12/06/03 Raising Funds with the help of nature

Today sees the revival of Fiskerton’s annual open gardens day. The tradition had been put on the back burner for a few years but now the urgency of raising funds to rebuild the village hall, which was razed to the ground last year, has put the gardens in the spotlight once again. Angela Peat got a preview when she visited some of the gardens open to the public today and tomorrow… THIRTEEN gardens and an allotment site in the village of Fiskerton on the eastern fringes of Lincoln are opening to the public today and tomorrow.

And the efforts of everyone involved are for an especially good cause – to help rebuild the village hall which was destroyed in a fire last year.

Already the ball is rolling and an architect has drawn up plans for the rebuild.

Although how much it will cost is yet to be confirmed, there are some residents who want to get a head start.

The Fiskerton Gardening Club, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this month, is hosting this weekend.

Dave and Mary Willey have lived in the area all their life.

A retired Lincoln College lecturer, Dave is originally from Cherry Willingham and Mary was born and raised in the forge at Fiskerton, where her father was the blacksmith.

Their cottage, Jessamine, overlooking the village green is at least 200 years old and its vast back garden has been its pride and joy since the couple set to work on it.

“The cottage was in a sorry state when we bought it 37 years ago and the garden was nothing more than a field,” Dave says. “It has taken us years to get it looking like this.”

Along with gutting the house, Dave has restored the outbuildings back to their former glory.

The lawns sweep away from the sun trap of a patio, broken in strategic places by areas crammed with interesting grasses, shrubs and flowers.

Dave says he has left the design of the garden to Mary, who has structured it so that there is colour and form all year round.

And recently she has taken the plunge and set aside a strip for a wildflower meadow.

Here long grass that tapers from green to hay yellow at its tips, has already been joined by cowslips.

“It’s surprising what emerges after only six months,” Mary says. “It’s still early days, but we expect to see the area offer up more wild meadow surprises. I’ve helped it along a little by planting some bulbs.”

Near the pear tree, now smothered in clematis, is Mary’s blue and yellow area. A wooden arch and a bench, painted blue, finish off the effect.

Despite this being the time of year when gardens tend to lose their colour, the Jessamine Cottage garden has more than its fair share of vibrancy.

In a bed that borders the patio the colour combination of purple verbena bonariensis and wine-red kanutia macedonica makes an impact with the help of sweeping stipa gigantea, commonly known as giant feather grass.

“I like grasses and I try to introduce them into most parts of the garden,” Mary says.

Trees too are important to the overall look of the garden and one particular favourite of the couple’s is the picea or Siberian spruce.

The tree grows wild in Siberia and Bosnia.

It’s a relatively new addition to the garden, but already the conifer stands out with its grey, silvery foliage. It is not difficult to understand why this species of picea, omorika, is the holder of the Royal Horticultural Society’s prestigious Award of Garden Merit.

Across the way Gill and Rob Walkinton’s garden is equally impressive. It too has sweeping lawns and archways in the hedge at the bottom of the garden reveal a setting that would do any country garden proud.

Gill is chairman of the Fiskerton Gardening Club and a member of Lincolnshire’s Hardy Plants Society.

After 32 years Gill and Rob are also well established residents and as Gill says: “Once you move to Fiskerton, you are likely to be here for life.”

One of the most outstanding features of the Walkintons’ garden is the ribena frisia, which stands majestic at the side. Commonly known as the black locust tree, it is a luminous green and yellow and, Gill says, it bears slightly fragrant pea-like flowers in June.

“In autumn its colour changes to a lovely orange-yellow,” she says.

Another shimmering plant feature comes with the evergreen choisa sundance, which almost glows yellow.

Essex gardener and writer Beth Chatto is Gill’s “guru”, she says, and the gardening club outings have included a trip to Beth’s gardens in Elmstead Market, near Colchester.

And locally Gill swears by the horticultural knowledge of Hall Farm Nursery’s Pam Tatam.

She stops to point out one of Pam’s recommendations – a newcomer to the Scabiosa family called Chile sauce.

“Scabiosas are usually blue in colour, but this new one is a delicious mixture of white and wine-red.”

Chile sauce was released less than a year ago, along with another new scabiosa variety called chilli pepper, which is a more vibrant red.

A stone’s throw from the Walkintons is a large plot of land where Jim and Mary Cook live in a bungalow. It used to be the site of Fiskerton’s original rectory.

The Cooks have lived here for 46 years and their garden contains one surprise after another.

What appears to be a water well feature is in fact the real thing, with the well going down 30ft, according to Mary.

Walk past the colourful front flowering beds and pond and you come to the three dovecotes, home to 15 fantail doves.

And beyond that, behind a lush magnolia and winter flowering viburnum, is a chicken run whose occupants provide the Cooks with a daily supply of eggs.

Aesthetically pleasing as herbaceous borders might be, Jim hasn’t forgotten to make full use of his land. His vegetable patch is nearly the size of an allotment and at this time of the year boasts row upon row of robust produce.

Mary says: “Years ago this used to be like a small farm with everything from pigs to about 400 chickens. We’ve scaled it down, but we still like to be as self-sufficient as possible.”

Syd and Ann Toyne’s home off the road out to Short Ferry has a garden that has been utilised to the maximum.

Syd, a qualified mechanic, has a back garden filled with a mixture of flowers and vegetables.

He says: “I don’t have a problem mowing the lawn because there isn’t any.

“I have used every inch of this garden for growing plants.”

Syd’s sunset orange and red begonias are the size of giant roses and purple cone flowers or echinacea, a popular herbal remedy for boosting the body’s immune system, have somehow come out a dusty pink in the Toynes’ garden.

This grows side-by-side with a giant lily that has been in the family for more than 50 years.

“I remember my mother growing it when I was a youngster and we’ve taken seeds from the original plant and kept the line going for all this time,” he says.

The selected gardens and allotment site will be open today and tomorrow from 1pm to 6pm. Admission is £2.50 by programme and children under 14 years of age are free.