The playful family garden

A swing hangs from a tree in the garden at Stoneywell, Leicestershire

The four acres of garden at Stoneywell have gone through many changes in their 100 years' of history, influenced by the passions and requirements of the Gimson family. But, as plants were added and walled areas created, the sense of childhood excitement, play and adventure remained unchanged.

The gardens and woodland at Stoneywell vividly echo the voices of the Gimson children re-enacting childhood classics and imagining hair-raising adventures of Swallows and Amazons or Famous Five proportions. And, much like J.M. Barrie's boy who never grew up, the gardens remain a playful space today.

In fact, it was this spirit of outdoor adventure that first drew Sydney Gimson to the Charnwood Forest. In the 1870s he and his friends would spend their weekends camping in a loft over a nearby stable, and it felt so wild a spot that they would extinguish their candles early for fear of being discovered by imagined bandits! It would be another twenty years before Sydney bought the plot of land where Stoneywell stands today, but the area's potential for outdoor play proved just as central as the Arts and Crafts principles upon which it was founded.

The original plan and Gimson planting scheme for the newly formed tennis court
The original plan and Gimson planting scheme for the newly formed tennis court at Stoneywell, Leicestershire

Sydney was a keen tennis player and between 1903 and 1905 he had a grass tennis court made by blasting the rock and repeatedly levelling the land before seeding it and adding a fence. Meticulous drawings show the tennis court amongst the early plans for the garden, though today the games of tennis have been replaced with other traditional games including quoits, bowls and croquet.

At the highest point of the garden stands the fort, which was built by Basil Gimson and his friend in the early 1900s. Originally the fort was thatched with bracken which was readily available from the garden and proved to be very water tight, but this has not been renewed in recent years. Several generations have learned den building skills - one of the Fifty Things to do before you are 11 and 3/4 and something you can enjoy near the kitchen garden at Stoneywell.

The stone fort atop the gardens at Stoneywell, Leicestershire

Families today still venture to Stoneywell to appreciate its grounds just like the Gimsons. For many the gardens and woodland bring back memories of childhood excitement while others enjoyed the opportunities to create plenty of new ones.