When you’re busy with multiple projects at various stages of development, it can feel like there’s no time for anything else. However, it’s always good to get out from behind the desk to visit established gardens for ideas and inspiration, or just for sheer enjoyment – even better when it is only stone’s throw away! Tirley Garth is a private garden in a beautiful rural location in Cheshire which opens on a handful of dates each year for the National Garden Scheme. Arriving on a gloriously sunny, late Spring afternoon I was greeted by dramatic swathes of colour delivered by mature Rhododendron and Acer luring visitors up the winding driveway. At this point I knew it would be a good afternoon.
Tirley Garth has a particularly interesting history for a garden designer. Its gardens date back to the early 1900s and were originally designed by Thomas Mawson, a landscape architect considered to be a leading practitioner in his time who completed some 200 commissions in the UK. Mawson was heavily influenced by the Arts & Crafts movement which advocated the use of traditional craftmanship and was a reaction to the industrialisation of Victorian Britain. In keeping with this Tirley Garth, which the owners cite as the only Arts & Crafts garden which remains complete in Cheshire, includes features such as decorative masonry and ornate ironwork.
As with many large country estates, the gardens immediately surrounding the house are formal in style while areas further away are more naturalistic. To the front are vibrant herbaceous borders flanking a set of curved steps which echo the shape of the property’s bay windows. These lead down to a vast sweeping lawn which looks out beyond to the stunning vista of the Cheshire Plain. To the side of the house are a series of ‘garden rooms’, the first of which features a long low wall of Wisteria adorned with pendulous racemes of purple. Passing through into the next room, taller walls are festooned in fragrant Honeysuckle and sprawling Cotoneaster, alive with the buzzing of bees. An archway leads visitors through to seating arranged around a small pool with a tinkling fountain, and here we find those authentic Arts & Crafts elements of decorative paving and ornate iron work. Sandstone, prevalent in Cheshire, features throughout the gardens in walls, steps and paving.
A long narrow (and on this NGS open day rather densely populated!) walk leads into the distinctive circular ‘Round Acre’, and then on through to an orchard. Here carefully shaped conifers make a visually interesting feature at the edge of the pathway, while the grassed orchard hosts gnarly old apple trees. The track through the orchard leads down to a rather inconspicuous gap in some shrubs. This unexpectedly opens out to a breath-taking scene of trees and vividly coloured Rhododendron surrounding a large pond and mirrored in the still water. From here a path meanders through woodland carpeted with English Bluebells and edged with more billowing Rhododendron, before arriving at a second pond. This naturalistic area provides a link between the formal gardens and the surrounding rural landscape, with glimpses from the path through to the spaces nearer to the house.
The gardens at Tirley Garth are interwoven with paths, pealing away in myriad directions and linking together contrasting areas. Throughout there are pieces of sculpture and interesting objects, some traditional and some quirky such as an old red post-box. These elements add an air of mystery and curiosity. It is a magical place to explore, and it is easy to imagine a child spending their days weaving their way through the gardens and creating fantastical stories of adventure and romance.