Once a run-down Victorian walled garden, overgrown and unloved, Bradley Gardens now bears little resemblance to what it was five years ago.
Mark and Darren Robinson-Jones were already running Bridgewater Interiors in Gateshead before they took on Bradley Gardens. The garden, hidden away just outside Wylam, was in need of serious investment and has been transformed into a unique shopping destination, with a chic café housed in the original Victorian glasshouse at its heart, and shops including a homestore and a ladies’ accessories store tucked away behind the garden walls.
‘It’s been a big learning curve,’ says Mark. ‘We’ve gone from having 15 people a day coming in to getting 3,500 visitors per week.’
But there’s no time to stand still here – Mark and Darren are always looking forward and working out how the garden can grow. ‘Retail is changing dramatically,’ says Mark. ‘We’re constantly rethinking things, and working out what people want.’
Based on their experience over the last five years at the garden, they’re now embarking on a major development. The car parks are being dug up, the garden is being replanted and building is about to begin. ‘Bradley Gardens is like a cruise liner,’ says Mark. ‘It started on a journey and it’s just not stopping.’
Work began this past summer, when new gates were put in and the garden itself was given a serious makeover. The old wooden staging in the raised beds was taken out and stone walls were built in its place, while old sheds dotted around the garden were replaced, and traditional brick buttresses were added to the garden’s exterior walls. The planting itself was also given serious thought – having once been home to a garden nursery, there was a lot of repetition. ‘Whoever planted the garden obviously had 20 asters left, so just went round and planted 20 asters,’ laughs Mark.
Following on from this, the rest of the development (expected to take up much of 2019) will include a new food hall, part of which will be a cookshop, but which Mark wants to be ‘a place where somebody can shop, rather than just full of gifts.’ There are plans to include a takeaway coffee and cake stop, so visitors can take treats home or enjoy them on the patio, which will extend from the new building. There’s also going to be an extension to the café, adding much-needed seating. ‘We’re turning people away!’ explains Mark. ‘You just can’t do that in this climate.’
The current homestore is going to be refurbished, and a new (larger) ladies’ accessories store will also have space for a bath and beauty section. The extended garden store (currently the Potting Shed) will be split into ‘pretty’ and ‘practical’ sections, while there are also going to be less glamorous changes such as new car parks, extended kitchens and upgrades to the utilities (including an advanced eco-treatment plant, which will convert waste into pure water which can be released back into local waterways).
If all this sounds like a lot of work: it is. But Mark’s confident it won’t impact too much on the unique atmosphere of the garden. Most of the development will be outside the garden walls, hidden away for people to discover as they explore. ‘People find it quite tranquil here, and there’s nothing else like it really,’ he says. ‘The garden changes with the seasons, so people feel as though it’s different each time they visit.’
‘We have this great vision for Bradley Gardens,’ Mark continues. ‘People come in and think it’s great, but I always sit back and think: “Not yet. Wait until I’ve finished with it.” People will see in the coming year, what our vision was five years ago.’