A Victorian Spring at Monkwearmouth

Foxgloves decorate the entrance to Monkwearmouth

Last autumn Peter Gibson, Duty Manager at Monkwearmouth Station Museum, decided to turn his passion for gardening into a new, interesting and beautiful contribution to the museum’s grounds.  The self-described “enthusiastic amateur” quickly drew up a plan for a traditional Victorian cottage garden in the front of Monkwearmouth and planted bulbs before the first snowfall.  Now, several months later, visitors to the museum are greeted by the garden’s delightful array of flowers and ferns.  Blossoms of every size, shape and colour decorate Monkwearmouth’s entrance, growing together in harmony.

Cascading blossoms in the front garden

Peter Gibson and Martin Middleton, a volunteer, working in the Sidings garden

But Peter is quick to point out that his work is anything but finished.  The garden, like all thriving gardens, is constantly evolving and changing with the seasons.  Peter also has impressive plans for the rest of Monkwearmouth’s grounds.  Next to the new Sidings building (home to two railway wagons, currently under restoration), Peter and his team of dedicated volunteers are developing a second, more comprehensive Victorian cottage garden which includes over 25 varieties of plants, including vegetables, herbs and flowers. A shadier area has potential to become a fern garden, and Peter intends to turn an overgrown area into a wildlife meadow, where bees, butterflies, birds and possibly even hedgehogs can live in peace.

Sidings before Victorian cottage garden

New plants are added daily to the Sidings garden

Traditionally, Victorians kept small gardens to feed themselves and their families, taking pride in the beautiful flowers they grew alongside their vegetables.  Today’s “Victorian” cottage gardens are similar to the traditional version, but are home to a variety of different and hybrid plants that weren’t available in the 19th century.  The inspiration, however, remains the same: a wide variety of flowers of all sizes completely covering the soil, immersing the visitor in blossoms and greenery.

Can you spot the bee in this picture?

Designing and planting the gardens has lead to some interesting ‘finds’. After trimming a number of overgrown branches, volunteers re-discovered an authentic loading gauge that dates back to Monkwearmouth Station’s working days. The loading gauge ensured that the trains could pass safely beneath bridges and go through tunnels after leaving the station.

Loading Gauge

Peter hopes that Monkwearmouth’s gardens will attract more visitors, and believes that with time, the gardens could become an attraction themselves.  For now, though, the gardens certainly make for a beautiful addition to Monkwearmouth’s grounds.  If you’re in the area, why not stop by and explore the whimsical array of foxgloves, tulips, daffodils, roses and more.


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