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A cottage garden in Rufford

PUBLISHED: 00:00 30 April 2018

A sunny seated area in the courtyard

A sunny seated area in the courtyard

Linda Viney

Rufford is home to a wildlife haven and, just to prove the point, a dragonfly emerged just as our gardening writer arrived.

Jacky with one of her favourite rosesJacky with one of her favourite roses

I see some remarkable things when I visit gardens for Lancashire Life but this was a first. As soon as I arrived at Jacky Soper’s home I was whisked around to the back garden to see a dragonfly emerging from its nymph stage – and this was before I’d even said hello!

With a great deal of patience and just as much wonder, we stood and watched to see this spectacle and having taken a photograph we finally got around to introductions. ‘Perfect timing, I’m so thrilled for you,’ said Jacky.

Her small pond area is surrounded by marginal planting which provide shelter to wildlife and, having watched the dragonfly emerge, we were able to spot other creatures which had made this their home. Jacky moved to Rufford, the picturesque village where the Leeds-Liverpool Canal meets the River Douglas, 30 years ago. The garden had a large greenhouse and was believed to have once been a market garden. That soon went as Jacky began creating her cottage garden which is made up of several rooms containing the usual and more unusual cottage garden style planting.

She got her interest in plants as a child, going on nature walks with her mother in the New Forest, collecting leaves and flowers which were taken home, pressed and labelled so she could identify them. The love of nature is very much a feature here. Simple single bloom flowers attract the bees as there is easy access to the nectar. There are several seating areas for her to relax and enjoy the garden.

Ammi majus in a herbaceous bedAmmi majus in a herbaceous bed

Among her favourite plants are the roses chosen for their fragrance as well as their gentle beauty. The climber works its way over the shrubs entwined by a herbaceous clematis while the curvaceous lawn winds round the garden, opening up into the different areas.

It is a very soft tranquil place with splashes of colour from the pelargoniums in pots placed on the wall shielding a log store. By attracting nature to the garden, birds will eat pests such as aphids and slugs – one of the reasons why Jacky’s hostas haven’t been ravaged.

Alpines including gentian and edelweiss as well as succulents are grouped together in bowl pots adding further interest. The water table here is quite high so astilbes, ferns, osteospermums and lilies seem to do well. She enjoys experimenting and is planning to try dahlias again after many years.

The martigan lily reminds her of a trip to Swaziland where she saw them in the wild. This is one of the many bulbs like the alliums which came from her mother’s garden. The season starts early with hellebores and will extend right through. She is often shifting plants around and whenever visiting nurseries nearly always returning with a new plan. ‘I prefer nurseries to garden centres any day,’ she said. ‘They are where you can purchase more unusual varieties. I do like experimenting sometimes successfully, sometimes not.’

Erigeron karvinskianus surrounding a sundial in the front gardenErigeron karvinskianus surrounding a sundial in the front garden

When a small extension was built on the house the soil removed wasn’t wasted as she made a slightly raised circular area set in the main lawn. This is edged with stones. There is also a secluded cobbled courtyard which has allowed shade loving plants to be grown with the addition of various artefacts placed on the wall, while a table and chairs allows her to sit and enjoy her meals when the weather allows.

The front garden’s centrepiece is a small terracotta plinth with a pottery sundial feature which is surrounded by the small delightful daisy-like flowers of the erigeron karninskianus. These are mixed with wild flowers giving a gentle light feel. The slate path circles these plants and a rose, variegated shrub and alliums complete the picture and extend the season.

Jacky was thrilled when a magnolia finally grew as she feared it wouldn’t survive. However her patience was rewarded.

Other favourites include the lilac and the viburnum ,which is similar to the cornus ‘Wedding Cake’ tree. She is a member of Parbold Horticultural Society and, when not gardening at home, is a volunteer at Rufford Old Hall. There is nothing Jacky enjoys more than getting down on her hands and knees weeding – that’s a rarity these days!

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