Mini Oasis: Sheffield’s small garden busting with exotic plants and rich history
Nestled between the popular Ecclesall Road and Limb Brook Valley, Whinfell Quarry Garden is a hidden gem treasured by locals of the suburb of Whirlow.
Created within a derelict flagstone quarry more than a century ago, the garden has a wide range of unusual trees and shrubs and is currently experiencing a boom as people are spending more time outdoors.
For residents, the garden has became a magical place to explore with a young family or somewhere to just sit and enjoy a few moments of tranquillity.
The Friends of Whinfell Quarry Garden, a community group, have carried out essential work to maintain the site during lockdown and they think they are ready to welcome more visitors and friends.
The small garden has a rich history dating back to the 19 th century. The site was used to quarry flagstones before converted into a garden for Whinfell House in 1895 by the steel industrialist Samuel Doncaster.
He travelled around the world and collected rare plants to populate the garden, including seeds for giant redwood trees from California and rhododendrons from the Himalayas, both of which can still be seen today.
After Samuel Doncaster died in 1934, Whinfell House was bought by another steel family, the Neills, who gifted the garden to Sheffield City Council in 1968 and it has been open to the public ever since.
The Friends of Whinfell Quarry Garden was set up in 2001 to help raise funds for renovation and maintenance of the site.
Pauline Winn, the Membership Secretary of the group said: “I live in a flat that looks over the top of the garden and it’s beautiful. You see lots of trees and you can hear the birds. It seems selfish not to share such a lovely place.
“It’s becoming a really important space for the local community. You can come and contemplate, you can get the fresh air and exercise or you can even work in the garden if you want to. There are a lot of educational opportunities for people of all ages to learn about the plants and the history of the garden.
“If anyone wants to join our monthly Work Parties, they are on the third Saturday of each month with the next one being September 18. We meet by the main entrance, no experience is needed and refreshments will be provided,” she added.
The garden lies within two derelict flagstone quarries - Big Quarry and Little Quarry. Because of its sheltered position and humid environment, it is ideal for growing a wide range of plants.
Pauline said: “We have two giant redwoods, brought from California and planted by Samuel Doncaster himself. There are acers, which are beautiful colours, particularly in autumn.
“We’ve got a couple of orchids in bloom over the spring as well as alpine plants and unusual ferns. We also have lots of rhododendrons and hydrangeas and some of the plants have beautiful smells,” she added.
Besides exotic plants, Whinfell Quarry Garden is also home to a variety of wildlife, such as badgers, which although never seen, leave clear evidence of their digging activity.
An owl box and ten nestling boxes were installed earlier this year and lots of birds can be found in the garden, including blue tits, coal tits and nuthatch.
The ponds are regularly visited by frogs and newts and there are also a range of butterflies.
As more people head outdoors for local parks and green spaces during the pandemic, the garden has seen an increase of visitors in the past year.
Pauline said: “It’s one of the stops of the Sheffield Round Walk, which is a 15-mile loop around the southwestern edges of the city. We are also next to the car park for Whirlow Brook Park so some people discovered the garden that way.
“It has been well used in lockdown and people have found great benefits and will continue to do so. We as a group just want to keep it well maintained for everyone to enjoy.”
Members from the Friends of Whinfell Quarry Garden are currently trialling a list of activity ideas for people to try out, especially young families with children.
One of them was a favourite game of the Doncaster grandchildren at Whinfell House in the past called the Penny Game. You would start at the top of the quarry and toss a coin – turn right if it’s heads or left if it’s tails. Repeat at the next junction and the next until you return to the starting point.
Other activities in the garden include tracing the flowers by their scents, matching photos to descriptions and listening out for birds singing and many more.
The group runs working days every month, some of which had to be cancelled or adapted during the past 18 months, so volunteers worked individually and in small groups, when allowed, to keep the garden tidy.
The first session this year resumed in April and the next three will take place from 9am to 1.30pm on September 18, October 20 and November 16.
No gardening experience is required and tools are provided by Sheffield City Council’s ranger service. Work includes path clearing, pruning and general tidying and tasks can be varied according to people’s needs, fitness and expertise. The group’s latest project is to uncover and restore the stream and ponds along Frog Walk.
To find out more information about the garden, visit their Facebook page. https://www.facebook.com/whinfellquarry/