The sculpting of an unusual urban garden in Sale

PUBLISHED: 09:44 26 September 2018 | UPDATED: 09:44 26 September 2018

Eye-catching touches around Gordon's suburban garden

Eye-catching touches around Gordon's suburban garden

Linda Viney

Gordon Cooke’s artistic flair and horticultural know-how combine to create an unusual garden

Gordon Cooke and his garden in Sale: creativity everywhereGordon Cooke and his garden in Sale: creativity everywhere

A window opens up to reveal a garden full of surprises of texture and colour through the side gate of Gordon Cooke’s Victorian House in Sale, near Altrincham.

As a potter, teacher and designer for 40 years, he makes stoneware planters, sculptures and objects in concrete. His artistic skills shine throughout the garden which also doubles up as a display cabinet for his work, from statuesque monoliths to smaller pots filled with a complimentary choice of plants.

‘I believe pottery will leave a legacy long after I am gone, whereas plants won’t,’ Gordon explained. ‘Whether pots or artefacts get broken, bits of them may be discovered by archaeologists years hence. I do admit a few plants have survived through millennia like the Cycads.’

His father farmed on the Tatton estate and was a good grower though neither he nor his wife were gardeners. Gordon designed, created and looked after their garden there learning about plants as he went along. He then went off to art college and made a living doing landscape design but loved handling clay making pots in his spare time. This garden shows off both these skills as does the work he has had commissions for in Walkden Park.

Eye-catching touches around Gordon's suburban gardenEye-catching touches around Gordon's suburban garden

When Gordon and his partner Ian Chapman moved into this house in 1986 the garden was a wilderness full of Horsetail (Equisetum arvense), often called mare’s tail, it is an invasive, deep-rooted perennial weed that spreads, it requires a great deal of diligence to get rid of, removing it the minute it appears. Thankfully it has now been eradicated, but it did take about seven years. Their patience has been rewarded: it is now a stunning garden with vistas appearing as you wind your way around. Originally it had been a kitchen garden with an orchard of mainly apple and pear trees, now it is a showcase for Gordon’s designing skills both with plants and sculpture.

He is keen to recycle whenever possible and a path has been laid using an eclectic mix of tiles from the house and edging and features from bricks and slate. A new addition this year has been a bug hotel along one side of the pergola. It has a ‘window’ cut-out which gives a vista of the garden beyond. It is certainly a stylish, well though-out place for the creatures.

It is never long before you run out of space when designing a garden, so when the house next door came up for sale they immediately decided to buy it giving them room to extend the garden by removing the dividing fence. The house itself was renovated and is let.

Structure comes from the topiary shaped trees and neatly clipped copper beech which stands like a wall forming a backdrop to one of Gordon’s sculptures. One of the clipped holly trees sadly died but instead of taking it down it has been left, as the formation of the branches gives an unusual insight into the bare framework of a holly as it is evergreen and therefore doesn’t lose its leaves.

Waterlilies in the rill reflect in the water while a mirror placed in the hedge offers the illusion of a much longer rill and a sculpture in the rill adds extra interest. In another area dramatic monolith sculpture rises up out of the planting and the leaves of a phormium alongside compliment the triangular shape.

The buildings have created a microclimate providing ideal shelter for Gordon’s collection of half hardy and tender planting, some of which are rare.

The collection has been gathered over the years, plants seem to thrive on the sandy soil though they do need feeding and compost has been added over the years providing ideal conditions. A banana has to be overwintered but certainly adds a tropical statement.

A planted roof over the grotto with a cave creating a secret hidey hole is a quiet secluded area to relax in during the evening and enjoy a view of the garden. It is complete with running drinking water supplied from an old tap over a sink, one of the many recycled artefacts found in this place. The mosaic ceiling however to me is the main feature, naturally created by Gordon as are some of the ceramic pots planted mainly with sempervivums and succulents. Adjacent steps lead to a raised area where again you can sit, this time looking down over the garden.

One of the advantages of the dry hot summer has been the lack of slugs which to Gordon’s delight has meant the kniphofia has given a good show as it is normally a tasty dish for these pests.

Lilies stood proud and a delightful bright blue penstemon peered out from the plants, grasses swayed in the breeze to add soften and an oak leafed hydrangea added drama.

There is a varied collection of herbaceous plants and a wisteria and several clematis are trained round and over features to add another dimension. Gordon certainly has a keen eye for as we went round he carried a pair of garden shears ready to trim off any stray branches he spotted. Weeds? There were none.

Hidden from view is a greenhouse and when I peered into it, tomatoes were beginning to form and ripen.

As the light changes so does the garden and as shadows are cast on his pots and sculptures they also capture a different beauty as well as hue. Artists will come and paint in the garden as it gives them inspiration and his ceramic students come out from his workshop/studio to pick ideas of shape and form. As a showcase you couldn’t want for anything more, for a pot on a shelf has one look but along with nature wears a different dress. The sun lounge is also used to display art work and pots while the walls in their house are awash with Ian’s paintings.

Gordon’s first public commission was a large five metre directional ‘Compass Point’ in Walkden Gardens alongside Jeanette Appleton’s pebble mosaics. Funded by the Esmee Fairburn Foundation and managed by the Friends of Walkden Gardens, it forms a focal point in the gardens and has been followed by ‘Miss Cordingley’s Garden’ when they acquired a new space. A stoneware and set spiral which concludes a grass footpath has also been added funded by ‘Greening Greater Manchester’. I can see now what Gordon means by leaving a lasting legacy.

The garden has won several awards and has opened for the National Garden Scheme (NGS) for many years raising a lot of money for charity.

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