Lancashire Gardens - Dent Hall, Trawden

PUBLISHED: 20:12 22 September 2014 | UPDATED: 20:12 22 September 2014

General view over garden to countryside beyond

General view over garden to countryside beyond

Linda Viney

When Chris Whitaker-Webb's wife died he lost interest in their garden. Then, something reignited his passion. Linda Viney reports

Bridge leading to decking seated areaBridge leading to decking seated area

Seeing a garden at its worst didn’t deter Chris Whitaker-Webb and his wife Jules from purchasing Dent Hall in Trawden eight years ago.

This 400-year-old Grade II listed building, situated at the ‘Top O’Trawden’, is one of the oldest houses in the area. The date on the central chimney is 1604 and, as you would expect, the property is full of character with mullioned windows and a roof of stone slates.

Today, the garden really compliments the house and it has striking views of the surrounding countryside. Much of it was the creation of Jules, who sadly died two years ago. She was a keen and knowledgeable gardener who worked tirelessly to create the haven it is today. Her legacy is somewhere for Chris to find peace.

The last thing they did together was to clear the wasteland at the bottom of the garden as it was the only flat area - ideal for the marquee where they held their wedding reception.

Chris realaxing with a coffeeChris realaxing with a coffee

It was here that I met up with Chris, a solicitor, sitting by a large one metre-deep pond, which he constructed three years ago. It has decking and a bridge which crosses a rill joining into a small pond with waterfall. It is a lovely tranquil space.

‘I work from home, so if I break for a coffee I bring it down here,’ Chris said. ‘The gentle sound of water tumbling down over the rocks adds tranquillity. When I was digging the pond out I spotted a newt as though it was doing a recce. It obviously thought it would make a good home as it is now full of newts and frogs.’

Jules taught Chris all he knows about gardening. She had a plethora of gardening books and knew all the Latin names, which Chris has now learnt. The gunnera with its huge leaves was something she always wanted and it now has pride of place by the pond, as does a dierama, commonly called angel’s fishing rod. On the far side of the pond a bark path allows access but is low on maintenance.

As we venture round a meandering path under the shade of overhanging trees, where flanked on one side a stack of logs are getting ready for the chimenea and wood burning stove for the cooler days. Hidden from view we come across a summerhouse retreat sited on stilts. Taking the steps leading up to an outdoor wicker seating, this is a lovely place where Jules would come down to in the final months of her illness and feel at peace. Coloured lanterns hang down and tea lights turn it into a spa-like therapeutic space.

In the woodland, bluebells heralded spring before the ferns take over, and camellias add structure as well as colour when in flower. As we descend and take bark-covered steps up one side, Chris points out the two paths either side connect as we come to the lawn.

‘I don’t have time for weeding so a mulch of bark with layers of newspaper ensure the weeds don’t stand a chance and the mulch will gradually break down and get replaced,’ he said.

As the garden is on a slope it has been terraced with stone steps leading down and a stone wall topped with alpine plants divide the areas. All the stone which forms walls for the terrace were found on site. Herbaceous borders surround the lawn where careful planning of the planting ensures the season of flowers is extended. Foxgloves are left to self seed, the delicate blue flowers of a Lawsonia (Egyptian privet or henna tree) add delicacy. Phlox stand proud late in the season whilst the pulmonaria is an early performer. The aim is to have something on show 365 days of the year.

After Jules died Chris found it difficult to spend time in the garden and it started to get neglected. ‘It was Jules’ project really and allowed her to use her creativity, to nurture, develop and of course enjoy it on the good days.

‘But it also provided a place of refuge and solitude to hide away - often tucked away in our summerhouse with a bottle of wine and a good book or DVD.

‘Someone told me about the National Garden Scheme (NGS) and I approached them and it gave me the incentive to look after it again properly and both enjoy and remember Jules in it.’ He opened the gates for the first time this year with 25% of the takings going to Pendleside Hospice.

Now Chris is a gardener in his own right.

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