Belper's beautiful River Gardens are close to the North Mill for a reason. They were osier beds back in the day when the Mills grew willow to weave their own baskets to hold the cotton. Pliable young willow shoots were the ideal raw material.
When basket making ceased, the riverside area was developed for leisure pursuits including boating. A bandstand was built and rockeries and flowerbeds were created. There are many quarries in this part of Derbyshire where natural stone could be found in abundance, but surprisingly the gardens made use of a patented artificial stone called Pulhamite. Named after its inventor, it's a kind of gritty sandstone used to join natural rocks together or crafted to create unusual features.James Pulham and Sons were based in Broxbourne. James died in 1898 and apparently the recipe died with him.
There are some showpiece gardens throughout the country featuring Pulhamite and some real enthusiasts keeping its memory alive.
Chelsea Flower Show, with its lovely show gardens, reminded me of Pulhamite, especially Dan Pearson's winning Chatsworth inspired garden, echoing Paxton's carefully constructed 'natural' outcrops of rocks. He used tonnes of genuine gritstone from Derbyshire, transported to Chelsea for the occasion.
The River Gardens are a gem of a garden. Enjoy them!