Lancashire Gardens - Summerdale House in Lupton, Kirkby Lonsdale

PUBLISHED: 00:00 30 December 2013

Cobbled path laid and designed by Gail

Cobbled path laid and designed by Gail

Linda Viney

After 20 years of neglect, an enthusiastic couple transformed a garden and in the process created a popular nursery. Linda Viney reports

This traditional English garden at Summerdale House in Lupton, five miles west of Kirkby Lonsdale, is a spectacular haven of tranquillity. It covers one and a half acres, with views across Farleton Fell and the open countryside. There is interest throughout the seasons, starting early with the snowdrops many named and labelled, that carpet the woodland.

David and Gail Sheals bought the 18th century property, believed to have been a vicarage, 16 years ago. It had been empty for two decades and needed complete renovation. The house was given priority by the couple, both consultant radiologists, and the move represented a huge lifestyle change for them. David took early retirement three years ago and now spends time working in the garden and the accompanying nursery. There were signs of use in the past as a small-holding, and as they dug the soil old metal plant labels came to light showing there had once been a well organised garden.

Because of its size, Gail started growing from seed and propagating plants to fill the beds. ‘I ended up with more than I could cope with,’ she said. ‘I had no intention of starting a nursery but sold some of the excess plants when we opened the garden for the National Garden Scheme 11 years ago.’

After a slow start the nursery is now full time, and they started mail order in 2012. ‘The Barnhaven primroses are probably the most popular. Another passion of mine are auriculas and I now have 200 varieties some of which are shown off in a traditional “auricula theatre”.’

Their daughter Abi was also involved in the development of the nursery but has now moved on with her husband Tom Attwood to start their own venture, Tom and Abi’s Plants at Halecat, near Grange-over-Sands.

I commenced my journey on leaving the house in the courtyard where Gail has lovingly relaid the cobbles that were discovered under the grass. Someone once told me if you don’t have to duck and get brushed by plants it isn’t a real garden. This proved the point here as I walked up some steps through the exotic garden with tall, majestic plants on either side. David told me the Paulownia is cut to the ground every year to keep it low. It is one of the fastest growing trees, grown in cultivation in North America for timber. Hardy plants are grown for interest late season. Kiwi is trained on the walls and fig also survives.

The orchard, has some original old trees which are replaced as they reach the end of their life. Paul’s Himalayan Musk rose clambers up through one of the trees and the grass is left long allowing wild flowers, fritillaries, daffodils and snowdrops as well as ‘fox and cubs’ to thrive. The paths leading through are mown until late August.

A bench allows you to sit and take in the harmony that exists here. Wildlife is encouraged and hedgehogs find a good home and as you carry on past a bog garden you arrive at a small pond which is home to frogs, newts and toads.

A summerhouse tempts you to pause and you can look down over the pond to a cobbled path - again laid by Gail - with long borders either side. ‘Whenever we started digging, cobbles appeared,’ David added.

A clever log arch was originally built to screen the compost bins but it has now been opened up to get a view of Farleton Fell. Rhododendrons come into their own in spring and big interest comes from the hellebores. Gail is very keen on woodland plants and the trilliums give interest from February onwards.

The gravel garden gives the illusion of being arid and the collection of primulas is thought to be the largest in the north west. Many of the Barnhaven primroses have been grown from seed and have proved popular. Barnhaven used to be near Kendal so many locals have fond memories of them.

Hedges were planted to provide wind breaks and also to create different ‘rooms’ giving structure and formality while the plants give the informality.

All the beds are colour themed and Gail’s artistic eye comes into its own. A straight path leads up the front garden to the house, flanked either side by a lawn with box balls adding formality.

Alongside the old 19th century listed wall is a magnificent herbaceous border crammed full of colourful perennials. Apart from a few mature trees the rest of the garden has been created by David and Gail.

‘We have found since we opened visitors like to see new things, and they are forced to slow down from the stresses of life as they meander round,’ David proudly said.

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