This is a derelict garden I grew up with. Thirty years later and I can still see the overgrown mass of rhododendrons give up their secrets, stone summer houses, the plinth of the sun dial, the shadow of the footing for a pagoda.
In between these wooden medusa limbs, beneath the green thickets of rhododendron ponticum was the past being pulled and pushed apart by roots thicker than my arm. At secondary school there was a year when orienteering was all the craze, sent with compass and map, squads of teenagers tramped around this garden and the only way any of us got out alive when one of us fell in one of the ornamental lakes. The yells, screams and laughter pulled every lost teenager together in one place. The girl who fell in didn't drown, there were enough cars dumped in the lake to allow a toddler to walk across it without even getting their navel wet. Thirty years later, as then, there are plans to rescue the Japanese Gardens. As a child we called them the Chinese Gardens, it is true to say that this was the more politically correct word we called them, and rather than dwell on this misunderstanding it is easier to say that ignorance is common but common ignorance is all around us. This is born out by the fact that three decades later, people have done more damage to these derelict gardens than nature has. What nature cosseted, buried and made its own, people have largely vandalised, dug up and stolen. That was common when I was child, news that such and such a key stone, sundial or statue was now adorning someone's backyard or worst still had been sold for a couple of pints. It was all gossip, as were the myths about the garden, the word pleasure in pleasure gardens were misconstrued. This is repeated across the country, just look at any planning application to bring a derelict garden back to life. Local people suddenly rise up with sneers, grimaces and jibes, fearful for some unknown reason that the gardens will be full of wild animals, that a private zoo will be on their doorstep. Though some pleasure gardens did incorporate wild animals, as did Lord Leverhulme's Japanese Gardens, it was largely a passing fad of the age and quickly died out, as did most of the wild animals in our harsh climate.
The garden that Lord Leverhulme built, the house that he put at the centre of it, the ballroom that housed the very constellation of his birth on its ceiling, was swept away. All that remains of the grand house is a few tiles from the kitchen area, black and white against the creeping moss and roots. The great lawn is a great patch of rhododendrons, the great lakes, waterfalls and terraces crumbling down onto each other and at each turn people have been there to leave their mark in gaudy spray paint.
A garden left to the people, cared for by a council, has not just fallen into decline, it has been sorely neglected, under funded and vandalised by those people and the council. The latter is a case in point, the house, the lodges, sold off for scrap value. What could be a Heligan of the north or a Lowther Castle is another garden abandoned. If this garden cannot be saved, and there are attempts to secure funding to save it, then the best thing for it would be to lock all the gates, tell the people to leave as they are doing far more damage than the plants. This is a garden that cries out to be restored but only if those restoring it look to the future.