Opening the garden gates for charity

Sharon and Eric Rawcliffe
Sharon and Eric Rawcliffe

The grass always used to be greener on the other side for Eric Rawcliffe until he ploughed – not the right term but you get the picture – his formidable greensman skills into his own garden.

On Sunday number 42 Lower Green, Poulton opens Green Farm Cottage garden to the public through the National Gardens Scheme –raising money for charity by encouraging others to view 
a hidden gem.

A view of Green farm Cottage

A view of Green farm Cottage

Blink as you walk past this property and you would miss the tell tale signs of a garden.

There’s no apparent sign of it at the front of the former 18th century farm labourer’s cottage in the heart of Poulton. Blooming wonderful.

A hidden gem of a garden at Poulton has made the national grade – open on Sunday for the rest of us to enjoy.

Ask championship crown green bowler Eric for a sneak peek at what all the fuss is about and he’ll send over pictures, lots of pictures, of his lawn ... with a bit of what the rest of us, mostly of the female persuasion, would call garden concealed in the distance or tucked away on the fringe.

Green Farm Cottage

Green Farm Cottage

Ask wife Sharon what the garden looks like and she’ll tell you about the flowers, shrubs, the birds and the bees (which abound here) and all the colourful stuff that gladdens the heart and brightens the heart of women... while the fellas look admiringly at the landscaped lawn and wonder where all the weeds went.

Yes, Sharon may have crafted Margaret Thatcher and Barbara Castle’s immaculately coiffured hair in her time but it’s Eric who carefully cuts and clips ensures not a blade of grass is out of place.

Not that the weather has helped.

Eric explains: “We suffered from the very wet winter like everyone else mainly killing off some of the grass.

Eric and Sharon Rawcliffe's garden  at Lower Green, Poulton le Fylde.(garden will soon be open to the public for charity).

Eric and Sharon Rawcliffe's garden at Lower Green, Poulton le Fylde.(garden will soon be open to the public for charity).

“We just about sorted that out by May then we had three weeks of dry weather which caused the ground to dry out.

“Now we have just had a week of rain which has battered everything to the ground. You can never please a gardener.

“Apart from the weather everything is fine. We just hope we get a sunny day this Sunday.”

Spirits will lift regardless of whether the sun comes out – and many of the visitors are regulars returning to see what’s taken shape or bloomed apace since their last visit.

If you fancy a jaunt further afield visit the Goosnargh gardens of Tom and Caroline Luke

If you fancy a jaunt further afield visit the Goosnargh gardens of Tom and Caroline Luke

In fairness drainage is excellent, thanks to Eric’s care, and the property, in the heart of Poulton, occupies higher ground in the area, so water runs off.

It is surrounded by 14 other properties, fringed by mature trees, yet barely overlooked, hence its ‘secret garden’ status with green fingered visitors who use the NGS Yellow Book as their guide to other people’s gardens open for viewing and for charity.

The couple, both widowed in their 50s, share a passion for plants and each other, and that mutual love of gardening helped heal broken hearts.

Both spend pretty much every waking hour, when free, maintaining a garden which tops the must-see list for many NGS fans in Lancashire.

For years it was the only entry in the guide for the Blackpool and Fylde area – although Goosnargh couple Caroline and Tom Luke’s Dale House Gardens off Church Lane attract their share of pilgrims from the Fylde every year too.

Caroline’s worked locally at one of the Fylde’s busiest garden centres too.

Dale House opens on Saturday, June 25.

Sharon and Eric’s half acre is closer to home for most in this area.

The NGS lists it as “Well established formal cottage gardens.

“Feature koi pond, paths leading to different areas. Lots of climbers and rose beds.

“Packed with plants of all kinds.

“Many shrubs and trees. Themed colour borders. Well laid out lawns. Said by visitors to be ‘a real hidden jewel’.”

See that, Eric - ‘well laid out lawns.’

He styles himself “Sharon’s labourer.”

He does the heavy duty work, root and tree clearance, pruning, weeding, growing from seeds or cuttings, and daily mowing... the manicured lawn was born of a failed vegetable plot.

Green Farm Cottage will open from 10am to 5pm on Sunday, admission £3, children free, light refreshments served, with visitors also welcome to visit by arrangement between now and July.

Visit the NGS website to find out more.

Sharon’s made it her mission to encourage others to sign up for the public showings. “People think it’s a bit posh but it’s not.

“It’s about gardens of quality and character.

“Pretty much anything goes and grows here and we love to share it with visitors and charities gain too.

“It’s a win-win.”

The NGS defining benchmark is that a garden should offer up at least 45 minutes of interest.

Visitors linger hours at Green Farm Cottage.

And the good news is that this year there’s a newcomer to the NGS list from the locality.

Barely a sugar stealer’s drift away from Green Farm Cottage Amanda Ackroyd’s Poolfoot Barn, Poolfoot Lane, Little Singleton, offers two acres of themed gardens, with a cottage garden, kitchen garden, greenhouse, small pond, butterfly bed, and an area for moisture loving plants – which must be thriving in the downpours.

In addition a terrace by the pond has alpine bedding and perennial borders.

But you’ll have to wait a little longer to see it all for yourself – it opens for the NGS Sunday July 24(10am - 6pm).

Admission £4, children free. Home-made teas.

This garden also makes a donation to World Horse Welfare, Penny Farm.

The NGS is one of the most prestigious umbrella organisations for gardeners but it’s also the people’s gardening association, opening up gems of gardens across Britain and all for worthy causes.

It’s raised £45m for charities such as Carers Trust –which has a local network partner Blackpool Carers Centre – Macmillan Cancer Support, Marie Curie, Hospice UK, Queen’s Nursing Insitute, Perennial (Gardeners’ Royal Benevolent Society, Parkinson’s UK, and two guest charities this year, Horatio’s Garden (for patients in NHS spinal injury units) and the MS Society.