WHEN the Yorke family lived in Richmond back in the 17th and 18th centuries, their lives were rather grand affairs. Titles and big houses abounded. On his marriage to the Honourable Anne D’Arcy at the beginning of the 17th century, Sir John Yorke of Goulthwaite and Richmond came into possession of a mansion on the north bank of the River Swale, and despite his responsibilities in other areas, he became devoted to his Richmond estate. It was during his tenure that the Culloden Tower – now owned by the Landmark Trust - was built.

He, his brother Thomas and Thomas’s son John II all added to the estate during their lifetimes, building new stables down to what is now a car park on The Green, and Temple Lodge, which was originally called the Menagerie. John II also built a walled garden, and while the mansion is long gone, the garden remains and is enjoying a glorious renaissance.

When the current owners, Dennis and Marcia McLuckie, first encountered it, the plot was totally overgrown. “Our first vision for the garden was to be able to walk through it without serious cutting implements,” laughs Marcia. “Second was to clear the very large herbaceous border of bindweed and brambles. The design evolved as we went along and we took inspiration from other gardens we visited.”

They’ve succeeded admirably and now open Mr Yorke’s Walled Garden in Cravengate for charity. Over the past two years, they have welcomed more than a thousand visitors and will be welcoming guests again in August as part of the town’s Georgian Festival.

So what would Mr Yorke, the garden’s founder, make of it all if he could come along?

“Mr Yorke would be very surprised indeed,” says Marcia. “He might be shocked, though, that the garden isn’t full of fruit and vegetables, which is what it was designed for. He would also have wanted cut flowers for his house on The Green, which we would be able to supply in greater quantity than the edible produce, but in his day, it would have been the other way around.”

Mr Yorke would also be astonished to see just the pair of them working in the garden. “He would have had more gardeners, probably with specialisations, such as the glasshouse foreman, the soft fruit foreman, etcetera. There are just the two of us at present as our half-a-day a week gardener, Iris, has gone away to Italy for six months.”

There’s no denying getting to this point has been hard work, or that staying on top of the garden is time-consuming. When they decided to move back to Richmond from Scorton in 2007 and first saw the garden and adjoining cottage advertised, the McLuckies hadn’t been looking for a project. They were, however, taken with its position, private yet central and close to lovely walks, and the possibility of designing and building their own house on the plot. “The history is a bonus,” says Marcia.

When they took on Garden Cottage in the autumn of 2007, the garden was a jungle and the cottage in a very poor state of repair. Dennis, who is managing director of McLuckie Projects Ltd, completely renovated the property, moving tons of earth to create an access and discovering more than one skull in the process. No one who had fallen foul of the Yorkes, thankfully.

“Buried somewhere in the soil were at least two heads of Old Hoss of Richmond,” he says. “This is a hobby horse with a real horse-skull seen around town at Christmas with a group of mummers, who sing his special song and resurrect him with a blast on a hunting horn when he ‘dies’.”

While they lived in the cottage and renovated another down the road – both are now holiday lets – the couple designed and built their new house in the grounds, and finally moved in in autumn 2009. It faces south across the garden to Billy Banks Woods, but from the garden you can see Richmond Castle and Culloden Tower.

“We were keen to keep the house low in the landscape with little protrusion above the existing garden wall, so we built it long and low with interconnecting corridors,” says Dennis. “It has four bedrooms and we have a lovely, big kitchen with a conservatory in front looking over the top part of the garden. The house is built of mixed materials as the planners wanted the house to appear as if it had been added to over the years. The reclaimed bricks came from a salvage yard and we incorporated some Arts and Crafts-style features into the interior.”

Once the house was complete, the McLuckies – not ones to stand still for long – turned their attention to the garden, no small task. It was cleared, planted and is now maturing year by year. “We love the general feel now and the way plants are getting big enough to support each other,” says Marcia. “The layout we planned really works with ‘rooms’ and twists and turns.”

Any gaps are destined to be filled with yet more plants. “There is still an area at the very bottom of the garden that we have hardly touched – it is a jungle; very reminiscent of the rest of the garden when we first came here,” adds Marcia. “We are just completing a circular pergola with a cobbled floor that we are planning to cover with wisteria grown from the centre as a tree. We have talked about cutting more flowerbeds into the lawn, and also possibly a second parterre garden.”

The couple, who are both keen amateur gardeners, says they enjoy working in the garden together and coming up with schemes. “One of us is always having ideas that we set before the other – these are our committee meeting moments,” laughs Marcia. “We were pleased to be awarded a silver gilt in last year’s Yorkshire in Bloom judging, and we’re hoping for gold this year.”

Mr Yorke’s Walled Garden was first opened to the public under the National Gardens Scheme umbrella in 2107, raising money for national and local charities, and the couple also host some private tours. It gives them a great deal of satisfaction. “We find our garden openings are always happy affairs and so far the sun has always shone,” says Marcia.

The move to Richmond has proved a success, too. Marcia and Dennis love being able to walk into town and down to the river, the racecourse and the woods, and enjoy food and films at The Station and performances at The Georgian Theatre. As chair and treasurer, respectively, of the Original Richmond Business and Tourism Association, they are also very involved with Yorkshire In Bloom, and there’s no doubt they have accumulated plenty of green-fingered tips to pass on over the past few years. Mr Yorke would be proud.

• Mr Yorke’s Walled Garden is opening on Sunday, August 18, 1pm-5pm, as part of Richmond’s Georgian Festival. The neighbouring Culloden Tower is also open that weekend. Admission to the garden is £5 adult, free for under 16s.

• The cottages are for rent through Yorkshire Country Holidays yorkshirecountryholidays.co.uk


Peonies – because of the colours and their generally ‘blowsy’ feel.

Roses – lovely smell and fabulous flowers – we have mainly climbers and standards.

Delphiniums – high-impact, statuesque, beautiful flowers.

Foxgloves, geraniums, lavender, scabious – beautiful flowers in blues and yellow and pink and loved by the bees.