The garden at Owl Barn in Bretherton

Barbara and Richard in the garden

Barbara and Richard in the garden - Credit: Linda Viney

Not all gardeners can thanks parents for their gardening skills. Barbara Farbon’s mum was a accomplished plant killer, writes Linda Viney.

One of the owl boxes in the garden

One of the owl boxes in the garden - Credit: Linda Viney

A LOVE of gardening is often handed down but it can occasionally skip a generation. ‘My mother used to kill plants,’ confesses Barbara Farbon. ‘Thankfully, I haven’t inherited that trait.’

Her grandmother was a keen gardener, though, and this combined with her background in biology and her husband Richard’s considerable knowledge have helped them take on a fine plot created by the previous owners of Owl Barn at Bretherton and add their own touches and twists.

When they moved in it was already opening for the National Garden Scheme and they were persuaded to continue the good work. They already had their own allotment so they were able to bring many of their favourite plants when they moved. Despite the lovely garden at Owl Barn, they discovered the soil was dry and sandy and not the loam they had desired. Thankfully, one of their neighbours had horses so the offer of manure was a godsend.

It is important to be able to enjoy your garden all year round and this one certainly lives up to that criteria. I visited them last September when the herbaceous borders, a mix of cottage garden and hardy plants, were still alive with colour and attractive seed heads left for the birds to feed off in the winter months.

An attractive seat close by a border

An attractive seat close by a border - Credit: Linda Viney

Their season starts early as they have a wide collection of bulbs which flower from early spring taking you through to late summer. How many of us are only too happy to buy daffodil and tulip bulbs but forget there is also a huge selection of summer flowering bulbs?

They also have a productive kitchen garden which provides them with nearly all the vegetables they need, grown in raised beds which were already there and are made up of the usual peas and beans as well as potatoes. Borage, nasturtiums and mint are added into the mix as well as the staple onions and shallots. Some of the leeks are allowed to flower again for seed. Asparagus grows quickly and before you know it produces ferns which look attractive in flower beds and floral arrangements. Other flowers are grown to be used dried in arrangements during winter.

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There is a small orchard where the juicy red apples were nearly ready for picking. There are also plums, damson and cherry trees. The fig was full of ripening fruit. All this, along with an abundance of soft fruit, ensures they get their 5-a-day. The blackberry came from their previous garden and last year Barbara successfully made blackberry vodka. They have two productive greenhouses and here French marigolds are planted in with the tomato bed to ward off the aphids. Chillies were ripening and onions and shallots drying. The bright blue of the morning glory entwined itself up the frame and as the sun caught the centre of one of the flowers it looked just like a lamp.

Water is always an added element to any garden offering tranquillity. Here they have two ponds, one where water tumbles gently down from an ornamental urn set on a plinth to a small pond where bulrushes stand proud. The second has a bubble fountain from a millstone. When they had the first urn stolen they decided the replacement had to be secured and alarmed – a sign of the times.

An urn water feature

An urn water feature - Credit: Linda Viney

Encouraging wildlife is important to them both and stately sunflowers, grown especially for their seeds as winter feed for the birds is just another way to attract the right insects and birds. Fennel rises up tall out of the border and the sunny faces of the rudbeckia and helenium add warmth. The verbena bonariensis swayed in the breeze adding yet another dimension.

As it is a fairly flat site, a mix of height and texture adds to the beauty as it does in any garden. They also have a large collection of geraniums including scented varieties. Hollyhocks self-seed and seem to pop up all over the place, dahlias are left in the ground over winter and so far none have been lost. I spotted one of the tiniest rose buds I’ve ever seen, no bigger than my thumbnail, called ‘Bloomfield Abundance’.

Gardens are so individual and that is what makes them so special, reflecting the people who have created them. They are both retired now and enjoy spending more time tending their plot although Richard also enjoys helping a friend who has a garden maintenance business when, or if, he has spare time.

Barbara is a member of the local beekeepers’ club but it wasn’t until she moved here she was able to fulfil her dream and keep her own hive in an adjacent field with open countryside for easy access for the bees.

She puts great thought into the choice of flowers to provide nectar and single flowered species provide easier access for the bees to gather it in. Last year she had 100 pounds of honey but the year before none. That’s nature for you.

Barbara and Richard are open for the NGS as part of Bretherton Gardens on August 27. If you missed it, they also by arrangement to the end of September for small groups up to 12. Telephone 01772 600750 or email