The village Open Gardens that attracts visitors from all over the country

A lighthouse is this corner of a Middleton-by-Wirksworth garden.

Catherine Roth looks at one of the June highlights
in Derbyshire, the Middleton Open Gardens.

WITH its hidden courtyards, surprise views, and reminders of the village’s industrial past, Middleton Open Gardens offers a weekend’s worth of gardens.

On June 15 and 16, Middleton-by-Wirksworth will be opening its gardens to the public, promising gardens of all sizes and types, from the traditional to the quirky. 

A visit to Middleton Open Gardens provides an interesting ramble around a huge variety of gardens and in some offers a step back in time to when mining and quarrying, the big industries of the day in the area, dominated the landscape. 

From the well-kept garden of The Vicarage, the village school’s living roof, a wildflower bank and garden, a wildflower quarry at Middleton Top, a high-level rock garden, and a glimpse down an old mineshaft in the village, there is something for everyone.

Rob and Ann Stamper, together with other members of the Middleton Environment Group and other villagers, help to organise the event. The weekend offers the perfect opportunity to see parts of the village that might at first be overlooked or normally remain hidden from view. Rob says: “When driving through the main street in Middleton, it is a bit strange as there aren’t many front gardens due to the unusual nature of gable ends.” 

There is a steep garden built up a cliff that also includes a collection of machines. There are gardens with views over much of Derbyshire, a Japanese style garden, a World War One memorial garden, a garden consisting entirely of raised beds, and the Millennium Garden – a community garden which Ann suggests as a great place to enjoy a picnic under the bandstand.

Rob says: “Some are look-over-the-wall front gardens. One house has a frontage of just two to three feet. There are always aubretia growing there, lovely plants, whilst another has a collection of pot animals.”

Ann and Rob have opened their own woodland garden every year of Middleton Open Gardens. A one-acre plot, it is a wildlife garden where nature is able to thrive. Lawns are left unmown so the orchids can grow, there are various wildlife ponds dotted about, and as much as possible is reused or repurposed. However, it is the pirate ship, the two-storey treehouse from which refreshments will be served, and the tiny gnome house – all designed and built by Rob for their grandchildren to enjoy – that gives the garden its keen sense of fun and adventure. Ann says: “The inspiration for the pirate ship came when I visited Kew Gardens and sent Rob a picture of an aerial walkway. He built the pirate ship complete with anchor!”

In preparation for opening their garden, Ann and Rob will cut pathways through the lawns, and, if very muddy, put down woodchip on the paths. Rob says: “It’s nice when people tell you they like the garden and it’s a pleasure to see kids running around. We like to share our good fortune and we meet lovely people.”

Planning for the event begins in March with an invitation to villagers in Middleton’s local monthly newsletter to open their gardens. The organisers also go round and ask all those who have taken part previously if they would like to take part again. Once they have a list of names, they begin to advertise. Then the day before the event they can be seen putting up windmills and signs with numbers at the entrance to gardens so that visitors will be able to identify them from the map. Rob says: “We keep the event simple and the price the same, with the funds going to support the village.” 

The event raises, on average, between £1,000 to £1,500 over the weekend. In previous years, some of the funds have helped fund the village telephone box, supported local groups such as the choir, bought recycled plastic benches, paid for football nets, provided a panorama view board on Middleton Moor so that walkers can enjoy views of the village and beyond whilst enjoying a rest, and reprinted books of local walks published by the Environment Group. Rob says: “Here in Middleton, it’s more about community and making people proud of where they live.”

It is the word “proud” that is the only stipulation for opening gardens. Ann says: “Anyone who is proud of their garden can take part in Open Gardens. It’s more about sharing what can be done with a space rather than showing off the garden. Even a pond in a bucket can be a garden plot and can inspire visitors to think, ‘hey, we could do that’. However big or small the outside space, we want to show visitors that something can be done with it and people are guaranteed to take away ideas to incorporate into their garden.” She adds: “Some people are quite surprised when we ask them if they want to take part in the Open Gardens but if they’re proud of their garden, then that’s fine. People will say ‘My garden’s not ready… but a garden is never ready!’”

Rob says: “The village used to be a different, more industrial, place. In the past, when you walked through the village it would be covered in rocks and grinding dust from the quarries. All Middletonians are proud of their village and it’s not just newcomers opening their gardens.”

The event is run as much for the villagers as it is for the visitors it attracts. For those wanting to share their gardens with others they have the opportunity to show people around. Some sell refreshments, plants and crafts – raising money either for the village or their own charities. Indeed, around half of those who opened their gardens for the very first Middleton Open Gardens are still taking part – although some will have a rest some years, so they can go round and visit the other gardens during the weekend!

