AMBITIOUS plans to restore a 17th century garden back to its former glory are under way.
The Friends of Old Durham Gardens were founded two years ago to restore the ornamental walled gardens complete with gazebo and orchid in Shincliffe, Durham City.
Colin Jubb, treasurer and retired landscape architect, is using his expertise on the project.
Already 22 rare apple trees have been planted this year, and he said: “We had a plan of the original gardens and trees which no longer grow in County Durham or possibly anywhere else in the region.
“The only place to obtain them now is the National Fruit Collection at Brogdale in Kent, one of the largest in the world.
“Rare apple trees such as Cats Head and Damson, which used to grow here, have been replanted.” The 68-year-old , who lives near the gardens in Mount Joy Crescent, Durham, added that they had a chequered history.
“They were once owned by the Londonderry family who owned a mansion, later demolished, and who put on classical concerts and had the Durham choristers singing, but to a select audience.
“By contrast, in the 1920s a pub called The Pineapple was open there in what is now a private house, but it was a house of ill repute. It was closed after a body was found in the beck.
“Later, in the 1930s, the building was used as a tea room and the gardens were a popular place for locals to visit and enjoy.
“It even had an outdoor dance floor and a lot of wives met their husbands there, but the gardens fell into disrepair after the Second World War.
“We would like them to become popular again like they were in the 1930s and intend to put classical concerts on again, but this time not for a select few.”
The gardens are now owned by Durham County Council who, Colin says, have been “wonderfully supportive” of plans to restore them.
Next year, part of the garden will be open on Thursdays and Sundays from April to October.
Colin said groups of workers from Barclays Bank, Northumbrian Water and Durham University Business School have helped with the restoration so far, but more volunteers are needed.
The county council this week appealed for volunteers to join the restoration project.
Neil Foster, cabinet member for economic regeneration, said: “Old Durham Gardens really are a jewel in Durham’s crown and should be treasured and looked after for future generations to enjoy.
“Helping us out, by giving up a couple of hours of your time, will help to keep the garden in good shape and you never know, you may just make some friends and have fun along the way.”