Exploring a Japanese style garden on the Merseyside coast
- Credit: Linda Viney
This peaceful garden in the dunes at Hightown has developed a flavour of the Far East
Joyce Batey is the gardener and custodian of this garden surrounding the 1900s Edwardian house. Her love of gardening stems from her parents who had a lovely garden.
She has travelled round the country and had many different gardens and has lived in this house for 13 years with her husband Peter. They have a gardener, mainly for mowing and keeping on top of the clearing but the planning, ideas and selection of plants is Joyce’s. This year, lockdown has meant she has had more time to spend in the garden and feels very fortunate to have this outdoor space to enjoy.
WHAT AND WHERE?
The traditional style garden is situated in Hightown, a village midway between Liverpool and Southport. The garden is built on the sand dunes which ensures it has good drainage. The emphasis is on year-round interest with rhododendrons coming into their own in spring and once blooms have faded their evergreen leaves form a backdrop to other planting while offering shelter. A large lawn forms the auditorium for the surrounding plants.
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In the secluded front garden Joyce has constructed a raised vegetable bed out of sleepers. Climbing beans, and courgettes, add interest with their colourful flowers and lovely home-grown ingredients in the kitchen. At the side of the house, a colourful hanging basket and planted container lead to the main garden where a tall Monkey Puzzle tree and blue cedar make a statement, with rhododendrons alongside the boundary fence.
There’s a sweeping array of trees and shrubs, the taller ones at the back providing shelter from the winds coming from the coast. Initially this area wasn’t easily accessible so she has created stone steps leading up to a higher terrace with a meandering gravel path. As the planting is a mix of evergreen and deciduous plants there is all round interest, with foliage and colour adding to the structure and variegated plants lightening up any dark areas.
Joyce is particularly fond of hydrangeas and is gradually building up a collection of them, the latest acquisition being hydrangea ‘Annabelle’. Seasonal herbaceous plants add another dimension, like the Japanese anemone for late summer interest alongside hardy geranium which, when cut back, will flower through the whole season. Heuchera, with a variety of different colour foliage which will last through winter, also perform with tall wiry stems supporting light delicate flowers. The crocosmia are a valuable late flowering addition.
During lockdown, Joyce spent more time in her garden and created a new Gravel Garden.
‘When a friend came round to look she told me that isn’t a Gravel Garden it’s a ‘Zen Garden’, looking at it again I thought it could be, so that’s what it became,’ Joyce said.
‘My eyes kept being drawn to our pergola at the end which is lovely when the wisteria cascades over the sides, but at other times it’s not a pretty site! To the rear of the pergola was an ugly mix of dark heavy-leafed ivy, an old pipe, barbed wire, a wire fence, weeds and a concrete post; all too well embedded to remove easily. The sides were no better to look at either. With garden centres still closed, my mind turned to the ‘make do and mend’ principle and making ‘Japanese Tea House’, something whimsical and fun which ties in with the Zen Garden theme.
‘The old garden side gate, laid idle was gathering moss behind the conifer trees. It would make an ideal backdrop and I can’t pretend it wasn’t a struggle up the garden, even for two of us. It fitted beautifully and cleaned up with a pressure wash. But how to box in the sides? Bamboo canes came to mind, and I secured them with some old kitchen fittings to make criss-cross frame, it worked perfectly. A succession of white sheets, net curtains and table cloths were draped over the canes, and all rejected. I looked online and found a travelling gazebo with mosquito netted sides which was perfect.’
Among the genuine Japanese items she used are a red lantern, glass hanger, black lacquered tray, red sushi plate, and pottery saki bowls from the famous ‘Shoji Hamada Pottery’ in the pottery town of Mashiko, Japan.
She also added a low table made from a wooden work top and feet from an old tv stand and with some framed postcards of Mount Fuji and some Japanese ladies, her Chinese silk dressing gown, red sandals and some other bits and pieces, the Tea House was complete.
‘Was it inspired by ‘Lockdown madness’ or ‘Lockdown creativity’? Whatever it was, we had a lot of fun setting it up,’ she said.
WHY IS IT SPECIAL?
This garden has given Joyce peace during lockdown and also allowed her to explore creative ideas. Being not far from the red squirrel sanctuary at Formby, she sometimes sees squirrels running along the fence and jumping through the trees. Bug houses have been created using fir cones that fall from the trees, and these help to attract bees and creatures which in turn provide food for the birds, all helping in the cycle of nature.
Gardens evolve all the time and this one is no exception with each custodian putting their own mark and personality into the structure, without damaging the main form.
Joyce’s next project will hopefully be seen next year when, hopefully, things get back to normal and she can open her garden for the National Garden Scheme, as one of the Blundell Gardens.
WHAT YOU CAN TRY?
Look around your plot and see if there are any areas that are a bit unsightly and work out how to hide them. Don’t be afraid to experiment and look around for ideas. Try growing vegetables, as you can grow them among plants or make a feature raised bed and many vegetables have attractive flowers as well as providing fresh food for your kitchen - it is surprising what you can grow in a half barrel if you haven’t got room for a raised bed.
Don’t be afraid to experiment, everyone learns by their mistakes which can always be rectified. It is important when looking for a gardener to get a recommendation.
When out and about look out for bargains whether plants or artefacts.
Make sure you have seating strategically placed round the garden so you can enjoy the view from different aspects.