Carr House Farm - a citrus garden in Lancaster
PUBLISHED: 00:13 03 March 2014
This two acre oasis is a hidden gem yards away from the bustle of a busy city centre. Linda Viney reports
Mixing a refreshing gin and tonic using a lemon picked straight from the tree sounds like a distant memory from a Mediterranean holiday. When it’s happening in the rather less temperate zone of central Lancaster you know this a quite special garden.
Carr House Farm, home to Robin and Helen Loxam, is an oasis is just behind a busy thoroughfare through the city and within walking distance of the railway station. Their two acre private garden surrounding their farmhouse has been created over several years and it includes two ponds fed by the Lucy Brook, assorted fruit trees, a Mediterranean-style area blending with cottage and more naturalistic styles. All round are artefacts both collected on their travels as well as some discovered as they cleared the land.
Robin was the sixth generation dairy farmer at Carr House, moving in over 30 years ago when his father Thomas retired. Eventually he also decided to call it a day and the couple turned the farmhouse into their dream home and created apartments and cottages for let surrounding a courtyard.
The original walled garden, some fruit trees, barn and shippon were flattened and the area lawned which gave them a blank canvas to work on. ‘I have such fond childhood memories helping my father and playing in the garden,’ Robin told me. ‘In some ways it was sad to begin the work, but very exciting. Although the project hasn’t been without its pitfalls I have really enjoyed it. One advantage is that having been a dairy farm, the soil is good.’
The garden has evolved and their ideas contrast in many ways from more formal to the natural, gelling as they go along. They both enjoy the wildlife that is so abundant here and spend many an hour watching a family of water hens who return every year to take up residence in one of the ponds.
The word Carr means bog and it certainly lives up to its name. When the large pond was dug out in an particularly soggy part, they also created an island. The smaller pond has flag iris and water-lilies, while giant leaves of the gunnera add another dimension when they are at their peak. Taking the wooden bridge, a walk leads to a small woodland area where a folly has been built.
‘We call it a chapel but the grandchildren look on it as a Fairy House,’ Helen says. ‘They love it.’ With the spare brick and stones they constructed an adjacent well.
I remarked on all the large stone features but, apart from artefacts from reclamation yards, many have come from clearing the land. It is a quiet, peaceful place to sit, oblivious of the bustling nearby city.
Although Robin claims to have no horticultural knowledge, I am sure some of Helen’s experience has rubbed off over the years. It is probably her artistic eye that has created the vistas that greet you - for every twist and turn leads to another area. The formal area by the house is paved and has topiary which stand erect in pots.
Orange and lemon trees are again planted in pots, the latter making a delicious addition to a gin and tonic when they have time to relax. Adding to the formality, a square pond adds the dimension of water with a small fountain style bird bath for tranquillity.
Moving further down there is traditional planting of shrubs and herbaceous with deep blue delphiniums standing erect and perfume wafting in the air from scented lilies. Trees flank either side of the walkway where the cows used to travel for milking. Another water fountain stands nearby surrounded by colourful planted pots and sweet scented lavender. Bird feeders are hung in all the trees in keeping with their love of nature.
Two huge urns flank the large metal gazebo which offers shelter to planted pots and hanging baskets full of red geraniums hang down from above. A dovecote sits against an ivy clad end of the building, and alongside a statue of ‘Fisherman and Child’ shipped over from Asia. It is a particular favourite of Helen’s.
‘I just love wandering round reclamation yards and have built up contacts who have got to know what I like, though we are lucky to have a lot of large slabs of stone from gateposts to troughs left over from farming days,’ she said.
The covered swimming pool has lovely views of the garden and is a popular place all year round, as is the conservatory, where, whatever the weather can they can sit and still enjoy the garden. The conservatory also gives them an opportunity to grow tender plants and a grapevine is testimony to this.
The journey doesn’t end here for at one end lies a Millennium Green, one of many created across the country. The land is leased from the council by the Fairfield Association and in one of the fields you can see the ancient breed of White Park cattle which are now managed by their son, Fraser.
There is also an orchard which includes traditional local varieties of apple such as Keswick Codling and Lancaster Ladies’ Finger. As it is a community orchard, local people can join the harvest when the fruit is ready to eat.