An Artist's Garden - Northwood Water Gardens

PUBLISHED: 16:13 26 July 2011 | UPDATED: 19:45 20 February 2013

An Artist's Garden - Northwood Water Gardens

An Artist's Garden - Northwood Water Gardens

Northwood Water Gardens near St Neot has been created by Mackenzie Bell, with art rather than horticulture as his influence. Louise Danks guides us around...

Throughout an undeniably artistic career, having studied fine art for many years, taught art for 26 years and designed theatre sets, Mackenzie Bell had always had an interest in gardening. Designing gardens and working for the National Trust galvanised Mackenzies love of gardening and sowed the seed that maybe one day he would create his own.


Id often visit beautiful National Trust gardens that werealways so awe-inspiring and Id think, wheres mine? Mackenzie says. A four-year house-hunting mission finally found the perfect property, with plenty of land and potential, not far from St Neot. Seven years later and Northwood Water Gardens is mature, sympathetically planned and planted, and packed full of personality. I approached the creation of this garden not as a horticulturist but as an artist this is my 3D organic painting. I try to juxtapose trees and shrubs with contrasting leaf colour and texture so they resonate and are visually stimulating.

What Mackenzie has created at Northwood is nothing short of miraculous. Walking around on a sunny day the sense of tranquillity and calm is overwhelming and belies the hard work that has gone into developing this Monet-inspired garden. For the first three years I was so enthused by the garden and by just being here that I was out in all weathers digging, landscaping and planting! says Mackenzie. I wanted to create a garden that would mature in my lifetime.


The formal garden and walled gardens nearest to the house are beautiful combinations of bi-coloured lupins, alliums and nodding aquilegia, carefully punctuated by box that is clipped into cones. Leading up to the walled gardens you brush past clematis and climbing roses the heady scent of Rosa Gertrude Jekyll helps you on your way. Passing through a small gap in the wall the old granite china clay settling tanks, complete with original cobbles, have raised beds planted to give a relaxed cottage-garden feel.

Further evidence of an industrial past can be found at Northwood. The house was once used for drying china clay. The slurry was pumped off the moor and into the settling tanks at the top of the garden. Sluice gates opened to release the water, and the clay was shovelled into the house and dried. Youll even spot an ivy-clad chimney that Mackenzie hopes to restore in the future.

The garden radiates from the house with numerous, delightful ponds surrounding it. The very fact that Northwood is predominantly a water garden makes it fascinating. The spring-fed ponds flow into one another through four acres of garden, the water gently meandering through a network of granite waterfalls as it passes under giant umbrellas of gunnera, past banks of glorious hydrangeas, pausing for a time in each pool before continuing its journey into the River Fowey.

Northwood is a garden to be enjoyed on many levels and visitors can wander freely, soaking up the atmosphere, with the sounds of the countryside, birdsong, sheep baaing and trickling water. As for the planting, youd be hard pushed not to marvel at the sparkling combinations: Mackenzies signature purple and acid-green/yellow foliage are cleverly paired using different plants throughout the garden, where they glow and provide the rhythm. Conifers, invaluable in any garden, feature strongly.

In a quiet corner the Bog Garden sits ablaze with self-sown candelabra primulas, bulked out with picture-perfect hostas. The spring trickles gently into one of the more shaded pools, then on into the next, the surface of the pond reflecting the heavenly planting scheme skywards; its a beautiful sight and one of the true joys of water gardening. A bench is located here as its a perfect spot to sit and soak up the surroundings.

The plants at Northwood are in rude health and everything is thriving but this is not so easy to achieve with water-logged peat that is constantly leeching nutrients away from roots. Mackenzie explains: Every autumn I go around the garden and feed with specialist fertilisers as its important to replace the nutrients. The results are spectacular.

Northwood Water Gardens & Art Gallery, Northwood Farm, St Neot, Liskeard, PL14 6QN. 01579 320030, northwoodgardens.co.uk. Open on Sundays and Mondays until the end of September

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