Bonsall’s Magical Gardens

The vegetable garden at Brightgate House

The vegetable garden at Brightgate House - Credit: Archant

One of the county’s most intriguing villages welcomes visitors for a weekend of gardening and music. Catherine Roth reports

Dew pond at Brightgate House

Dew pond at Brightgate House - Credit: Archant

In a picturesque village just south of Matlock, magic is in the air as its residents prepare to open their gardens. During the last weekend in June visitors will be able to explore gardens of varying sizes and designs and discover the often hidden wonders of Bonsall that include fairy grottos and classical temples.

Olivia Gerrish and Liz Stoppard

Olivia Gerrish and Liz Stoppard - Credit: Archant

Bonsall’s open gardens feature some 30 gardens. It began almost 10 years ago to raise money for the village and has since become an annual event in the village calendar alongside its well dressing and carnival. Just as the gardens have grown and developed over the years, both in planting and hard landscaping, so too has the open garden scheme, raising nearly £2,500 last year and attracting people from all over the country. The year before last it was renamed ‘The Magical Gardens of Bonsall’ and is coordinated by a team of dedicated volunteers including local artists Olivia Gerrish and Elisabeth Stoppard. Their visual artistry has weaved its way into the gardens of Bonsall providing a thread that links them all. Elisabeth says, ‘If people want to feel enchanted they come to Bonsall. It’s a friendly place and a really magical setting with its limestone cliffs, ridges and hilltop views. The village is hidden away and hard to find so people wouldn’t normally come here.’

The smallest garden. A landscape inspired by capability Brown! Tom Wilmot, proud owner of the giant foxglove

The smallest garden. A landscape inspired by capability Brown! Tom Wilmot, proud owner of the giant foxglove - Credit: Archant

Olivia lives at Herbert Lodge, which was restored in the 1820s and turned from a traditional farmhouse into a gentrified house in the Italianate style popular at the time. Olivia says, ‘I’ve included a garden area and increased the Italianate idea.’ The garden now has a long deep tunnel inspired by the great Victorian garden designer Joseph Paxton, classical temples, fairy grottos and is the work of local dry stone waller Andy Land. Born to a Bonsall father and Italian mother, he received no formal training but had a talent for stonework. His work can be seen throughout the village including The Great Wall of Bonsall that is 200 metres long containing hidden stone carvings including those of foxes, a snake and an Indian Chief. Elisabeth says, ‘Andy Land has basically changed the landscape of Bonsall. He has restored some of the field barns and is continuing to restore the landscape. He is a translator of ideas. I gave him a drawing of what I wanted and from just that he built a little grotto under the hillside in my garden.’

Some of the many other gardens that will be opening to the public include Brightgate House on the edge of Bonsall Moor, with its dovecotes, tree house and flower gardens hiding a collection of gnomes. At the southern end of the village, Slaley Lodge enjoys far-reaching views towards Crich Stand. There are gardens for children too. With a canvas of flagstones in her garden, Jane Holmes will be inviting children to create their own chalk drawing scenes whilst Bonsall School is opening its eco garden that includes a pond and musical instrument fence.

A few gardens, however, are just too small for visitors to walk round but are included in the trail guide as ‘peep-overs’, allowing people to peer freely over gates and walls at their leisure. One such peep-over is an open gardens entry for possibly the smallest plot in Britain. Tom Wilmot and Leanne Swain’s roadside garden has been influenced by the work of Capability Brown and measures just 2ft by 4ft.

Elisabeth says, ‘Some people who open their gardens worry about the weeds and think that their gardens have to be like those exhibited at the Chelsea Flower Show, which is not the case! This event is as much about the landscape, the views and the wildflowers. Wherever you go, you get different views.’ Wildflower meadows will be in their prime with an abundance of lead and lime loving plants including orchids, oxtail daisies, cowslips as well as the many foxgloves that line the village streets.

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Throughout the weekend strolling players will entertain visitors with refreshments served at various venues. For something a little different, head to the Barley Mow and sample its ‘Flower Power Ale’ or sip homemade elderflower champagne at Bonsall’s old rectory whilst enjoying spectacular views.

As evening falls and sun-loving flowers fold up their petals, music will drift across the dales with the much anticipated performance of the Bonsall Opera on the Saturday. Elisabeth says, ‘The last few years our sell-out classical concerts have been absolutely exquisite and raised money to restore the field barns in Bonsall. This year the opera will again bring top musicians from London in what promises to be another memorable part of the weekend.’

And it is memories that visitors to the gardens are sure to take away with them as the Magical Gardens of Bonsall weave their magic once again, bringing the gardens to life through green-fingered magic, stunning vistas, natural landscapes, and music that fills the air.

The Magical Gardens of Bonsall are open on Saturday 28th and Sunday 29th June 10am-5pm. Tickets cost £4 (children free) and are available from Fountain Café, The Barley Mow and The King’s Head as well as selected gardens. For further details visit:

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