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Gardens in Matlock

There are lots of lovely green spaces in Matlock to be able to take the weight off your feet and give you a breather from your shopping, but for some beautifully managed rhododendrons, visit Lea Green, a garden that has been growing for more than 50 years in a wonderful setting that has been a favourite family day out for just as long.

Nestled in a south-west facing slope, ideal conditions for growing the plants that has made Lea Gardens so well known, on the northern edge of the Amber Valley, it looks across to one of the thousand foot peaks of the Pennine chain. The village of Lea stands on millstone grit at a height of some 700 feet above sea level, and is bordered by limestone. In the Valley down below, the River Derwent winds its way through Matlock and on towards Derby.

John Marsden Smedley, the local industrialist, Victorian mill owner and builder of Matlock's famous Hydro and Riber Castle, rebuilt the farm of Lea Green into the fine house that it has become, still used today as a residential and day care centre for the local education authority in 1895. The gardens were typical for a house of that period and featured high sheltered walls and greenhouses for growing fruit and flowers. These early gardens reflected Smedley's great love of plants and the local area still owes much of its woodland nature to his dedication to planting trees to the people of Matlock and future generations.

He tried planting rhododendrons in various areas of the land and these early trials yielded just one ideal position, the present side of Lea Gardens. Skilled craftsmen from his estate used the abundant stone, which was found in the area to fashion paths and verandas in the local style of dry stone walling. Soil was brought from other parts of his estate to top up bed of sand and a collection of rhododendrons and azaleas were started. In his time, he collected nearly 350 varieties of hybrid rhododendron and azaleas in a two acre site and the estate was divided and sold when he died in 1959 at the age of 92.

The gardens were acquired by Peter and Nancy Tye, the latter showing an artistic flair from rockery and garden design and created new Alpine areas to complement the existing rhododendron collection. The garden was opened to the public in 1960 and the house at Lea Gardens was a late addition, built in 1967.

Today the nursery specialises in rhododendrons, azaleas and kalmias , which will happily grow outdoors in Derbyshire at 700 feet and there are specimen plants of many sizes and varieties available for sale. After a walk round the stunning gardens, have a look at the tea garden cafe with a revamped menu full of seasonal, local produce, breads, soup, home-baked cakes and a refreshing cup of tea or coffee.

Other gardens in and around Matlock include Haddon Hall, 6 miles away, Chatsworth gardens, 7 miles away and Hardwick Hall Gardens, which is only 10 miles away.