Replete with garden rooms and sweeping vistas, Coldcotes Moor Garden is a far cry from the farmland it once was, as Sarah Millington finds out

IT’S only by looking at the old photographs that you get a true sense of just how far Coldcotes Moor Garden, and the farmhouse in its midst on the outskirts of Ponteland, have come. One is an aerial shot of a giant shed with a rough-looking brick building at either side; another shows three towering elevations looking down on an expanse of grey paving.

In the latter, the farmhouse looks almost institutional. Ron Bowey laughs when he hears this. “We’ve changed quite a bit,” he says, in something of an understatement. “The courtyard was almost entirely block paved. We’ve replaced it with reclaimed York stone. The garden was pretty basic when we came here.”

In their eight years of living in the farmhouse, Ron and his wife Louise have completely transformed its surrounding 80 acres. As well as replacing the unsightly paving with more sympathetic stone, they’ve created a haven of garden rooms in the courtyard, softening the look of the building’s imposing brick edifice. There’s a wooden pergola and benches, plus ornaments like a topless woman reclining on the grass, and plants of all kinds bring colour and life. The purpose behind it all was to create a space to linger. “There are lots of paths to wander round,” says Ron. “Each corner you turn, you find a surprise.”

The farmhouse as it now stands was built 18 years ago, partly with materials from the old barns from its origins as a working farm. While some of the land was sold off, the current 80 acres were retained, most as working farmland now managed by a farmer. Yet when Ron and Louise moved in, there remained a massive area which the previous owners had never really got to grips with. This was something the couple, both in their late 60s, were keen to address.

“I employed a landscape architect to give me an initial masterplan because we saw the whole garden as a landscape, as opposed to a garden,” explains Ron. “In the event, the landscape architect and myself worked on one or two particular areas and I did the masterplan myself.”

Having worked in the building trade – Ron used to run Bowey Homes before he sold it on and retired – he had some idea of how designs worked. A correspondence course in garden design, which he embarked on before tackling his previous garden, in Darras Hall, increased this knowledge. A key influence has been the late designer John Brookes.

“I read one of his books end to end. It was very instructive in terms of design principles and I liked the styles that he adopted,” says Ron. “I would describe this garden as John Brookes style, with the way he used materials and shapes and so on. I’m also very much into vistas because they draw you to the next place. I’m not very good at plant names – I’m more interested in the structure.”

Walking through the garden this becomes evident. Leading from the courtyard, to the side and back of the house, are several themed areas, each with its own distinct character. A patio with table and chairs provides the perfect opportunity for al fresco dining, with views across the walled and children’s gardens – the latter created for Ron and Louise’s eight grandchildren. Everywhere you look are interesting features like ornaments and fountains – though when I visit, the water is turned off due to a technical problem.

Built into the far wall, looking out across a lake, there’s even a moon gate. “This was one big area with a pergola in the middle but there wasn’t much in here,” says Ron. “The moon gate is one of the more striking features. It’s a one-off design.”

As you move right towards a woodland brimming with daffodils and bluebells, there’s a sense of nature starting to take over. Ron’s favourite spot is a rustic pergola with one of the garden’s most stunning views. “I designed everything here myself,” he says. “As you get nearer to the mature wood it gets more and more rustic so it’s a progression of style. I didn’t feel this would look right if the wood was all square cut.”

To reach the woodland, you pass through Louise’s garden – though, according to Ron, his wife isn’t really a gardener. In contrast to the broad sweeps of planting in the other areas, this has little pockets. The impression of refinement is enhanced by a Victorian-looking statue. “It used to be in the middle of the walled garden,” explains Ron. “It was here when we arrived and we didn’t like it where it was, but I’m not one for chucking stuff out. We tend to pick things up on our travels. A lot of the ornaments go back years to our previous houses.”

Perhaps Ron’s favourite feature of the garden is the lake, reached by a path bordered by birch trees, providing yet another vista. “The lake is one of the big attractions for the house and the location,” he says. “It was here when we arrived.”

While Ron has help in the form of two full-time gardeners, he admits the garden project has grown beyond his expectations. It might be hard work, but it’s a labour of love. “I didn’t intend it to be quite so big – it just got that way,” he smiles. “I’m constantly on the go. You’re more likely to visit somebody else’s garden and sit in it than your own.”

  • Coldcotes Moor Garden will be open as part of the National Open Garden Scheme on July 11 and August 5. Ron and Louise also welcome groups of ten or more throughout the second half of June, July and August. Visits are by appointment only, and tickets for the open days must be pre-booked by visiting