Lancashire's Churchtown goes green with ferns

PUBLISHED: 22:33 12 January 2010 | UPDATED: 15:52 20 February 2013

Martin Sutcliffe, Suzanne Rushton and Alan Foxhall, part of the Botanic Gardens Nursery team inside the newly refurbished Fernery

Martin Sutcliffe, Suzanne Rushton and Alan Foxhall, part of the Botanic Gardens Nursery team inside the newly refurbished Fernery

Things aren't just black and white in this pretty village on the outskirts of Southport. Amanda Griffiths reports

CHURCHTOWN is going back to its roots. The village is famous for the pristine Botanic Gardens on Bankfield Road where visitors can spend many an hour strolling around the manicured lawns and flowerbeds, enjoy a gentle boat ride on the lake or watch the happy faces of children as they ride the miniature train.

The people running the gardens have ensured - in the nick of time - that they will remain a British treasure. The garden's acclaimed fernery, one of only two in the north of England and one of the biggest in the country, has undergone a complete refurbishment and re-opens to the public at the end of March.

'The restoration has taken about six months to complete at a cost of around 300,000,' says Alan Foxhall, head gardener at the Botanic Gardens.

'Thankfully we secured the money to do it last year. If we were trying to do it this year in the current climate we'd never have got the funding. As one of the biggest Victorian fern houses remaining in the country we are fairly unique. People would never re-create something like this these days, it would have been a shame to let something so unique slip into disrepair.'

The Victorian Fern House at Churchtown's Botanic Gardens dates back to the days of the Victorians who, for one reason or another became obsessed with ferns.

The craze, known as 'pteridomania' grew in momentum in the 1840s and soon became a hobby for people from all walks of life to indulge in. The Botanic Gardens were originally opened in 1874, with an admission fee of 4d. The fernery once had a huge glass conservatory on one side of it. This no longer remains as by the time Sir Roger Fleetwood Hesketh re-opened the gardens in 1937 after the Botanic Gardens and Museum Company went bust in 1932, the conservatory had fallen into disrepair and was knocked down. The outline of this building can still be seen to the right of the fernery with the formal flowerbeds laid out in its place.

With more than 100 different species of ferns Alan is looking forward to the re-opening of the fernery, built with a special kind of rock.

'The ironwork has been refurbished, the glass of the roof replaced in half circles as it would have been done in Victorian days, the design is exactly how the fernery would have looked in it's heyday,' he says.

The fern house also has its fair share of television credits: 'Whenever the BBC or ITV want to film a scene in a Victorian fern house, they often come here,' says Alan proudly. 'Over the years we've featured in dramas on both channels.'

With waterfalls tumbling over rocky water features, fish swimming around in the wishing well at one end of the building and a turtle hiding away from visitors in a nook at the other end, the fernery is a warm paradise sure to enthral even more visitors as it re-opens this year.There are plans to develop it further with hopes of introducing butterflies.

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