Secret garden in Warrington
PUBLISHED: 11:51 15 February 2010 | UPDATED: 16:41 20 February 2013
A walled garden near Warrington is a hidden delight, as Paul Mackenzie reports
When he announced he was leaving his job as a horticultural lecturer, people questioned whether Graham Richardson was making the right move. The pitfalls were obvious when he swapped the warm classroom for the chill of an unkempt walled garden near Warrington, but three years on he has proved his doubters wrong.
'It was certainly a challenge but that was what I wanted,' the 46-year-old said. 'The course wasn't what it had been and indeed it has now closed. People did ask me at the time if it was wise to back to getting my hands dirty but I have no regrets, none at all.'
Graham, who served his gardening apprenticeship at Ness Gardens on the Wirral, didn't know the walled garden at Grappenhall Heys until he saw the job advert but, he said: 'A lot of local people knew nothing of it either. We are changing that slowly though and more people are becoming aware of the gardens and what we do here.'
What Graham and his team of volunteers do there is to maintain the tranquil 200 year-old gardens, run a successful kitchen garden and host events throughout the year.
'Although it hadn't been touched for some years when I arrived, the kitchen garden soil was still wonderful when I came to it, it had obviously had 100 years of work done on it. It had been looked after by a local gardening club.
'Most of what is here now has been done in the last ten or 15 years but I have been trying to make it look like it would have done 100 years ago. I would like to start planting things that would have been growing here then.'
The garden was originally developed to feed the wealthy Parr family's estate from around 1830, providing fruit, vegetables and flowers for the house. Also within the walls, but separated from the kitchen garden by a yew hedge, are also ornamental gardens with three ponds.
The estate declined in the 20th century, although Land Girls were based there during World War Two and by the mid-1970s the walled garden was in a near derelict state.
'There had been a plan to demolish the gardens to make way for housing,' Graham added. 'But a group of local people got together to say that shouldn't be allowed to happen.
'English Partnerships handed the gardens over to Grappenhall and Thelwall Parish Council in 2005 with an endowment which will hopefully last in perpetuity. The council wanted to bring someone in to do the gardening and management and I became the first full time gardener here for about 50 years.
'I am the only person here full time but there is a group of volunteers who come along to help out and I couldn't really do much without them. They get to take home some of the produce and we sell the rest of the veg from a cart. We're not here to make a profit but we have to do something with the crops we produce and all the money we raise goes back into the gardens.'
Graham is also waiting to hear if an application for Lottery funding to pay for the restoration of Victorian glasshouses has been successful.
'That's a job I would like to see done. We won't get them back to how they were in their heyday but if we can secure funding then we would be able to make them useable once more and I think that would really set the gardens off superbly.
'More and more people are aware of the gardens now. We have events throughout the year and we are within walking distance of a lot of houses. We have a lot of primary schools and a couple of secondaries who visit and we have visits from gardening groups, mostly local ones but also some from further afield.'
Admission is free and the garden is open every day from 1-4.30pm.
For more information visit www.ghwalledgarden.org.uk.