Swamp to Sanctuary

DSCN3956” Hi , it’s Mike, Content Editor, from Granada TV. Is there any chance we could film you live tonight for the local news?” I had an immediate frisson of misgiving- what had I done wrong that i was going to be on the local news!!!!! But it turned out that all they wanted was for me to turn up to a lovely N.G.S. garden near Salford that they were filming for a ‘feel good’ item in my capacity as an N.G.S. Assistant County Organiser. Mike said they might even ask me a question!Well, what’s a girl to say? Yes, of course!

The garden in question is The Secret Valley, a two-acre patch of land that used to be an unwanted swamp, derelict and covered in dense knotweed but has now been transformed into an oasis of peace and a sanctuary for wildlife. And who was the genius who created this haven? None other than Sally Berry, 78, who has spent seven years transforming it with not much more than a scythe and a lot of sweat ( or perspiration I should say- apparently ladies don’t sweat).DSCN3945

Sally, always a keen traveller, was born in London and evacuated to Cornwall at the start of the war – and it was the freedom of her childhood there which she believes has fostered her love of gardening and the outdoors.At 71 she went on a three-week motorcycle holiday to Laos in south- east Asia, which  resulted in knee trouble. It was then in 2010 that her son William decided to buy the land, a former coal board dumping ground, for her as a project.DSCN3966

She once told me that the real spur to getting started was when she found a dead swan in amongst all the detritus . So incensed was she that she went out and bought a scythe and started slowly transforming it into the urban paradise and wildlife sanctuary that it is today.DSCN3967

DSCN3956I spent ten minutes agonising about which jacket to wear ( brown rainproof or blue linen a la my only other tv appearance with Mr. Titchmarsh?……..I chose the brown rainproof- more professional I thought), then another ten minutes on which necklace to wear ( the multicoloured one, to make me look brighter and offset the grey hair) and then another ten minutes on thinking how stupid I was to even bother about such things. It was two minutes on TV for heaven’s sake!

” Turn up at 5.30pm and we’ll be going out live at 6.30pm” they had said.

” We’ll dash home to watch you Mum! You’re becoming quite a celebrity!” said both my daughters, not bothering to disguise the dash of sarcasm. Sadly, I had to point out that since it’s on the local news up here in the North and they’re in London, I’d have to save them a recording of it on DVD. Still, at least that’s their Christmas presents sorted………

The traffic was a nightmare, with the cars bumper to bumper for over an hour on the motorway- tension was running  very high indeed. Eventually I screeched to a halt on the road where I knew the garden to be, but now I couldn’t find the entrance. Another ten minutes later ( I was now really panicking) someone emerged from the shrubbery-. Apparently the entrance was down a hidden track ( talk about ‘Secret’ )and you needed a code to get in ! A code!!!!Luckily this stranger knew it. Once in, I was faced with this huge space- where was everybody?????DSCN3965

I ran around shouting “Hello?Hello? Anyone there?” until eventually I stumbled upon them in a hidden glade. ” Gosh, sorry I’m a bit late only I couldn’t find you!” I blurted out. “Oh, it’s alright dear, I don’t think we need you now, ” came the reply from the TV presenter. ” You won’t get in shot will you on your way out will you?………DSCN3950

I was gutted. I slunk off to go back to the car, got lost amongst the loveliness and then discovered that I couldn’t actually get out- no code! They were filming now ,and really near me, so the only thing I could do was hide  behind a bush until it was over. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry- I was hot, thirsty, and needed the loo!DSCN3968

On reflection, I decided to laugh – and have a very large glass of Prosecco when I got home.

I’ll leave you with a couple of last photos of this lovely space, started by the wonderful Sally Berry when she was 71 years young. Just shows you doesn’t it- you’re never too old to make a difference……… Cheers!DSCN3956

The Secret Valley, open on Sundays up to August 13 and accessible to the public from The Reach, off Hopefold Drive in Walkden, has raised more than £10,000 for cancer charities. For full details visit http://www.thesecretvalley.com and http://www.ngs.org.uk.



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