Hesketh Bank Lancashire garden

PUBLISHED: 23:52 12 January 2010 | UPDATED: 14:45 20 February 2013



Linda Viney visits a truly green garden in Hesketh Bank

They say good comes out of bad and when Keith Dickinson suffered from pesticide poisoning through working in a commercial greenhouse, both he and his wife Christine realised the harm that modern production methods can cause. Their belief in a natural organic way of life made them even more aware of the dangers and the three acre wildlife-friendly garden at Hesketh Bank, created over a quarter of a century, is testament to their hard work.

'My grandparents farmed here and were more or less self-sufficient. It is a testament to them the soil is fertile through having had manure from the small dairy farm put back on the land,' Christine explained. 'The plot surrounding the house was the old farmyard and this allows us to have plants that thrive in poor conditions.'

Many herbs are grown for their culinary and medicinal uses, and although some can be used in dyeing both for colour and mordant (to fix the dye) as yet Christine hasn't yet experimented, though having recently attended a textile course on design may have a go in the darker months.

The orchard containing apples, pears, plums and damsons has been there since before the 1830s, with many of the old trees still surviving. Sheltered by a hedge of wild plum, new trees have gradually been added including the apple 'Bridget' which is a well known northern variety. Crab apples are used to make jelly.

Wild flowers thrive here and this makes it a haven for butterflies, moths and other insects. They used to grow soft fruit but the birds managed to get to it first and this has given way to more vegetables grown in the potager style with flowers.

The woodland area is a special place where they can relax in seclusion and a picnic table and chairs sited here makes a quiet haven for them. A wild boar (of the metal variety) was a surprise Christmas present from Christine to Keith and she recalls it was difficult to hide at the time, but looks quite at home now surrounded by natural growth.

They are both avid plant collectors, always on the look out for special plants and always bringing home seeds from their travels to experiment with. Initially they are nurtured but once grown left to survive. As members of the Henry Doubleday Research Association they also have access to the seed collection.

Alongside the drive is a bed of weather-resistant plants and shrubs backed by trees to give shelter. The ground here is full of builders' rubble and poor but shows that with carefully chosen planting you can have a garden in almost any situation. Terracotta pots are home to plants that would not survive in wet winter conditions. In contrast, the remains of the old barn is a hot spot housing Mediterranean plants.

Prairie-style planting with grasses has been a recent addition while many of the spectacular roses including 'Rambling Rector', 'Seagull' and 'Kiftsgate' have been there for many years and give a truly English cottage garden appeal.

Remains of old farming equipment are housed in a small museum and an old grinder Christine recalls was powered by a tractor to mill corn to feed the cattle. She has fond memories of the place and hopes her own family will keep the memories alive.

'I spend my life gardening, if not here then for other people. I am always on the look-out for special plants. Sometimes I feel I spend too much time on hobbies such as riding and rambling but when out an about it is a great way to discover new plants, and with Keith's knowledge of wild flowers, life is for learning and nurturing.'

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