Pay a visit to Cheeseburn Grange, just 20 minutes from the centre of Newcastle, and you'll not only discover 11 acres of beautiful landscaped gardens, but a magnificent showcase for public art. Since inheriting the house in 1992, Simon and Joanna Riddell worked to restore the gardens, and set the stage to present contemporary sculpture by artists from the locality and from further away.
One of the first pieces you come to in the gardens, next to the new Stables Gallery, is an arresting three metre-tall ammunition shell, covered in feather scallops, which are coated themselves in dark grey poppy seeds. Named Stanza, it's the newest sculpture added to the gardens. Tyneside artist Sarah created the poignant work influenced by the poems of ornithologist Edward Thomas, who wrote about the birds he saw and heard at the Western Front during the First World War.
'We have a mixture of artists from recent graduates to people of a good age. Gilbert Ward – in his 80s, lives by Hadrian's Wall and used to teach at Northumbria University – created two beautiful collections of wood carvings, Bakers Dozen and The Fall, which are installed in the old potting sheds,' says Arts Consultant Matthew Jarratt, who draws on 15 years of experience at the Art Fund to curate the works in the sculpture gardens.
He and estate owner and gardener Joanna teamed up in 2013 to create something quite special for sculpture in the North of England. In the grounds there are many different types of gardens: a formal parterre garden, the lawns, a walled garden space, a woodland area down to a river, a tunnel in the woodland walk, and they're even using a hemmell (a Northumberland stone building for livestock to shelter) in the farmland. 'We see the grounds as gallery spaces, and we are starting to use the pasture land on the estate as well,' adds Matthew.
'It's a part of the world that not many people know, so there is a real sense of discovery. It seems to attract people that like historic gardens and those into the arts.’
For Matthew, Cheeseburn Sculptures is about the gardens showing off the sculptures and vice versa. 'For people who love gardens, there are a lot of different things to explore, and the unexpected thing is that each garden area has a different piece of sculpture. The best pieces interact with the buildings, the walls and the trees.'
He and Joanna are serious about helping artists to display their work and the plan is to build on the numbers of sculptures and works in the gardens. They're also making the most of the new exhibition space in the Stables Gallery and Projects Space, and visitors on the May bank holiday weekends will get the first view of the exhibition by brothers Neil and Richard Talbot.
They are building up to a summer outdoor sound exhibit, for which they will work with the BBC's wildlife Sound Recordist Chris Watson, who counts David Attenborough's Frozen Planet series in his programme repertoire and they're already planning ahead to Christmas exhibitions.
To say this project is still in its infancy, Cheeseburn is one garden we'll be watching to see how it grows.
To read more about Cheeseburn and find out their opening weekends, head over to www.cheeseburn.com
If you want to find out how you can get involved in National Gardening Week, visit www.nationalgardeningweek.org.uk