The transformation of a Birkdale garden

Summerhouse at far end of lawn

Summerhouse at far end of lawn - Credit: Linda Viney

Keith and Sandy Birks bought the house next door but they annexed part of the garden, writes Linda Viney

Clever topiary

Clever topiary - Credit: Linda Viney

When Keith and Sandy Birks moved house, they decided to take their garden with them. At least, a good chunk of it.

The couple downsized by purchasing the two-bedroom property next door but when they sold their own home they didn’t include part of the rear of the garden which they fenced off.

It sounds simple but there was still a lot of work to be done to create the garden they wanted down at the coast in Birkdale. Like many relationships, Sandy has the ideas and Keith is the labourer when most of the hard landscaping is required, though she enjoys laying the odd flag stone.

Once the garden had been cleared they set to work. ‘I did begin removing 25 sycamore trees, much to Keith’s horror,’ she said. ‘But we did leave three at the back to give a bit of privacy. It looked a bit like a wilderness once the trees had been removed so we put in beds using old railway sleepers - not realising how heavy they were. These created a terrace, each level full of planting.’

Wooden bridge crossing pond

Wooden bridge crossing pond - Credit: Linda Viney

Heathers are a good all rounder, though like conifers some people think they are old fashioned but she finds them very beautiful giving both shape, structure and all round colour, though she has found to her dismay conifers labelled dwarf certainly aren’t for when she initially created a rockery, which has since disappeared, they took over.

Both of them love trees especially the maples for their early spring and late autumn colour. Much to their delight, they have three trachelospermum, or star jasmine, which give off a lovely scent and are trained up the pergola leading down from the house to a very productive greenhouse, full of very delicious tomatoes.

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All the plants were put in eight years ago though many were mature as they came from their house next door. The willow tree was taken from a cutting from the one they had next door and is now a fine specimen. At the far end they have created an archway which leads through to the garden they brought with them. This has climbers trained over. Sandy has always been a keen gardener and is completely self-taught though she does have an artistic eye as she went to art college before joining John Lewis.

‘I am like a child in a sweet shop when it comes to buying plants,’ she laughs. ‘We go to flower shows large and small and much of my inspiration has come from Christopher Lloyd. I am an avid reader of gardening books and have built up quite a library of my own. I am also a member of the Cottage Garden Society, Chrysanthemum Society, Southport Horticultural Society and U3A Gardening.’ Sitting in the conservatory you get an overall view of the garden with a lawn with a fountain in the centre. This is edged by herbaceous plants and shrubs giving both colour and privacy, a summerhouse at the far end is a delightful place for relaxing. However this is only a small part of the garden, for as you move round the meandering paths there is something new round every corner with plenty of seats from a Lutyens-style bench to a small seated area tucked away allowing you to take in the surroundings as you sit with a coffee hidden from view.

A wooden bridge crosses the pond with a fountain to give a tranquil sound of moving water. The cloud tree was bought from a garden centre 15 years ago and it has taken all this time to get it into the shape it is today. Topiary can be seen here and Sandy finds it therapeutic clipping and shaping, so much so she even tends to some of her neighbours bushes. Certainly not afraid of work, on a visit to Arabella Lennox Boyd’s garden at Gresgarth Hall, she loved the mosaic path and undaunted has now created her own.

There are 20 varieties of hemoracallis, or day lily, as Sandy finds them very useful in hiding the dying leaves of daffodils following their flowering.

She used to love crocosmia but now finds the day lilies give her more pleasure. She also loves pinks and penstemons. Plants, like us, need feeding and at the beginning of the season she spreads around 150 bags of horse manure. ‘One chap told me you could feed a family of four on horse manure - I am sure he meant for fertilising not literally,’ she laughs.

Sandy is very methodical and every plant over ten years old is catalogued, something which is invaluable when she opens their garden for the National Garden Scheme (NGS) which they have done for the past five years, serving bacon butties which have proved very popular.

She isn’t sure whether it’s the garden or the butties that brings visitors. However I assured her it would be the garden as it is a delight with something for everyone to take away - whether its ideas or even a plant or two.

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