Inside the grotto

Inside the grotto

There's plenty to see in Gordon Cooke's garden in Sale: leafy plants, sculptures, a pond and an extraordinary grotto. Keith Plant paid a visit<br/>WORDS AND PICTURES BY KEITH PLANT

I liked my garden so much, I bought the one next door to develop it, says Gordon Cooke at his home in the suburbs of Sale.

Gordon combines his gardening passion with sculpture in his studio house extension. This means that my garden is a gallery and selling place as well as a social space, he continues with a benign enthusiasm that suggests a person contented with his lot so much so that hes been living his double life for 35 years.

Its certainly a wonderful space, packed with plants from modest papavers to exotic bananas. The garden is south-west facing and surrounded by buildings, fences and walls so theres a lot of protection from frost. The soil is free-draining and sandy which means that it can be worked throughout the year.

The sculpture is liberally sprinkled around the planting. There are lots of small ceramic works, full of gentle curves reminiscent of swirling leaves that act as sophisticated containers for smaller plants. And a series of taller, more imposing installations that are usually made of stone. Its a very harmonious and endlessly alluring combination.

Pride of place is a quite extraordinary grotto, set deep into stone for shelter so that the great outdoors can be enjoyed in most weathers. Its literally an outdoor indoor room with tables, chairs, ornaments, a sink and even a homely fire which can be used for cooking. Of course its packed with Gordons sculpture. The living roof of the grotto is extensively planted so that its blends into the landscape.

The story began with Gordon as a farmers son learning how to propagate. This led to training as a landscape gardener for three years in the 1970s before it became trendy and Gordon took on commissions. At the same time he was making pots as a hobby and slowly the sculpture became more important than gardening. He bought his current house in 1986 and immediately set to work on the garden, selling his work at craft markets while still designing the odd garden.

He clearly has an eye for business alongside his artistic side: this lucrative and successful combination enabled him to buy the house next door which was seriously dilapidated so that he could extend his garden and restore the house. And he still has plans:I want to take all that out and build a curved brick wall there next spring.

Its very much a town garden but the wide-ranging planting means that you arent aware of the urban environment and its full of surprises as you wander around the winding paths. Suddenly theres a gooseberry bush laden with fruit, then alliums supporting lots of urban insect life and then a surprisingly formal pool which ought to look out of place but doesnt.

The next step was buying a property in Portugal where he spends the winters and also has a fine garden giving him the chance to extend his interest in exotic species. There arent many people who can maintain a garden in two countries simultaneously. He also finds time to teach small groups the joys of pottery.

Clearly Gordon is a busy man, but he welcomes visitors to see his work. Its worth taking a look at his website: www.gordoncooke.co.uk as a source of inspiration.

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