By Andy Hirst
It’s a garden like no other in one of Huddersfield’s most challenging environments … and you can now see it in all its glory on national TV.
Just 20 years ago this spectacular hillside garden was just rough grass and heather moorland at the top of an old stone quarry.
Elizabeth and David Smith have transformed their garden at Scapegoat Hill above Golcar into a show garden that people have been paying to visit to raise money for charity via the National Garden Scheme for the last five years.
The garden is now featured on BBC2 Gardeners’ World Winter Special 2021/2022 Episode 2 available on iPlayer. The Scape garden is featured 32 minutes into the programme.
It’s built on a steep slope that’s more than 1,000ft above sea level – and as you look east it’s reputedly the highest spot between Huddersfield and the Ural Mountains 2,250 miles away in central Russia.
The couple moved in 10 years ago, eight years after the previous owners had started work on the garden which is around a third of an acre. Elizabeth and David have taken it to another level – well, several levels actually – as it’s a terraced garden that’s cleverly built into the hillside.
David said: “We enjoy opening up our garden for the National Garden Scheme as we want to share our interest and knowledge with other gardeners. It’s also great to see so many people enjoying it.”
The soil ranges from dry and sandy to heavy clay and some parts get very wet from water running down the hill.
Elizabeth is the garden designer and planner who nurtures the seeds and cuttings and looks for colour and foliage combinations. She’s also built box beds and terracing to cope with the steep slope.
David, former Director of Resources at Kirklees Council, concentrates on the vegetable garden and maintaining the grass slope. In the summer both can be hard at work all day in the garden.
The couple have no idea how many plants are in the garden but David once did an inventory of all the terracotta pots and totted up 800.
Elizabeth said: “I like the garden to look natural rather than disciplined and we want it to sit comfortably in the landscape with a slightly wild feel to match the climate.
“Gardeners’ World described it as ‘immersive’ and while many gardens have small plants at the front with taller ones at the back, we let ours seed into the gravel on the paths so you can get tall plants anywhere. I love walking between plants that are taller than me and being completely surrounded by them. This year has been very wet so things have grown huge. I get upset if I see plants bundled up and restricted.”
The couple care for their plants with a passion – their conservatory is full of plants kept inside over the winter, including some olive trees.
David said: “Our planting is sometimes influenced by the gardens and landscapes we’ve seen on our travels. The use of Bearded Iris in part of the mixed planting on the slopes is inspired by landscapes in Croatia and Greece.”
Despite the tough Pennine climate high up on a hill – it snowed at Scapegoat Hill as late as May this year – the couple are surprised at how hardy some geraniums have proved to be, especially the Geranium Palmatum, which originate in the Madeira and the Canary Islands, and agapanthus. The pelargoniums are all grown from cuttings and kept in a warmed greenhouse over winter and the sweet peas are grown from seed.
Colour is added to the garden in winter with pink cyclamen coum, snowdrops and hellebores.
David said: “The wind is the main challenge and we’ve even had trees blown over, including a holly and some conifers. We have some pampas grass and they have only made it through two winters without being broken – usually by November. They snap so easily but at least sparrows can use them for their nests.”
When it comes to the kitchen garden the couple grow all kinds of vegetables including brussel sprouts, broccoli, potatoes, runner beans, French beans, pumpkins, courgettes and salad.
“We do have short seasons due to the climate up here,” said David. “We tried to grow asparagus and it did well at first but then the voles ate all the roots.”
The garden has gravel paths with steps leading to a terraced kitchen and cutting garden. It has a shed, a greenhouse, a gazebo and two small ponds, one featuring fish and the other full of frogs and toad tadpoles.
Most of the borders are full of perennials and the couple say the best garden centre they’ve found locally for these is Dove Cottage Nursery at Shibden in Halifax.
Elizabeth and David are both voluntary assistant county organisers for the National Garden Scheme in South and West Yorkshire.
They plan to open their garden twice in 2022 – on May 15 and June 26 from 1.30pm to 4.30pm. Apart from visiting the garden, the couple and their neighbours put on homemade teas – subject to Government regulations on Covid – and they also sell plants which all boost the amount raised for the NGS.
The NGS normally raises around £3m a year which is shared between several charities including the Carers Trust, Marie Curie, Macmillan Cancer Support, Parkinson’s UK and countless hospices.
The couple can also donate part of the sum to a local charity which this year will be for the Kirklees Mayor’s appeal raising money for Holme Valley Mountain Rescue.
* Written by former Huddersfield Examiner Head of Content ANDY HIRST who runs his own Yorkshire freelance journalism agency AH! PR specialising in press releases, blogging and copywriting.