Cheshire Gardens - A country estate in Delamere

It has taken a lot of thought, hard graft and more than a little bit of gardening, but the Rowlinsons have transformed their family home into an estate to be proud of. Emma Mayoh reports PHOTOGRAPHY BY KIRSTY THOMPSON

Autumn Rowlinson is a lucky girl. The two-year-old can spend as much time as she wants exploring and investigating the Abbeywood Estate. Just down the drive is an adventure playground, in the other direction are chickens clucking around their coop and at the front of her house are endless gardens for her to run around.

She may now have to share it with the fee-paying public, but the fact she has this wonderful home in the first place is down to the hard work of her grandparents, Harry and Lynda Rowlinson.

The couple first saw Abbeywood, at Delamere, more than 20 years ago and knew it would be the perfect home for them and their four sons David, Peter, Gareth and Robert.

Lynda, 63, said: ‘We wanted a property where our children could grow up, a place where they could stay and be a part of it if they wanted. It was all about creating a family home for the boys. It was exciting.’

Like most homebuyers they expected to do some work on their new home - gardening enthusiast Lynda was looking forward to getting her hands dirty in the 45 acres of land. But what followed has been rather more than most people would consider taking on.

The family home, an Edwardian property first built in 1908, has been updated, renovated and extended. The top floor, once used as an office for builder Harry, was converted into accommodation for the couple’s son Peter and wife Lauren - Autumn’s parents - the side of the Edwardian property was extended for another son, David, his wife Jane and their daughter Rachel, and the middle floor is used by relatives Carol and David Blackburn.

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But when Harry and Lynda, who are originally from Lancashire, first moved in, they knew they wanted to tackle the gardens, woodland and buildings around the house first.

Harry, 62, said: ‘We set to in the garden almost straight away, there was very little there. Gardening is one of Lynda’s favourite pastimes, along with cooking, and she was keen to get going.

‘We started by planting up the garden and we did it all ourselves as a family. The boys would mow the lawn and we would do the gardening. We put a lot of effort into it but because we were doing it ourselves, some years it looked better than others.’

Then about ten years ago Lynda started to think they could do better. With the help of renowned international garden designer David Stevens, who drew up plans of ways to make better use of the land, the couple started to change things.

Harry said: ‘Before we got help from David it felt like we were never on top of it. It was a big job for just a few of us. They were quite small changes to make but they made a big difference.’

As well as widening beds, creating a pergola walk and designing seating areas and new steps, they re-modelled several gardens, including the Chapel Garden and the Pool Garden where a tennis court was dug out and the rubble used to create the new pool.

Daughter-in-law Jane, a trained horticulturist, has created a garden filled with specialist and specimen plants, as well as woodland plants. Her husband, Lynda and Harry’s son David, has created an arboretum full of specimen trees. More than 10,000 trees have been planted on the estate since the Rowlinsons moved in and David is now also working on a two-mile woodland walk around the estate. The family are quick to praise staff member Tony Irvine for his invaluable help too.

When Harry began to see the impact of the work in the grounds, he started to think about the estate’s potential.

He said: ‘Lynda has always taken me all over the country looking at other people’s gardens. I looked at what we had and thought that it was going to look pretty good. I started to talk about opening the estate up to the public. The others were a bit apprehensive so for a year or two it didn’t get off the ground. Lynda was worried it wasn’t good enough.

‘But then just over two years ago the gardens were just getting better and better. All the work had paid off and it was great seeing it all come together. The others started to come around to the idea.’

The family enlisted the help of head gardener Simon Goodfellow who has made changes of his own, including creating an exotic garden, building up a vegetable patch and introducing new planting and box hedging in some of the gardens.

Harry, with the help of the estate’s own workshop, was also responsible for building a barn and the estate’s new glasshouse, caf� and orangery. He has also built a two-storey office and garage and redeveloped a holiday cottage.

Last May, the family opened Abbeywood to the public. Son Peter and his wife, Lauren, who married in the grounds of the estate, look after the caf� and events side of the business. Lynda, a keen cook who spent three months training at the prestigious Ballymaloe Cookery School in Ireland, was responsible for all the cooking until former Masterchef finalist Liz Franklin arrived as head chef.

It has been mission accomplished for Harry and Lynda. More than 20 years after they moved in, family is still at the heart of this beautiful plot in Delamere. Not only do the Rowlinsons get to enjoy it together, they also get to share it with the families who come to visit the estate.

Harry said: ‘It gives us a real buzz to know that other people get pleasure from coming here and it’s a pleasure for us to make other people happy. ‘The estate is a reflection of all of us and it is so important to us all. It’s all about keeping Abbeywood special and being able to share it with other people.’ 

Visiting AbbeywoodAbbeywood Estate at Delamere is now open to the public between 9am and 5pm, Sunday-Thursday. The estate is closed on Fridays and Saturday for private functions. The main house is not open to the public.Which is your favourite garden to visit in Cheshire? Vote in our poll and you can also upload your photographs of the county’s glorious gardens

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