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Garden at Chisworth, Derbyshire

PUBLISHED: 11:20 29 April 2010 | UPDATED: 16:16 20 February 2013

A view through the Shasta daisies

A view through the Shasta daisies

PAT ASHWORTH visits a spectacular garden created from an overgrown rocky slope in the High Peak village of Chisworth

David Keegan was the only landscape designer who didn't suck his teeth, scratch his head or vanish for ever in a cloud of dust when confronted by the unloveliness of John and Elizabeth Windsor's back garden at Chisworth, near Glossop.

In fact his Irish eyes lit up at the opportunity to create something truly spectacular out of the rocky, precipitous slope that toppled down to the stream at the side of the mill cottage. The Grade II listed farmhouse dates back to the 1780s, a time when the hamlet was a busy flour milling centre and a staging post on the road to Marple. It feels well off the beaten track but in fact is only 20 minutes from Manchester city centre.

The Windsors moved here almost two decades ago, when they had more pressing priorities than tackling the garden. Looking at the glory of it now, it's hard to believe that this breathtaking view across meadow and pasture to the hills above Hattersley hasn't been visible for ever, or that the family didn't move here for the sake of it. All the elements were here: the grassland, the grazing sheep, the unchanging valley. The garden just didn't work in harmony with them, and that's what David Keegan wanted to restore in the most natural way he could.

The garden appears to flow out into the countryside, the boundary obliterated and softened by a wildflower meadow that draws an 'Oh!' of ecstasy. Landscape designers in times gone by would have used a ha-ha for the same purpose, avoiding a fence or wall that would have interrupted the view. Bright Ox-eye daisies, vivid purple Lesser Knapweed and cornflower-blue Chicory flowers mingle with clouds of bright yellow and red. Soon there will be pathways beaten through the meadow but now we wade in up to our knees in a rising dance of butterflies.

The fruit trees aren't apparent at first, still saplings. But David has planted a Victoria plum, a damson and an apple, to make it as naturalistic as possible and to better frame the view. 'I wanted fruit trees there because it reminded me of my childhood on a farm. We had an orchard that was actually a wildflower meadow, and all the apples were inter-planted. It was the most amazing thing,' he says with pleasure.

He made a baseline selection of plug plants for the backdrop, but random scattering comes into it too and the meadow will be a constantly changing picture. Enzymes in the Yellow Rattle will help to control the grasses and inhibit their spread; the nettles on which the peacock butterfly depends will return. The boundary hedge to the right of the meadow is a tapestry of mixed native species like hawthorn and holly. An autumn flowering cherry will spread its small, delicate flowers in the hedge. 'I didn't expect the meadow to take off so well and happen so quickly. I'd actually told Elizabeth to wait between three and five years,' he remembers.........

The complete article can be found in the October issue of the Derbyshire Life & Countryside magazine on sale now

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