Herterton House, Northumberland

Rising from the rubble

Pictures: Susie White and Tom White

For 40 years Frank and Marjorie Lawley have gardened an acre of land around a 17th century Northumberland farmhouse, turning it from rubble into a tightly sculpted, colour-filled work of art. It’s a bit of a gardener’s garden, praised and written about, but whenever I visit I hardly see anyone else. Even though from a stone gazebo you can look out to farmland, you feel more drawn to look to the inward complexity of the garden below.

Go as soon as you can because the Lawleys are at retirement age. Encouraged by a group of admirers, Frank has written a book about the making of this influential place that will hopefully find a publisher; Val Corbett has photographed it as well as the private interior with its dark beams and furniture, rugs, tapestries and contemplative atmosphere.

The garden’s design echoes these oriental rugs as well as 20th century Colourist painters Klee and Mondrian. Of the five separate garden areas, the Flower Garden (a masterpiece) represents in colour the passage of time throughout the day. Palest washes of dawn begin by the house, moving through the deep blue and orange of midday, out to the violent colours of sunset. All this is painted with unusual perennials, many of which the Lawleys discovered in cottage gardens. The subdivision of the Flower Garden by ‘magic square’ shapes means you walk right through the borders rather than observing from the side. There’s a Physic garden by the old granary, a nursery garden of rectilinear beds, a Fancy garden of tiny box hedges and a Formal garden facing the road. It is all meticulously maintained with no help at all; clipping the mass of topiary shapes is done by Frank in the winter. You don’t need to know the theories to appreciate this garden but it’s really worth reading Frank’s notes, sold in the garden shed.

Not to be missed

The quirky plant sales; the Lawleys dig up fat clumps of unusual plants, wrap them in damp newspaper and plastic bags and sell them from a wooden shed. Delightful! And I’ve never had one fail even in mid-summer.

Quibble

You have to really like topiary and formality. Some people find the garden too rigid. Personally, I love the contrast with my own wilder plantings. Other gardens nearby At nearby Wallington the unusually shaped walled garden encloses a small valley. Terraces step down to a little burn, there are hedged enclosures, sweeps of perennial colour, meadow mixes and heliotrope scents the conservatory. It’s got a very relaxed atmosphere, so different to Herterton.

How to get there

Two miles north of the village of Cambo and 22 miles north of Hexham. Or take the A696 from Newcastle through Ponteland and turn right onto the B6342 after 20 miles.