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ASPARAGUS - NO LONGER IN SEASON?
Article by Andrew Brockbank, Countryside Property Manager, National Trust
A unique aspect of the National Trusts property at Victoria Road is the surviving pattern of landscape created by the former growing of asparagus. Yet this ephemeral form of agriculture was once much more extensive and asparagus put Formby on the map for people all over the world.
The National Trust is committed to preparing Statements of Significance for all its properties by the year 2001. As part of this process at Formby, the Trust has met with local people connected with the growing of asparagus on the dunes at Formby Point to discover how this contributes to the spirit of place.
It is estimated that some 200 acres was devoted to asparagus growing around Formby Point in the early part of this century. Notable amongst the growers were the Aindow family who farmed the Willow Slacks around Lifeboat Road and later at Victoria Road, Jonathan Formby, the Brooks family from Larkhill Farm and Jimmy Lowe who established his Pinetrees Farm at Victoria Road.
The story of asparagus growing in the dunes is one of huge labour in carting and levelling to form a bed and delving for yellow sand to bring an old bed back into production. The asparagus took 3 years to develop from seed to a productive crown and could be expected to crop for 10 years where conditions were favourable. When asparagus was in season in May and early June, there was a race against the clock to keep on top of cutting and picking up into hampers. The asparagus was then washed, bunched, and packed for transport by rail to distant markets or by the growers own trucks to market in Liverpool.
The traditional form of asparagus growing ceased at Formby Point about 4 years ago when Joan Winterbourne (nee Aindow) died. It is remarkable that this specialised crop continued to be grown in small fields or pieces enclosed by fences of scrap timber and driftwood and cultivated, at least into the 1970s, by horse drawn implements. The Aindows bunching sheds and stables still survive near Victoria Road albeit in rather poor condition. Jeremy Milln the National Trusts regional archaeologist has surveyed these building and a challenge for the Trust is to assess whether conservation is a reasonable proposition.
It is likely that the rarity of these vernacular buildings confers considerable conservation significance but what of the asparagus fields? Chances of a return to asparagus production seem remote yet the small enclosures with their characteristic ridge and furrow add special character to the local landscape.
The National Trust is considering a range of options to breathe new life into the former asparagus fields. Tree planting could strengthen the main body of pine woodland whilst preserving the field pattern. Grazing could encourage a healthy dune flora in the larger fields whilst controlling ruderal weeds like ragwort and willowherb. Smaller fields along the woodland margins could provide informal picnic areas and areas for children to play.
We will be delighted to hear from anyone who has photographs, articles, poems or paintings which capture the spirit of place of The National Trust property.