THE name Wychwood conjures up a certain sort of magic, so I was intrigued by the thought of the Wychwood Wild Garden in the heart of Shipton-under-Wychwood.

Arriving at the garden, I found myself looking down the avenue of 70 or so lime trees positioned straight opposite the imposing Shipton Court, to which the garden once belonged.

A stroll down the drive and into the garden revealed a mother pushing a pram, several dog-walkers with their pets on leads, and two small children. One was feeding ducks and the other looking at fungi, both with their respective grandfathers.

They were all enjoying the day in this tranquil spot in the Evenlode Valley, for the garden is a much-loved resource that is now owned and managed by the community.

A lot of history has flowed under the bridge since the 400-year-old Shipton Court, reputedly one of the largest Elizabethan manor houses in England, came into being. It was built in 1603 by the Lacey family, who occupied it until 1663.

It was then acquired by Sir Compton Reade and it remained in the family until Sir John Chandos Reade died. He left the property to his footman, Joseph Wakefield, in 1868 on condition that he took the name Reade. This may suggest he did not have an heir.

In 1900, it was bought by WF Pepper, a Yorkshire coal millionaire, but he sold up in 1913 – perhaps having spent too much on the garden and house.

After the Great War it changed hands again and this pattern continued until 1947, when the estate was finally split into lots and sold by auction. The house and grounds were bought by Mrs Arathoon in 1948 and remained in the family until 1977.

After her death, the house was divided into apartments and remains so today.

However, the park and gardens have remained undivided and are listed in the English Heritage Register of Parks and Gardens of Special Historic Interest, along with various architectural features.

The Wychwood Wild Garden, on the opposite side of the road to the house, covers 12-and-a-half acres. It includes the remains of a Victorian pleasure garden that was probably created in the mid-19th century, although it remains unclear quite who commissioned it.

By 1881, the Ordnance Survey map clearly showed the main features. A circular walk passed by spring-fed ponds and three canals which were skirted by woodland.

Sheep safely grazed on either side of the imposing drive, but crossed from field to field by an underground tunnel. Any long-skirted Victorian ladies did not soil their hemlines unnecessarily in sheep dung.

However, some features pre-date the Victorian era. The stew pond may well have supplied fish for Saints Days and Lent to the Elizabethan Lacey household. We also know that the Lacey family had a bowling green and dog kennels on this site, giving rise to the name Dog Kennel Lane.

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Mike Watson, the chairman of the trustees, gave me a guided tour. He took me through the restored gates – one of the first things the community tackled in 2010. He explained that the garden had been most recently owned by Brian Gorton, who managed it as a woodland, with 2,000 trees planted over a period of 30 years.

The area had always been loved by the villagers, but there were local concerns about the site being redeveloped. Mr Gorton did not want to see the site built on either, so he offered the land to the community for £50,000 in 2009, and gave them 12 months to raise the money.

A campaign brought in £70,000 and the community acquired the garden in July 2010. It was officially opened in November of the same year, after the site had been made safe.

A team of seven trustees now manages the site and every Tuesday a core of eight to 10 volunteers spend the morning maintaining the garden. They never quite know what they will find. This October, Hurricane Gonzales brought down a veteran beech tree overlooking the round pond — which took out a yew tree and three more trees on its way down.

The morning was spent chain-sawing the branches, which were blocking the path, but the logs will be sold to raise money for the garden. The main running costs are insurance, about £1,000 a year, and tree surgery. Luckily the beech came down overnight, so no-one was hurt.

The team has also planted 18 new lime trees to plug the gaps in the avenue. They chose the common lime, Tilia x europaea Pallida, to match the existing planting. Each new tree cost £250 and they are watered using treegators, a green plastic bag filled with water.

Some of the largest limes have been dated to the early 1700s and in 1773 the owner Sir John Reade actually stipulated in his will that his wife was not to cut down the avenue. Most of the limes, though, were planted in 1860, probably at the same time the pleasure garden was created.

Four working parties are held throughout the year and a team of 30 spent the morning of November 1 clearing up after the storm. Many of the volunteers are children, so it is hoped that they will ensure the future of the project for generations to come.

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The garden’s 300-year-old Cedar of Lebanon

Wychwood Cubs also built and installed bird-boxes this March, and all of them were used this spring by members of the tit family.

So far drystone walls have been rebuilt, the canals have been dredged and the paths have been dressed with wood chippings provided by local tree surgeons.

Four benches have been added, at the request of villagers, and more are on their way.

In May one brave soul, Chris Knight, donned his wetsuit to find the main plug for the canal so it could be drained ready for restoration.

All the significant trees have been tagged and local families have completed a nature survey. The ha-ha has been restored and a mixed species hedge, which will attract wildlife, now skirts the cricket ground border.

One of the oldest trees is the 300-year-old Cedar of Lebanon (Cedrus libani) above the Round Pond. This was introduced into Britain in 1638 and by the early 1700s every grand estate had planted them.

The wild garden is free to visit. However membership, which costs an annual subscription of £20 or more, drives the project financially.