Cottage gardens line the village green at Whorlton, and will captivate visitors to the gardens open day this weekend. Jenny Needham takes a walk around the pretty plot at Fern Cottage

When Ann and Roger Foster moved to the pretty village of Whorlton, near Barnard Castle, they weren’t really looking for a large garden. It was the house they fell in love with – and spent 18 months renovating – but with Fern Cottage came a substantial plot.

At the front, there’s a pretty cottage garden, at the back a sunny courtyard, and then the piece de resistance – steep terracing edged with reclaimed granite setts and paths that wind, eventually, down to the river where ducks dabble and little tiddlers flash by.

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“The back garden has been a work in progress for years,” says Ann. “From the rear of the garage it was completely overgrown with brambles and the size and range of the garden was impossible to see. It all had to be cleared, and trees and saplings removed.”

After the top-to-toe renovation of the house, all completed before they even moved in, it’s surprising the couple, now in their early 70s, could find the energy to tackle the gardens. But over many years, they have created a truly special plot, which will be open to the public as part of Whorlton village gardens open day on Sunday, July 2.

Ann, from Cumbria, and Roger, from County Durham, had lived in Staindrop for 24 years before they moved to Whorlton. “Roger had completely renovated a previous property and was keen to find another for us to move to,” says Ann. “He was always on the look-out.”

The gardens have been a joint project: Ann organises the planting and Roger – whose background is as a land surveyor, constructing roads and bridges – tackles the hard landscaping.

“We laid the lawn first and worked our way down, adopting my idea of dividing it up into manageable areas,” says Ann. “Roger did all the terracing, paths, walls, etcetera. Granite setts sourced through his contacts in the construction industry were used for the drive, the surplus as edging to the paths. They came from a dockside in Scotland and were being lifted and thrown into the sea as the dock was being revamped. Roger bought them and had them shipped down.”

Stone boulders and river already on the ground were also used resited and reused.

Apart from the established large trees, Ann, who inherited her mother’s green fingers, did all the planting at the back. “I propagate some plants, or divide large clumps,” she says. “And I love wandering round other gardens and garden centres looking for ideas and new plants. However, in the end it’s what plants suit your garden and that can be constantly changing. If a plant is unhappy, move it. Try another part of the garden and it will probably thrive. If not, it’s not for you. It’s all trial and error.”

The front garden has also been totally revamped. Originally two, as the house had once been two properties, Fern and Yew Tree cottages, the dividing wall and gates were removed.

“My idea was to keep the patch manageable and divide it up into sections to make planting and tidying easier,” says Ann. “It all had to be completely cleared.”

A crooked tree, an old rose bush and a clematis are all that remain. “I believe the tree is a pendulous silver birch, which has somehow grown in a sort of bonsai-effect shape,” says Ann. The result is a pretty cottage garden which stops passers-by in their tracks. Floral metal gates designed by the couple and made by a local blacksmith make a lovely statement at the entrance to the garden.

Despite its size, Ann tries to keep the garden manageable. Annuals are restricted to troughs in the courtyard, and between a big a tidy-up in the spring and a good clear-out in the autumn, she potters around the different areas deadheading, tackling weeds and replanting. Open gardens mean an extra spruce-up but the couple love sharing their garden with visitors.

“We always have lovely people coming round and enjoying the gardens,” she says. “It makes all the hard work worthwhile.”

  • Whorlton open gardens is on Sunday, July 2, from 2-5pm.