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Behind the scenes at the walled garden at Norton Priory

Silent order: snow fall at the walled garden. (c) Norton Priory Museum Trust
Silent order: snow fall at the walled garden. (c) Norton Priory Museum Trust

Sometimes you come across a glorious garden in the most unexpected of places. Runcorn, the industrial town on the banks of the river Mersey, is as far removed from the leafy Cheshire countryside as you could possibly imagine. Yet, it was here I discovered the most delightful of walled gardens dating back to the 18th century.

The garden is part of a historic site containing a priory and 38 acres of grounds considered the most important monastic remains in the county of Cheshire. It comprises the remains of an abbey dating from the 12th to the 16th centuries and is now a museum managed by Norton Priory Museum Trust Limited. The priory was first opened to the public in the 1970s and the walled garden itself completely redesigned in 1984 to recreate a typical Georgian walled garden. There were no original plans from which the designers could work, but with an orchard, kitchen garden and ornamental borders that would have supplied cut flowers for the mansion house, it is a true representation of a garden from that period in history.

Great British Life: The walled garden in wintertime. (c) Norton Priory Museum TrustThe walled garden in wintertime. (c) Norton Priory Museum Trust

Today, Norton Priory Walled Garden also contains the National Collection of Tree Quince (Cydonia Oblonga), an impressive herb garden that was created as part of the BBC’s Hidden Garden programme, and a new Rose Walk designed by head gardener John Budworth. John who has worked at Norton Priory for 33 years and is due to retire this year, worked on the rose borders during the period 2020 to 2021 by replacing the old English varieties that only flowered for a short period of time, with repeat flowering floribunda and hybrid tea roses. A lavender border was also added that runs the length of the walk, along with benches for visitors to linger and enjoy the sight and scent of the roses. The newly replanted Rose Walk was officially opened by Sir Richard Christopher Brooke, 12th Baronet of Norton last September, and a plaque can be found on the wall of the garden recording the names of all the generous contributors that made the work possible.

Great British Life: The tree of life entrance. (c) Alison MooreThe tree of life entrance. (c) Alison Moore

When I visited on a glorious day at the end of October, some of the roses were still in bloom and having learned the colour scheme was influenced by Gertrude Jekyll, with the borders running from cool whites and pale pinks, through to deep oranges and reds, I can’t wait to see it at its blooming best in June. I also managed to catch the last week of an exhibition by Standish artist Brian Whitmore called Wild Calligraphy. The pieces of Brian’s work featured fragments of quotations, thoughts, poems and philosophy, together creating a mindful trail of inspiration to discover while exploring the garden. I wandered through the various ‘rooms’ in the garden, admiring the autumn colours, the pristine croquet lawn, and the mistletoe adorning the trees in the orchard, as I searched out the exhibits.

Great British Life: A late rose in the walled garden. (c) Alison MooreA late rose in the walled garden. (c) Alison Moore

While I had a fair understanding of the garden’s history, I was keen to delve deeper and gain insights from someone more intimately familiar with the garden’s secrets. Tracey Crutchley, who has worked at the Priory for almost 20 years chatted to me about the wildlife that is attracted to the peaceful habitat. Long-tailed tits, tiny goldcrests and occasional buzzard flying overhead are a joy to see, and Tracey even recounted the extraordinary sighting of a stoat on a quiet winter's day. She emphasised that what truly captivates many visitors is the garden’s serene and tranquil ambience and I have to agree there is a magical quality about the place that allows you to forget the stress and worry of the world outside.

Great British Life: A bird's eye view of the garden at Norton Priory. (c) Norton Priory Museum TrustA bird's eye view of the garden at Norton Priory. (c) Norton Priory Museum Trust

Norton Priory holds many events throughout the year, details of which can be found on the website (nortonpriory.org) along with their normal opening hours. The Walled Garden is currently closed for the season until Easter but there will, weather permitting, special guided tours to allow visitors to experience the beauty of the garden in the wintertime. I will certainly return to see the walled gardens again throughout this year so I might just treat myself to an annual membership which, for only £30, gives you 12 months of free entry along with other concessions and discounts.

Norton Priory Museum & Gardens, Tudor Road, Manor Park. Runcorn, WA7 1SX

Great British Life: A look forward to summer and the zinnia at Norton Priory. (c) Norton Priory Museum TrustA look forward to summer and the zinnia at Norton Priory. (c) Norton Priory Museum Trust

Other walled gardens to visit in Cheshire

o Arley Hall & Gardens

o RHS Bridgewater

o Hare Hill, Over Alderley, Macclesfield

o Tatton Park

o Grappenhall Heys, Warrington



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