New gardens at Monkwearmouth Station Museum have proved a blooming success. Katy Wheeler took a walk around the historic grounds to find out more.
FROM small acorns grows a project which is changing the face of one of Sunderland’s most historically important buildings.
Visitors to Monkwearmouth Station Museum were once greeted by an overgrown cotoneaster bush that had been there since the 1970s, and wasteland plagued by fly-tippers.
Now the grounds around the station have been totally transformed into a traditional station master’s garden, woodland glade and wildflower meadow.
As well as making the monument to Sunderland’s industrial heritage look a whole lot prettier, the gardens have become a haven for wildlife including hedgehogs, bees, butterflies and birds.
It’s all thanks to the green fingers of duty manager Peter Gibson and his dedicated band of volunteers.
“We’ve tried to represent a cottage garden that would have existed when the station master and his family lived at the station,” he said.
“At one time it would have been used as a means to feed his family, but over time that became unnecessary so flowers took over.”
Everything from the white-painted stones to the foxgloves, delphiniums, tulips, daffodils, crocuses and more that fill the gardens, are the kind that would have been in place in the 19th century.
Such is Peter’s attention to detail that he has studied old photographs of stations, and found antique planters to use at the entrance to the museum’s new wagon shed attraction.
His efforts have not gone unnoticed. Visitor numbers are up at the site, and the gardens have already picked up a Sunderland in Bloom Award and are vying for a Northumbria in Bloom award.
Peter said: “The first bulbs were planted in autumn 2010 and I was really worried because of the amount of snow we had that winter.
“I wasn’t sure they would survive but seeing those first snowdrops come through was exhilarating.”
He added: “I’ve worked here for 17 years and I love this museum.
“But I thought a stunning building and its neo-classical facade deserved a stunning garden.”
Elsewhere on the site, Peter has been renovating a wooded area to the side of the museum which was once used as a cattle pen when animals were transported on the railway.
He has been helped by volunteers including Mark Ellison and Brian Thompson.
It’s proven to be vital hands on experience for Mark, 16, from Houghton, who is studying arboriculture at Houghall Community College. “I came along to the opening of the wagon shed last year,” he said. “And decided I wanted to help out at the museum.
“I’ve been helping to put the woodland path in and helping to prune the trees in a way which doesn’t damage them. It looks completely different up there now.”
A second garden runs alongside the wagon shed, a new addition to the museum which house two restored railway wagons.
In the past it was a target for fly-tippers, but the land has now become a leafy haven for bumble bees at a time when their population is in decline.
At the side of the museum a patch of wasteland which still features an old part of the track is now a wild meadow.
“The bees have been going berserk for the new gardens,” said Peter. “We’ve also had blue tits, greenfinches and bullfinches using the garden.
“Mark had the idea of building bat boxes from some old palettes too.”
The gardens have been planted in such a way that there is always something to look at all year round.
Martin Routledge, keeper of history at Sunderland Museums, said: “The gardens are fabulous.
“Before this the land was pretty dull, but now it’s attracting a lot of comments.
“It’s creating a much bigger experience for people.
“This is such an important site for the city. Sunderland and the whole of the North East was at the centre of the creation of the modern railway system.
“The first railway to work outside of a colliery setting was the Sunderland to Hetton line in 1822. And it was the first railway to use locomotion in parts.”
He added: “The restored wagons tell an important story of how the railways developed Sunderland’s economy.
“There aren’t many examples of that type that have survived.”