Transforming one-and-a-half acres of neglected West Yorkshire garden into a beautifully landscaped showpiece has taken social worker Craig Limbert 10 years of back-breaking effort, major building work, wheelbarrows full of cash and tons of topsoil.
According to the creator of Low Westwood Garden in Golcar , such is the scale of the challenges he has faced and still faces it will always be a work in progress.
But now, for the first time since beginning the project, he’s preparing to open the garden to the public this summer in aid of the Macmillan Cancer Relief charity.
Visitors to Low Westwood, which has a 110-yard canal frontage and faces the Titanic Spa, will be able to marvel at the vast herbaceous beds, the spring-fed pond, majestic mature lime trees and the extraordinarily tidy vegetable plot.
Craig has joined the charity fund-raising National Gardens Scheme and is working feverishly to get his garden up to his self-confessed ‘perfectionist’ standards by open day, Saturday, August 6.
The garden is attached to a house that was once part of the Savile Estate and had a tennis court and orangery. While the house is divided, with Craig and his partner George Spencer living in a section with origins from the 1700s up to the early 1900s, the bulk of the garden came with their property. They also own land on the other side of Low Westwood, on which George, a hospital chaplain, tends fruit trees and roses.
While Craig is the mastermind of the main garden, he admits that he’s had to bring in workmen to help tackle some of the larger jobs and George has also lent a hand. “The garden was completely overgrown,” he explains, “and we had to do a lot of bull-dozing. We brought in tons of topsoil. I had to move about 50 tons of it by hand and that was just the icing on the cake. We had to put in drainage because parts of the garden were just bogs, and I’ve built stone walls and created a terrace at the back of the house, which was on a slope. We spent £12,000 alone on tree surgery, it was the biggest expense.”
Although Craig once worked as a gardener, he is largely self-taught. He acquired a love of growing vegetables from his grandfather in Barnsley and after leaving school used the Enterprise Allowance Scheme to launch his own gardening business. But, as he points out, gardening day in and day out was threatening to kill his love of horticulture “Working outside when it was cold and damp and my hands were cracking took the edge off it,” he said.
“You lose your passion when you garden full time.”
And so he took himself off to university and has been a social worker ever since. Gardening is a hobby, albeit a time-consuming one bearing mind that he has also been involved in major house-renovation work as well. But Craig says being in the garden gives him peace at the end of a working day that can often be fraught with problems. “When I go out and start working in the garden my day is transformed and the garden takes over,” he says. “It gives you a sense of peace and achievement. It’s very satisfying.”
The garden was already stocked with large rhododendrons and a sculptural maple tree and these still form focal points in the landscaping. But next to the canal, Craig has created a pond, which is fed by the natural springs that run through the land, and he’s dug a huge vegetable plot, with all the crops neatly planted in straight lines. The tennis court is now an expansive lawn.
He has favourites among his plants – agapanthus and astrantia to name but two - and has experimented with all manner of shrubs and annuals. But, in the end, he says the garden has grown ‘organically’. “I allow it to adapt and grow,” says Craig, “We are high up on the Pennines, we get horizontal rain and frost pockets. There are things I have tried that haven’t worked, so you end up growing whatever survives.”
Among the plants that have survived – for generations – are the daffodils that fill the beds in spring. And Craig has learned that some species are as old as the house itself, or even older. He explains: “My partner’s sister Kate Donald runs the National Plant Collection of pre-1930 daffodils and has identified daffodils in our garden that pre-date the 1700s and others that were commercially grown in the 1800s, as well as bulbs that haven’t been catalogued.” (Her website is Croft16daffodils.co.uk)
Mindful that gardening such a magical spot - “with the canal at the bottom it looks as if we have our own lake” – is a privilege, Craig says he sees himself as simply a custodian of the land. “We may have 30 years here, but there are trees that somebody planted 150 years ago or more,” he added. He hopes that when the time comes someone else will see the garden as a labour of love, as he does, and continue the work he’s started.
Low Westwood’s open day is from 10.30am until 5.30pm. Visitors are advised to park near the Titanic Mill and cross the canal bridge on foot to reach the garden. Because the garden is on a sloping site, only part of it has disabled access.