Over the years, the Middleton Open Gardens has attracted visitors from all over the country. Rob says: “There was a bus trip from Lincolnshire as well as visitors from Liverpool and Manchester. There are lots of walkers too – people come from all over.”

Tickets are valid for the weekend and, with around 33 gardens opening, many choose to view the gardens over the two days. Rob says: “We sell most tickets on the Saturday. Very few people do the whole village in one day. Some will settle down in a garden and say, ‘this is very nice’, and then don’t bother with the rest! Other people – when it gets to near five o’clock when the event finishes – will be dashing round and saying ‘we’ve still got to go over the road!’” The event is well catered for visitors with various pay points, refreshment stops and toilets along the way.

Middleton Open Gardens started in 2014 and was originally the idea of Hildegard Wiesehofer who, along with other members of the Middleton Environment Group, took on the organising of the event. The group meets once a month and was initially set up with a focus on environmental recycling issues. Rob says: “As these are now covered by other processes, we’re focusing on the environment we’re living in rather than the traditional environment, so we’re getting people engaged with gardens and the wider environment. We’ve written two walking books, have bought plastic benches, a display board and started a monthly walk from the village green. Our current idea is to have a growing Christmas tree in the village rather than a cut one each year.” 

He adds, “We’re always looking out for environmentally-friendly concepts – one idea is electric charging points for the village. We’re looking for people to join our group and bring new ideas.”

Middleton residents are certainly proud of their village gardens. In 2019 it won a Gold in the prestigious East Midlands in Bloom competition. There is also a gardening club with a host of speakers throughout the year, as well as a fun produce show and auction in September at the village hall.

Middleton may be a small village but it more than makes up for it with its varied range of gardens in a weekend that promises surprises and  inspiration!

Editor’s note: Entry is £3 each. Maps are available from the car parks at Derbyshire Wildlife Trust and The Nelson Arms.

More ‘group garden’ highlights this month…

THIS year sees a new group opening under the National Garden Scheme NGS) in Derbyshire – ‘Gorsey Bank Gardens’, writes Tracy Reid. This charming hamlet on the edge of Wirksworth has four diverse gardens open on Sunday, June 9, from 11am until 4pm.

Lots of colour in the Open Gardens of Elmton on June 15 and 16.
Above: Lots of colour in the Open Gardens of Elmton on June 15 and 16.

The design of 2 Brooklands Avenue garden, inspired by a passion for unusual plants and the naturalistic planting style of Dutch garden designer Piet Oudolf. Much of the planting is through landscaping fabric, to suppress weeds and reduce watering.

Mill Cottage’s immaculate cottage-style garden is crammed with interesting plants, alongside a historic mill stream and architectural features. The planting uses the areas of cool shade as well as the sunnier spots to maximum benefit, with seating areas to enjoy the different aspects.

Fern Bank is set in a former small gritstone quarry, surrounded by woodland and hillside grazing farmland. The garden features extensive areas of terracing, with winding pathways, overlooked by a magnificent gingko tree. This is a wildlife-friendly, cottage-style garden in a unique setting with great views.

Watts House has a secluded cottage garden accessed by steps down to a patio, a rockery, and lawned area surrounded by herbaceous borders. Other features include a historic pinfold and stone walls, mature trees, ferns and a small wildlife pond. Garden sculptures created by the owner are on display.

Admission is £7 for all the gardens, and children are admitted free.

The following weekend, an old favourite – ‘Elmton Gardens’ – returns on June 15 and 16, from 1pm until 5pm each day.

‘Pinfold’ is a peaceful, pretty garden that encourages wildlife, containing themed borders with lots of roses and perennials. Enjoy the traditional cottage gardens at Pear Tree Cottage, Elm Tree Cottage, and ‘The Cottage’ as you explore the village. Rose Cottage has large areas laid to lawn surrounded by mixed shrub and rose borders and a number of trees. Small areas provide a garden vegetable plot and poultry run. 

Elm Tree Farm has an extensive three-acre garden comprising herbaceous borders, a kitchen garden and a woodland wildlife garden.The Barn Chalico Farm is a new garden with the distinct Arts & Crafts style.

The Elms is a new home with a country cottage garden theme given a modern twist. The front garden has mature trees, shrubs and perennials. A courtyard with planted beds and sunny aspect. The rear garden has hard and soft landscaping areas, mature fruit trees and flower beds.

There’ll be cream teas on offer at the Old Schoolroom next to the church and food is available all day at the Elm Tree Inn. Do allow the full afternoon to appreciate all that’s on offer there. Admission to all gardens is £6, with children admitted free and dogs on leads welcome. 

Full details of all the gardens open this month, raising funds for the NGS, can be found at