AFTER suffering a major stroke five years ago Philip Spark said he would cry himself to sleep as he struggled to come to terms with the after affects.

Following a chance visit to Alder Hey Allotments in Eccleston his life would be transformed when he was introduced to the art of growing brightly coloured dahlias.

The stroke affected the left hand side of his body and his speech and he was told he may never walk or talk again.

Now several years later the 53-year-old is celebrating after winning a batch of titles at Southport Flower Show with his mentor and expert dahlia grower Stan Pennington.

Philip, from Billinge, said: “I was really down in the dumps and hoped I would never wake up. It was a total life changer. I had been a steward at a Labour club, picking up barrels with one hand and throwing them into the cellar.

“Then this happened and I thought this is no life. I was just sitting in a chair staring at the same four walls every day.

“Then The Stroke Association fetched me down and that’s what got me going. At that time I couldn’t even grow grass. I didn’t even know what a dahlia was but I thought they were gorgeous. I met Stan Pennington who is 90 this November and he showed me how to grow them.

“Now I’ve gone from strength to strength. I’m thrilled to have won. The lads on the site have been terrific in helping me. It has been a real team effort. They will even tell me things I shouldn’t be doing.

“Now we are growing around 700 at the plot and are entering a lot of shows up and down the country including a dahlia show in Harrogate.

“Growing dahlias has definitely helped me in my recovery. If I’m not down here every day then people will think something is wrong.”