A change of path helped farmer Raymond end up smelling of roses
The Stone and Roses garden is quite apt as a title for the grounds surrounding Raymond Smith's home in White Coppice.
Made of stone, excavated from the former village cotton mill to the 500 rose bushes, some of which are nearly 80 years old and were grown by his late grandfather.
There is of course the musical connotations with the Manchester rock band and perhaps a little something more to do with the former dairy farmer’s love for music, which earned him the nickname as the ‘moosical farmer.’
Up until the year 2000, Raymond was the fifth generation of the Smith family to work as a dairy farmer at White Coppice Farm, near Chorley. The first of the Smith’s moved onto the land in 1873.
“I worked on the farm from the age of 16 and I gave it up in 2000.
“Quite simply we weren’t making any money, my son didn’t want or have any interest in milking cows and that’s when I decided to sell up and set about converting the barns in to two homes and building the gardens.”
He says he has always loved gardening, another trait inherited from his grandfather, who kept 800 roses at the back of the original farmhouse.
“My grandad was also an organist, he was self taught, which is how I also came to start playing music too.
“But he loved the garden – my dad was more into cricket and played for White Coppice and I had no desire to play that!”
His dream was to build a rose garden and giving up the farm gave him the opportunity. He enrolled on a garden design course at Myerscough College and set up his own gardening business.
The course at the Bilsborrow campus, he says, taught him to hone his skills and make use of his ‘artistic vent’
Today Raymond, 69, has more than 500 rose bushes made up of 100 different varieties. His favourite rose “Keep Smiling.”
Next weekend sees the time of year when green-fingered enthusiasts the length and breadth of Britain open up their normally private gardens to visitors in aid of good causes as part of the national garden scheme.
Next Saturday, July 8, Raymond and wife Linda will once again open their spectacular grounds to the public for the event, a day they have now hosted for the last 12 years. The gardens have won many plaudits from the public but it’s also won a gold medal at the prestigious Southport Flower Show.
The views are not to be missed.
Within the two-acres, the beautiful rose garden, awash in colour from the blooms and a multitude of attractions including a sunken garden, fountains, waterfall, cascade, rockery, orchard, vegetable garden, wildflower planting, a small lake and jetty - not to mention the stunning surrounding countryside.
He says it is impossible to calculate the numbers of visitors (likely in the thousands) they have welcomed through the gates in that time to enjoy the pristine gardens and a cream tea but their efforts have helped raise more than £70,000 for charity.
With Raymond’s additional presentations and recitals he has donated nearly another £20,000 to local and national causes.
The public open garden for the NGS scheme will be on July 8 from 11am until 4pm.
But Raymond will also open the grounds for select afternoons between July 5 and July 12.
He adds: “We didn’t get to open last year after I was taken in for surgery but the family have been on hand to help me get it ready for this year and I’m really looking forward to opening it up again.
“I was always interested in garden design, after giving up the farm and completing the conversions, I did some work on other people’s gardens and it took off from there.
“I wanted to create something spectacular and it really did grow from that.
“I heard about the scheme a short time later and thought it was something we should give a try, to share with others but to help raise a little bit for good causes too.
“One year we collected more than £10,000 – it has been incredible and so, so many charities locally and across the world have benefited.
“Another highlight was the visit from Dianne Oxbury for a tv feature, it was really wonderful. Though that year after the tv slot the village was left log jammed!”
The garden is a labour of love. From farmyard to treasured landscape. The roses are deadheaded every day in season which extends their flowering.
While Raymond continues to do what he can, he now has help to tend the numerous herbaceous borders and plants.
“I used to spend six hours a day working on it but I can’t quite manage it the same now.”
Wife Linda, a retired teacher, has a vegetable garden, which provides fresh produce all year, and their three children help to do their bit, whilst their five grandchildren also enjoy picking the fruits.
The fruit tree walk leads you down to a small lake, believed to have been built by Ephraim Cocker the mill owner in 1845 so he could view it from his house.
“It is my favourite area of the garden around the lake, you can’t beat watching sunsets from there.
Aside from the garden the couple have other hobbies to keep themselves busy.
Linda loves to play golf, whilst Raymond regularly gives his illustrated talk “From Muck and Music to Stones and Roses”, telling the history of five generations of the Smith family, from farming to his passion for music – all for charity.
“I really enjoy the talks and I think at last count I had visited about 150 WIs but I also present at the probus clubs, rotary, U3A.
“People enjoy hearing the history of the family and the farm and the gardens but there is quite a lot of humour in there too. Even a tad of naked gardening – nothing to do with me – but it adds laughs.” His title as the ‘moosical farmer’ comes from his days as the organist and director of music at Hillside Methodist Church.
As an amateur musician he has also composed four musicals and a choir leader and he is an Associate of the Royal College of Organists.
His writing of 1988 Samuel, the old testament story, featured on BBC Northwest, re-written in 1996 for children and staged at the Guild Hall Preston, and the newly built Bridgewater Hall, Manchester.
His other writings include Francis, the story of the famous Saint from Assisi, The Small Woman , based on the true story of Gladys Alywood and of the film “The Inn of the Sixth Happiness” and Anno Domini a musical whirlwind history of Christianity. Individual songs may be used during worship.
Over the years he has also played his recitals in the grounds at the open day events.
“I retired from playing the organ for Sunday service in 2013 after 51 years and now sit in the pew at Blackburn Cathedral and love arranging flowers there picked from our garden.
“One of my greatest moments has been playing for a wedding at the palace of Westminster, it was the best organ ever.”
The gardens at White Coppice Far, will be open next Saturday from 11am until 4pm. There will be cream scones and drinks, and plants for sale.
Entrance £4, under-16s free. There’s plenty of parking.
n For more information, visit http://www.stonesandroses.org.