You could easily fail to spot Walkden Gardens right towards the bottom of the list on the Cheshire Garden’s web site and, equally, you might drive or walk straight past it on your way through Sale. Indeed many locals are probably unaware that there is a secret oasis right in the middle of the hustle and bustle of a busy suburb of Manchester. I was purposefully looking for a garden to visit in the vicinity of Altrincham where I was working in the morning and Walkden Garden’s own website promised “a beautiful and peaceful hideaway” and “a magical place”. I met up with the rest of my little clan in the FREE(!) car park and we entered the gardens (which are also free to visit!), drawn immediately to the fairytale-like dovecote, originally built around 1840 and a now a grade II listed building. Wild roses climb the red brick walls and it was a wonderful spot in which to take a lovely photograph of Abigail, proudly wearing her new maxi dress. At the end of this blog I explain how I shot this. You can sit awhile and admire the dovecote from a bench built into a drystone wall in a modern curving wave form – the first sign for me that these gardens have been thoughtfully developed by people who care about design and natural materials and who want visitors to really enjoy their surroundings.

From the dovecote you walk towards the very striking Compass Point, made from granite and sandstone, with pebble mosaics and ceramic edgings. The compass marks the heart of the gardens and points towards the different areas, from the Woodland Walk, the Field of Hope, Japan, the Theatre Lawn, Wisteria Arch, The Raft Birch Walk and the Dovecote. Again this is a beautifully designed and crafted feature, that speaks of a team of dedicated supporters. From the compass you can explore the intersecting gardens, all very different to one another. Lawned walks edged with flowerbeds and clipped neat hedges dissect the centre of the garden and beg to be explored and run along. “Doorways” through the hedges lead to amongst others, the fuchsia garden the theatre lawn, the mini arboretum and – a real treat – the Japanese garden. We were constantly surprised and pleased by what lay around each corner, at the end of a path, through a gap in a hedge. The laburnum arch must be breathtaking when it’s in flower, but the kids enjoyed running through the dark leafy tunnel it creates now. In fact they loved exploring everywhere, dashing through the maze, climbing walls, posing on rocks, tumbling across lawns, running through the meadows and woodland and cartwheeling across the compass.

The gardens are impeccably maintained and lovingly tended – there wasn’t a single piece of litter, no signs with DOs and DON’Ts, just discreet litter bins and the freedom to enjoy and relax in beautiful surroundings. We only saw a handful of fellow appreciators, strolling slowly around, despite it being a warm and sunny Saturday afternoon.

The main challenge I think I’m going to face is not getting around all of Cheshire’s Gardens of Distinction, but resisting the urge to return to the same ones time and again. I already want to see the Japanese Garden in the autumn when the acers be will fiery red and purple and the idea of a summer’s evening spent on the Theatre Lawn watching an al fresco performance whilst sipping Pimms is very, very appealing.

The gardens provide the ideal location for a photo shoot and Abigail enjoyed being my model. In order to get the above shot I asked her to lean against the wall – a great way to get people to relax and not look awkward – and I made sure that from where I stood the climbing white rose would edge the left side and bottom of the shot. I then zoomed in and focused on Abigail, ensuring that she would be clear and sharp, but the roses in front of her and the background behind would be soft focus. I also checked that she was in shade rather than direct sunlight. The resulting portrait is evenly lit, nicely composed, realxed and romantic.

By Jane Burkinshaw. Share this post by clicking on one of the Share buttons on the right hand side. I’d love to hear your comments too!

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