The earliest known photo of Quarry Bank House and Garden, 1869. © National Trust
A secret garden locked away from public view and dating back to the 18th century has been opened up to the public for the very first time.
The 3.2 hectare (eight acres) Quarry Bank Garden in Cheshire has been the subject of a major restoration project by the National Trust, who brought it back to its original state for the enjoyment of the public.
The Trust has owned Quarry Bank Mill, an 18th century working cotton mill and wider estate, since 1939, but the purchase in 2006 of the garden and Quarry Bank House has enabled the mill complex to be returned close to the original vision of its founder, Samuel Greg.
Greg built the garden and house next to his cotton mill in the 1790s. Shaped around the River Bollin, the garden was designed in a picturesque style with a series of meandering paths, terraces and riverside walks to provide beautiful and dramatic views across the valley.
Looking down into Quarry Bank Mill's 'secret' valley garden. The mill chimney can be seen in the distance. © National Trust
Together with his wife Hannah, who played a key role in the garden’s design, he enhanced existing features such as the sandstone cliffs and the prerequisite hermit’s cave to add a little drama and mystery to the garden.
The house and garden remained in the Greg family for almost 200 years, until they were sold privately in 1963. For the next four decades, both were lovingly cared for by Eric and Liz Lowcock, whose dedication to Quarry Bank gave the National Trust the opportunity to begin work returning the garden to its original 18th century layout.
"The garden restoration is part of a five-year project which has involved careful archaeological surveying, patience and a lot of hard work,” said Alan Knapper, Head Gardener at Quarry Bank Mill.
“None of this would have been possible without the help of over 60 volunteers, including local children, staff from various companies and inmates from Styal prison. They have all played an integral part in bringing the spirit and design of the original garden back to life.”
Quarry Bank House and Garden prior to the start of its restoration. © National Trust
Visitors to Quarry Bank Garden will be able to enjoy the flowering of spring bulbs, followed by azaleas, a unique collection of rhododendrons and swathes of bluebells during May.
In the summer, colourful and more formal schemes will appear in the ‘Ladies' Garden' as they would have been seen in the early 1900s. Greg family photographs taken at the time reveal that the garden design is virtually unchanged and only the planting has altered.
Later this year, research will be carried out to identify some rare plants at Quarry Bank. Over 200 species including hybrid rhododendrons were introduced to the garden in the 19th century by Samuel Greg’s son, Robert, who commissioned well-known local nurseries to hybridise rhododendrons, giving them names associated with the Greg family and the locality. It is estimated that around twenty of these still survive and some could prove unique to Quarry Bank Garden.
Quarry Bank Garden is at Styal, Wilmslow, Cheshire and is open daily between 11am and 5pm from March 11 – October 31. For further information about the garden and opening times for the mill and estate, call 01625 527468 or visit www.nationaltrust.org.uk.