African garden in Cheshire
PUBLISHED: 11:13 15 January 2010 | UPDATED: 16:07 20 February 2013
An African style plantation home and garden has been created right here in Cheshire, thanks to the inspired vision of Dominic and Kate Baldwin
Stalking around the grounds of your new home in the middle of the night wearing only a head torch, Wellington boots and boxer shorts isn't the most welcoming of starts - especially when you're a new wife and a self-confessed 'city girl' who is really longing for her city centre comforts.
But today Dominic and Kate Baldwin, who own Moss Wood in Toft, are the poster couple for domestic bliss. Sitting in the huge glass atrium overlooking their own lake on the fringes of a country estate it all seems more than worth it. Ducks Billy and Daisy are sprawled out in the afternoon sun as Kate pulls freshly baked rock cakes from the Aga and Dominic recalls the first time he set eyes on their home.
'I used to go for a run around this area when we lived in Knutsford. I was always fascinated by the house. One day I was in town and I noticed the particulars for it in the estate agents window.
'Coincidentally Kate's parents were visiting us and they'd driven past the house and seen there was an auction on and asked if we wanted to go. I held the details up and said, "It wouldn't be this one would it?" When we arrived the road was lined with huge cars and we pulled up in our old banger. It must have been meant to be.'
Moss Wood was first built in the 1930s by a Canadian bachelor who wanted his home to resemble an east African tea plantation. It was an upside down house with the master's quarters on the first floor accessed by its own private stairway. A balcony ran around the entire house with servants' quarters on the bottom floor.
It was then bought by Belle and Eric Crossfield, members of the Tatton Garden Society, who lived there for around 50 years. Eric passed away and Belle lived there until she died, aged 96, 15 years later.
Dominic said: 'The work those two did to keep the house going must have been incredible, particularly in the gardens. I think after Eric died it was difficult for Belle to manage.
'There was a lot of work to be done when we moved in but it's been a gradual process. Locally, people call this the wacky house, and I guess it is a little, but we just love it.'
Oak, from Eastern Europe, plays a role in the house - from the beams running across the ceiling to the shutters and window frames. In keeping with the African plantation theme, they have styled a guest bedroom with colonial influences.
The Baldwins have added many personal touches. They have mixed old furniture with the more contemporary elements of their home. All around is furniture handed down by family, some they have collected on their travels - they have both climbed Mount Kilimanjaro - and their enormous dining table was rescued from the clutches of a skip.
While many of us would be envious of the home the couple has created, there are probably few who would relish the work put in by Dominic since buying it in 2001.
The 42-year-old, who runs a wealth management company with 33-year-old Kate, brought in Polish workers to help build their new home. Many fixtures were salvaged, restored and fitted back into the premises. The former garage doors are now the entrance gates to their grounds, they have kept the workings for an original dumbwaiter to put back in at some point and they have salvaged the original doors and brackets for the window shutters. Dominic, also found old railway sleepers and created from them the fence surrounding the front of the property. An original fireplace in their upstairs lounge now too takes pride of place.
As you would expect Moss Wood has become a vital part of their lives. Their son Jensen was born just weeks before they completed the project. Dominic proposed in the grounds and the couple tied the knot in a marquee at the side of the house.
Both got to grips with the house renovation but they needed a little help with the vast gardens and woods. Dominic explained: 'With Belle and Eric's links to the garden society I decided to write to the RHS to see if there was anyone who could help us.
'Peter Lofthouse, a craftsmen gardener from Tatton Park was available and he knew the house. His knowledge has been invaluable. He told me that some of the trees we have here take pride of place in Kew Gardens.
'We've done so much work on the garden but it will need more. We've had students from Reeseheath College here helping us. We have a patch of Acers that we found in between all the overgrown woods. I was on my hands and knees looking through the green to try and see which ones were plants and which were weeds.'
With Peter and two-year-old Jensen's help, Dominic and Kate have breathed life into the gardens that would once have been the pride and joy of Belle and Eric Crossfield. They have planted more than 100 bird boxes and bat boxes to attract wildlife, the plants are blooming with colour and life and there is even a small wooden tree house. They also have plans to do work on another section of land they have affectionately termed pig wood.
Kate, who lectures at The College of Law in Manchester, explained: 'When we married we found out we were getting six pigs as our wedding present. The pigs will trample down and eat a lot of the overgrown parts and then we can start work on it.
'I love the house but it has been a huge project. When I was living here with no heating it was difficult, especially when you're expecting your first child.'
The couple have certainly put their blood, sweat and tears into this eight-year project and there is no doubt Moss Wood is an incredible achievement. With the help of Peter Lofthouse, now a family friend, and enthusiastic pupils from Reeseheath College, they have created a home with style, finesse and protected the legacy of the Canadian bachelor who built it.