Sunday, 8 May 2011

Sunday in the garden - Life on Pig Row _ There is a house nestled in the high hills of the Yorkshire Moors ...


Dormouse and The Teapot is proud to present a new column from writer Andrew Oldham.  Life on Pig Row is the story of the garden in which Dormouse and The Teapot HQ sits.  Welcome to our world...

Life on Pig Row



There is a house nestled on the high hills of the Yorkshire Moors. If you pass by you will think that it is a nice row of houses or that it is wonderful view. If you do this it will be on a summer’s day at any other time you will not pass this way. You will not be brave or stupid enough to be outside during the seasons that follow. You will not face driving winds or snows; you will not see the valley below this house fill with freezing fog or watch as the snow rolls in like a sea storm.

Neither will you think as you pass beneath blue skies across fields full of wild flowers and inquisitive cows, that behind this tiny house bordered by an exploding, overflowing cottage garden, that there is a quarter of an acre spreading uphill and facing south.

The house is Pig Row. It is not merely a house or a view. It is a way of life.

For centuries in the fields behind Pig Row there wallowed well fed pigs that became bacon in our kitchen. You can still see the hooks in the ceilings and walls where they once hung the pigs before they slaughtered them. This secret the estate agent neglected to tell us when we first saw Pig Row.

My wife and I saw it at the height of summer and at the height of my wife’s pregnancy. We were looking to nest. We were looking for home. We found Pig Row and it is much more.

Pig Row is a place of secrets.

On the first day we saw Pig Row it was something straight out of glossy magazines that make the reader aspire to a couple of acres, chickens and kitchen garden. Inside the house needed work but this is the nature of house owning and the aspirational life.

Pig Row revealed its biggest secret on the day we viewed it.

The garden was a jungle of willow herb, brambles, ash, willow and laurels.

The laurels choked the garden they had escaped from the boundaries and had turned the garden into a narrow corridor that drove us uphill to another wall of laurels. Forty feet of garden and then this wall, my wife pushed through, I followed, suffocated in the arms of laurel. Beyond the secret was revealed, a massive plot that pushed on and on, choked with brambles and not touched since the late seventies. Left to overgrow left to rot, left.

We bought the house because of this secret. No one else knew. No one else who viewed it that day braved the garden.

We have lived here for nearly two years.

We have lived through two of the worst winters for thirty years and we have seen and unfolded the story of the house and garden. From pigs to quarry men, to a toll road long gone, to the ghosts of Roman soldiers who tromp across the fields once a year in high summer and the mad woman who drowned herself in our well one hundred years ago driven mad by the weather.

Old houses tell stories, old gardens bury them and gardeners dig them up to reveal stones, lintels, windows, plant labels, glass panes, pig bones, sty bones, the foundations of fallen outbuildings, the shadow of smouldering anvils, horse shoes and stirrups have all risen up from the soil I have dug.

Now it is time for me to tell my story here, put down my layer in the garden and re-build a garden on a hillside above the clouds, where the weather rolls in and the summers are glorious and winters are awe inspiring. This is Pig Row, this is my garden, and in these columns I will reveal its secrets.


Andrew Oldham writes about gardening at Pig Row. Pig Row is split into three gardens, the fruit & herb garden, the allotment and the meadow. These gardens are spread over a quarter of an acre on top of the Pennines. Weather is not a problem there, it is a lifestyle. He has received no formal training in gardening. He ignored the gardening wisdom his father told him and opted to eat fresh peas straight from the pod. In his defence he was only six. He has learnt from his experiences of building several gardens from scratch and working an allotment. Andrew is an organic gardener and keeps chickens. His work has featured in The Sunday Times Magazine, The Cottage Gardener and on BBC Radio Four. He is an ex-BBC Journalist. He still eats most of the peas before they get to the kitchen but learnt to listen to his father.