Sue and Dave Colegate’s award winning garden in Mollington, near Chester
- Credit: Archant
Sue and Dave Colegate’s garden in Mollington, near Chester, was declared Cheshire Life Garden of the Year last autumn. We promised you a tour of it in better weather... WORDS AND PICTURES BY KEITH PLANT
Sue and Dave Colegate’s two thirds of an acre garden in Mollington near Chester is an established part of Cheshire history. Their natural pond gets a mention in the Domesday Book as ‘the pool in Mollington’.
Their house is only 10 years old but shares its history with Mollington Hall. The Hall was a typical 18th century country house complete with ballroom, ice chamber, a fine dining room and all the other accoutrements of upper class Georgian hospitality. Sadly it was demolished in the 1930s, leaving only the substantial brick walls as a reminder of its size and scale.
Move forward to 2001. Enter Sue and Dave. They find a dilapidated bungalow with a leaking wooden roof standing in what had probably been the orchard of the Hall. The surrounding land was a bog and the house virtually uninhabitable – but it was the old walls that proved irresistible. Most people would have thought them mad to buy it...and things quickly turned from bad to worse.
They needed to demolish the house and completely rebuild – but planning issues made them put the project on hold for 18 months. The next summer was spent living in a mobile home in the ‘garden’. When the weather turned cold, they managed to drag a bed up a ladder to the first floor of the crumbling house and nail in a piece of plywood as a ‘front door’. People must have thought them even madder!
Meanwhile they turned their attention to the wilderness that was about to be the garden, creating raised beds by recycling the sandstone which was dotted about, planting trees and constructing paths. They realised that the boggy area was a natural pond and restored it using more of the sandstone and used hundreds of reclaimed bricks from the bungalow to construct the spacious surrounds.
Nearer the house was something resembling a circular bed with a buried brick surround, so they decided to excavate. Many backbreaking days later they discovered that this was a 15 foot diameter gasometer which served the old hall. The taps are still there. Creative thinking kicked in and they decided to turn it into a sunken eating area for barbecues and parties. It’s an ingenious concept which fits in perfectly with a number of circular designs throughout the garden. Then they had to build their home which is another story entirely!
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Years on, their appetite for challenges is undiminished. It’s been a long, cold spring and everything is growing slowly. The pond flooded. The winds have taken their toll. The couple have three English setters which clearly give them great joy, but bound about the garden with unrelenting energy, causing damage as they go. The Colegates quietly shrug – they’re convinced that gardens are created to be enjoyed and not wrapped in cotton wool.
But every good historical story has a happy ending. The Colegate’s garden won the Cheshire Life Garden of the Year award, last year. And quite rightly too. The sheer physical effort required in restoring this area is astounding, their design skills are remarkable. They talk about their achievements with great modesty but have created something which is both beautiful and unprententious by taking a relic and transforming it into a place of great natural beauty. That is their contribution to Mollington’s history.