Rock Garden

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Rock Garden


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The Aysgarth Edwardian Rock Garden was commissioned by Frank Sayer-Graham (1859-1946). He was a local landowner who traded in silver rabbits fur which he farmed at the purpose built warren, below the renowned Lady Hill, to the west of Aysgarth. It is reputed that he supplied the last Czar of Russia with fur for a stole. He also exported rare gulls eggs to Europe. Upon his father’s death, Frank and his first wife Mary moved back to Frank’s childhood home, Heather Cottage (opposite the Rock Garden) and proceeded to convert it into a state of the art Edwardian house, embracing the Arts & Craft movement of the time. 

Frank’s overriding passion, however, was for things horticultural. He planted fields of tulips and daffodils as well as at least two plantations of trees around the village. Rose Cottage (renamed Springhill) was his own private nursery. 

It was, of course, the era of the great plant hunters, such as Reginald Farrer, who were bringing new and exciting plants into the country for the first time. Over in York were the famous alpine specialists and nurserymen Mssrs. James Backhouse & Son whose nursery at the time was larger than Kew. Rock gardening was undergoing a popular revival and the Backhouse nursery led the field of building walk-through Rock Gardens, typically in large estates, to house the new and fashionable plants, that were arriving from overseas, in a natural setting. At the Backhouse nursery at Acomb was their own show piece Rock Garden and also a spectacular underground fernery. Sadly the nursery was demolished in the 1950’s. 

In 1906 Frank Sayer-Graham commissioned Backhouse to create his own personal Rock Garden complete with mountain stream and pool. Development took the best part of 8 years, the rock being brought down from Stephen’s Moor at Thornton Rust. Each boulder was transported on a low horse-drawn cart. The construction was overseen by one of Backhouse’s top foremen WA Clark who:‘was paid £1 a day, always wore gloves, carried a small gavelock (crowbar) and went home every third week’ 

To the rear of the Rock Garden, Frank planted a vegetable garden, his own personal touch. As the sign says on the gate, this was very much a private garden. Locals who remember Frank all bear testimony to the fact that they were not welcome in his garden. Children of the time recall Mrs. Sayer-Graham rapping on the windows of Heather Cottage if they so much as touched the railings. Despite its age even today few people know anything about the Rock Garden and even fewer have entered within.

Following Frank’s death the Rock Garden has had several owners. In 1988 when it was proposed to demolish the Rock Garden and develop the site, there was local uproar and English Heritage had it emergency Grade II listed, highly unusual as listing normally only covers buildings.

One owner determined to make it into a money making venture selling garden gnomes. Having spent good money on a television advertising campaign the venture was doomed to failure as the local youth armed with air rifles deemed the gnomes as good target practise!! Evidence of dismembered gnomes were uncovered during restoration. 

In 1998 we bought Heather Cottage, which came complete with Rock Garden. Little did we realise just what we were taking on. Self seeded Ash and Sycamore trees covered a lot of the rock threatening to undermine its structure. Brambles and nettles ran amok, particularly in the vegetable garden. It resembled a rain forest more than it did a Rock Garden. Railings were in need of repair, 10m of stone walling had vanished, the stream and pool defunct. Following extensive research, we soon began to appreciate the Rock Garden not only as a unique piece of Aysgarth’s history but as being of  national horticultural significance too. We resolved to return it to its former glory for the benefit of not only ourselves but others too. 

As with all these things though, it soon became apparent that the main stumbling block was money. The following 3 and a half years were spent searching for funding. Just as hope of ever finding money was fading the Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund stepped into the breach by way of an 80% grant. Once this was obtained the National park Authority donated their consultancy time free of charge, the Royal Horticultural Society and NatWest Bank made contributions, as did some local villagers. We have personally funded the remainder and undertaken to maintain the Rock Garden for a minimum of 10 years.

The restoration began in October 2002 and after extensive replanting was completed in April 2003. The Garden was officially opened in July 2003 by Eric Robson and both the restoration and opening were filmed by Tyne Tees TV. The 2-part documentary “The Secret Garden” was first screened in September 2003.  

A dream has been realised – we hope to have preserved it for the enjoyment of generations to come. 

The Rock Garden is open during daylight hours free of charge. Please stay on the path and beware of low stone lintels, protruding rocks, open water, uneven paths and slippery steps. Please do not climb or remove any of plants. Accompanied children & dogs are welcome but must be kept under close supervision. Dogs must be kept on a lead. 

A note on parking – the Rock Garden is situated on a hazardous bend. Please do not park in front of it or the adjacent cottages. Parking is available in the centre of the village. For your own safety, please do not attempt to cross the road near to the bend close to the Rock Garden especially with children. 

Unfortunately due to the nature of the site the Rock Garden is unsuitable for wheelchairs and pushchairs. 

Sorry there are so many rules but your safety is of paramount importance to us. Finally we hope you will respect the garden but moreover enjoy the “not so private” private Rock Garden.


In January 2012 Adrian and Rosemary Anderson became the owners of the Rock Garden. To contact them or for further information please visit:

The following web pages also feature the Rock Garden:
Out of Oblivion
The Giant in my Garden


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For more information on any of our services, the Yorkshire Dales or to make a booking please contact:
Peter & Angela Jauneika
Heather Cottage,   Aysgarth,   Leyburn,    North Yorks  DL8 3AH
Tel. No: 01969 663229           (from outside UK: +44 1969 663229)

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