The Birkdale couple who are learning to love their garden

PUBLISHED: 00:16 28 November 2011 | UPDATED: 20:22 20 February 2013

The Birkdale couple who are learning to love their garden

The Birkdale couple who are learning to love their garden

There's no stopping a Birkdale couple who found little time for gardening until the children grew up. Linda Viney reports

As with homes, gardeners stamp their own ideas on their plots. Throughout the year I have met gardeners from all over our area, some with acres and others with pocket handkerchiefs of land, but each has a unique style.

When I first met up with Richard and Pam James their garden was just springing to life with new bright green shoots pushing their way through the soil. There were gaps waiting to be filled as plants grew and after a mixed summer for weather, their garden had burst to life by the time of my next visit.

Situated slightly inland from the Royal Birkdale Golf Course, behind the sand dunes and some parts just below sea level, this half acre suburban garden has been planted with trees and shrubs to provide shelter from the offshore winds. Historically, birch and elder trees were found in this area and from this developed the name Birk-dale. It is fitting that a recent addition has been a young birch tree as well as a eucalyptus replacing one that was lost last year. Both these tree varieties are tolerant to the salt air and, hopefully, will therefore thrive.

Richard built their house in 1973 and the plot of land they bought to create the garden was originally an orchard. They have inherited horticultural genes and their enthusiasm from their mothers, who were both keen gardeners.

There were apple and pear trees growing randomly across the site among brambles and rough grass, Pam explained. The idea was to have borders with curved edges, pond and a patio so we could sit out. I like things to flow and dont like too much formality.

Pam has the vision and sets the scene while Richard has done most of the heavy work. With young children there was not the time to garden but since the start of the 21st century Pam has thoroughly enjoyed spending more times working on it.

Initially, once cleared a load of top soil was delivered and shrubs were planted down one side with herbaceous down the other. Some of the fruit trees were left but now the only one remaining is an old pear. When Dutch Elm disease three trees had to be removed, which happened shortly after they moved here. They were replaced with Manchester poplars but they were removed when they started to deprive the garden of light.

Large water washed rockery stones were moved from the front garden to the rear to create a rockery alongside a pond area. A large Monterey Pine is sited here and a juniper, also from the front, has spread out to find light. To protect the garden from the prevailing north west winds a leylandii hedge was planted and, because the young plants were small, poplars were planted in between.

But by 1990 they had grown too big and had to be removed leaving room for the hedge to grow and be cut regularly to make a manageable hedge. In fact, it has been a learning curve for Pam and Richard as they discover just how quickly things can grow.

Life is about learning, Pam told me, and I didnt realise that weeds seemed to grow quicker than other plants. One scourge was mares-tails which grew up overnight. The garden was always damp being below the water table, although the one advantage was the lawn was never brown.
Initially, they found everything became too much and the herbaceous border was removed and the lawn extended.

However with a new century and more time their enthusiasm has been restored and raised beds have been made, roses have been included in the shrubbery and pergola added to give the illusion of a further garden beyond.

Pam has an artistic eye and she will spot artefacts which she buys to add another dimension. One of these, a cream gazebo styled as a birdcage, with a Victorian style filigree design, stands to lighten up a darker corner, Pam is planning to grow climbers up it but wants to keep the look. An old wicker chair is planted with annuals as are many colourful pots of all shapes and sizes.

Even by the shed, which is surrounded by plants, theres a strategically placed old bicyle and some ancient garden tools.

Being in a conservation area, wildlife is abundant and as you sit on the patio bird song fills the air, though Pam did point out rooks that have started roosting nearby and are unwelcome visitor. However, the appearance of a mother duck with her eleven ducklings more than made for the noise. Friendly robins follow them round as they garden and blue tits, green finches and goldcrests are frequent visitors.

On a fine day with blue skies you cannot find a more peaceful, beautiful place and on a wet day with rain lashing down and gales it makes you aware what gardens have to tolerate. The last two very cold winters have taken their toll and a beautiful fan palm, New Zealand flax, Ceaonothus as well as a hebe, lavender and carnations have been lost. But undeterred, it has given space for replanting. Plans are always being made and at the moment it is debated whether to fill in the pond. Watch this space.

They have opened their garden for the Red Cross, and Birkdale open gardens as well as the Formby group of the University of the Third Age and the National Garden Scheme. It is a good way to have a goal to keep the garden looking good, Pam said.

The print version of this article appeared in the December 2011 issue of Lancashire Life

We can deliver a copy direct to your door order online here

Latest from the Lancashire Life