Garden haven for wildlife in County Durham

PUBLISHED: 17:30 06 July 2011 | UPDATED: 19:40 20 February 2013

Garden haven for wildlife in County Durham

Garden haven for wildlife in County Durham

A myriad of wildlife visits a year-round garden with spectacular views in Low Etherley in County Durham Words and pictures by Linda Viney

A myriad of wildlife is attracted to a garden that offers a year-round habitat, created by Mary Smith in Low Etherley near Bishop Auckland in County Durham.

There are spectacular views across Weardale and on an exceptional clear day it is possible to see Durham Cathedral, looking across to Crook.
Mary moved from London in 1993 with her late husband David, following his decision to retire early to the countryside.

Although we both grew up with gardens we were living in a small terrace house with a back yard which we stuffed full of plants.

Longing for a garden we had the opportunity to move and north of Watford was the only way we would be able to afford a house with a garden. We immediately fell in love with County Durham and the plot surrounding this early 19th century cottage, Mary explained.

When I arrived a stunning mound of dianthus, stretching
just over three feet in diameter certainly had the wow factor - I dont think I have ever seen such a spectacular specimen.

Walking across to the main pond, already in situ when they arrived, was renovated last year it as it had become overgrown and full of silt.

Stone birds have placed on the sundial standing here. My grandchildren feed them small stones when they come to visit, Mary smiled. And as a testament to my husband and grandchildren I have grown Sempervivums in Davids old walking boots and my grandchilds first walking boots.

The garden covers just less than half an acre and one of the first tasks they undertook was to create a shelter belt to protect it from the prevailing winds.

One of the previous owners was a coal-man with horses, so there are stables and a paddock, which gave Mary and her husband freedom to design their own space. Throughout the garden there are no straight lines, with the one exception of the vegetable garden where Billy, an invaluable help, has helped Mary create a vegetable garden.

He wont let me plant the potatoes as he insists they have to be in straight lines. He is very much a vegetable enthusiast so much of this area is left in his capable hands.

Mary has created a herb garden but found thyme difficult until she came up with the idea of growing them in an old wheelbarrow.

Apples trees were bought as cordons and have established well, linking in together. Soft fruit is protected with a cage and Mary was in the process of constructing a roof to prevent birds flying in.

I went to woodworking classes so I could carry on doing repair work myself, Mary said. She pointed out two individual bench seats she had made and a seat she had repaired.

Down at the far end we look across to the rolling countryside and pause to sit on a seat strategically placed to enjoy the peace. Steps lead down to a lower level where Mary intends keeping bees - she is currently on a bee-keeping course.

When I asked her how she gardens on the steep slope here she replied with difficulty. Apparently Billy wants to terrace it, but watch this space.
Walking back up we come to the wild flower area where every day Mary spots something new. Cowslips and fritillaries are followed with ragged robin, scabious, cornflower and corn cockle, among others.

We suddenly spot a Yellow Rattle, and looking closer there were a lot more coming as well. I sowed a wild flower seed mix and it is the first time I have seen the Yellow Rattle, said Mary.

The wildlife pond was dug out on the original site of an old gas house, and clinker and coal came to the surface as soil was removed. Coal to produce the gas came from a local mine. Now its home to newts, frogs, toads and other insects, and Mary has used a barley ball to keep the water clear.

Conifers assure there is interest and form all year round and the flower borders are awash with colour from the shrubs and perennials.

Everywhere you look vistas open up, drawing the eye to another area. It is very much a labour of love and the greenhouse, partly protected with a wall of bamboo, is very much a working place, where seeds are sown and more tender plants are kept. This year she is trying to grow some papyrus grass from seed - the small plants in coir pots were certainly doing well.

Many gardens within a stones throw of Eggleston Hall in Teesdale, County Durham have Celmisia (New Zealand Daisy) and this garden, although further afield, is no exception.

As well as plants an old traditional olive jar, sculptured rocks add another dimension to this space.

When David died six years ago it was a complete shock and Mary has been able to cope using her garden as therapy. The front garden was the first area she tackled on her own, removing the hebe hedge and planting the area with traditional style cottage garden plants. It is certainly a beautiful welcome to what lies beyond.

It is such a lovely place I will never move from here, Mary told me. This is the first year I have opened for the National Garden Scheme (NGS), and I hope others will enjoy this place as much. It is an all seasons garden and still has its own beauty in the winter.

If you would like to visit telephone 01388 832727 or email to arrange. Admission 3

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