Get the look: classic style in the Old Vicarage garden near Manchester
Restoring a historic house and its garden eight miles from Manchester has been a labour of love for Neil and Susan Kinsella, as Sue Bradley explains
THE garden at Astley Old Vicarage holds happy associations for people living in the parish, not least Susan Kinsella, whose mother was once crowned May Queen there.
Yet for many years both this long piece of land and the historic house it belongs to were neglected – a far cry from the important role they had once played within the village.
Many were upset by the ongoing decline of the property, not least Susan and husband Neil who, despite having busy careers and a young family, took the brave decision to plough their savings and energies into rescuing and restoring it.
Just over 30 years on the garden surrounding the Old Vicarage has a new lease of life as a fitting backdrop to the Grade II*-listed house, parts of which date back to 1590. The garden is a space for displaying garden art and a means of raising funds for charity through its open days for the National Garden Scheme.
Neil and Susan’s approach to restoring the plot began with an inventory of its existing features, which included a small arboretum and a narrow stream known as the Eleanor Brook, and these have continued to contribute to the wilder feel towards the back of the gradually tapering site.
Closer to the house the couple have gone for a more formal feel, with a paved parterre planted with columnar Italian cypress and box-edged beds. A leylandii hedge, chosen due to its ability to grow quickly, is kept in check and sculpted in a way that produces a series of arches, one of which is used to accommodate an alcove seat.
The focal point for this area is a circular ring of box and ‘Celebration’ roses surrounding a statue.
The shape of this bed, inspired by its original use as a fish pond, is used
“It’s a space for displaying garden art”
elsewhere in the garden, acting as a unifying device tying different parts of the plot together.
Other repeated features include yew hedging, some of which was grown from saplings found nearby, and the use of artistic pieces, including many made from wire by Neil.
“It all started with a Robin Wight kit I was given,’ laughs Neil. “Once I had made one, I started to do more and
people asked me to make one for them, too. We enjoy having art in the garden; it personalises the space and brings a little bit of soul to various areas.”
The formal parterre around the house has a room-like quality – something that was especially important when the couple’s children were young. As the years have gone by, the family has made the most of the entire space, opening it up with pathways and setting up tables and chairs for alfresco lunches and outside entertaining.
Taking on an old garden isn’t without its challenges, not least the degree of shade from neighbouring properties and mature trees. In some cases, Neil and Susan have had to gain permission to remove unwanted features, such as a rampant laurel hedge and trees that had reached the end of their productive lives.
“We’ve always had a rough plan for the garden, although restoring a historic house is not cheap, which meant we were always gardening with a strict budget back in the early days,” says Neil.
“Astley Old Vicarage was a wreck when he came here and restoring it is an ongoing project. We know how much it means to people here and how it’s long been a focal point for the village.”
“The vicarage was a wreck when we came here”