The Gardens

The home of the Davies family and their renowned Maiden Bridge Arts Centre, offers art exhibitions and courses that are set within an important experiment in garden design.  Artist David Davies and expert weaver Hannah Smeds-Davies, together with their artist daughter, Zunya and arborologist son, Ezra make a formidably creative team. 

Their gardens are a dense, varied, luxuriant oasis, set within the stark, bleak, windswept magnificence that are the fells above Tatham.  Over 30 years, a temperate rainforest has been cultured in the heart of this ancient livestock farming district, all under the wise watchful gaze of the Old Maiden, a majestic ancient beech tree that is worthy of trolls and sprites and Brother Oak, its gnarled diminutive neighbour.

The gardens are seen as an extension to the art gallery, with sculpture adorning dappled glades and dark mystical spots.  Learning hallowed techniques, aspiring artists can contemplate and wander around this exuberant tribute to nature.

To local farmers, it was a bold and incomprehensible move to plant trees: Himalayan Birch, Ayacahuite Pine and a Mediterranean Cork Oak in the midst of a field, these pioneers marking out what was to become a wonderful, verdant wilderness. The garden’s origins arose soon after the Davies family moved from post-1987 hurricane Sussex to Tatham Fells.

Ezra, still a teenager, had replanted a 2 acre site in Sussex, recreating a devastated Victorian garden with beauties such as the pagoda like Picea breweriana and fast growing Giant Redwood trees.  He noticed that Giant Redwoods stood proud, still erect amongst the swathes of uprooted trees and twisted branches, but his interest was first sparked from a book, bought at a school book sale.  Now he is an experienced plantsman.

With help from the Woodland Grant Scheme, he planted mostly native mixed woodland at Maiden Bridge and this created a microclimate.  The trees were slow in starting because of the wind and adventurous sheep, eager to experiment their diet.  He also learned that grassland lacks mycorrhizal fungi in the earth, so bare-rooted saplings require this added in the form of sachets.  The environment posed a steep learning curve.  The long summer daylight hours and high rainfall can allow rapid growth, but the punishing winter winds and the heavy waterlogged clay soil have caused casualties.  Instead of fighting nature, he has learned to collaborate.

The swampiest parts have been given over to wild ponds and when one pond didn’t retain deep water naturally, it was turned into a fowl filled expanse of bulrushes. Rhododendrons from the windswept pacific island of Yakushima cling around the holocaust memorial stone and near the ring of Redwood trees stands a fresh clump of Chusquea gigantea, the bamboo from the cool windswept rainforests of the Chilean Andes Mountains.

The garden is an experimental journey that has become a haven for wildlife, from deer to dragonflies, waterfowl to butterflies.  The award-winning wildflower meadow is cut once a year and nettles are left for the caterpillars.  Now, from prehistoric remnants, the under-storey is beginning to take shape, with primeval ferns, bilberry, wild garlic and bluebells.  Ezra explains, “In this woodland garden, you have the chance to develop the many different levels of the land, each with its intricate habitats.  The ancient stone walls and banked field boundaries provide juxtaposing rooms. Complexity and volume create a feeling of space, with wonderful vistas and views, using borrowed landscape features adding a sense of distance”.  He goes on to add, “It can also be productive: we grow a variety of soft fruit.  Gooseberries do very well, owing to the wind aerating the branches, but the apple trees are still young”.

In an earlier age, Maiden Bridge was a mixed livestock and arable farm.  Now it grows fruit again.  In all, Maiden Bridge links the prehistoric with the prescient, the traditional with the cutting edge.