Last weekend, expecting to be a bit busy on the Sunday I was pleased to find a garden open on the Saturday. So I drove down to near Great Dunmow in Essex and slipped into St. Helens, a small garden in the attractive village of Stebbings. Wondering if the name might be inspired by saintly connections or simply a reminder of the place in Merseyside, I discovered that the previous owner had named it after her house at the school she attended.
Now owned by a retired dentist and his wife, the garden was created out of a former area used for the growing of Salix alba Caerulea, more commonly known as the Cricket Bat Willow.
An ivy covered arch enticed us through into the open garden.
On the patio in a bird bath, Hellebore flowers float exotically. This surely must be the best way to view them.
Another archway, a keyhole perhaps, in a slightly more formal hedge beckons us in a little further.
However before entering through we decide to bear off right and pass through the vegetable garden. Here growth is still dormant but the beds are ready, weeded and prepared. A face in the hedge is content to watch and wait for the season’s growth.
Behind the vegetable patch and through the deciduous hedge is the millennium parterre. The box hedging comes from cuttings prepared by the owner, nearly 200 plants; it is a labour of love. Best viewed from the platform of the garden building on the far side….
….which nestles amongst unclipped deciduous and evergreens. It looks just the place to chill for awhile and it has all the necessary facilities
which are neatly tucked away at the back out of sight.
The garden is predominately woodland and the laurels are particularly healthy and handsome. This tall variety has large glossy leaves and has witch hazel timidly growing at its feet.
The shorter more solid cherry laurel Prunus laurocerasus ‘Otto Luyken’, is a perfect foil for the smooth trunks of the deciduous trees.
Variegated shrubs play their part too, lighting up areas with a scattering of snowdrops. Some variegation is golden:
Whilst others are silver:
We find a very unusual shrub, and are perplexed by the tangle of sharp thorns. The owner enlightens us; this is the Japanese bitter orange poncirus trifoliate, a close relative to the citrus family. In the summer it will produce fragrant cup shaped flowers which will turn into satsuma-like fruit. Another new plant to add to my list.
Ivy creeps everywhere and it would be impossible to eradicate it. Gently controlled, it becomes an attractive ground cover. Paths wind around the garden and I imagine this would be a delight for children, with little feet running about to explore what might be just around the corner.
And then there is a secret hideaway. Who lives here? Made out of logs it is far too solid and organised for any Eeyore.
Ivy also covers a mound, the last of the Cricket bat willows, 90 feet tall it fell during a storm a few years ago, narrowly missing a rarity;
the erect Chinese swamp cypress Glypostrobus pensilis:
There are lovely ornaments positioned about the garden. More floating hellebores, this time pink.
A stone urn sits on a mound; a mini roundabout in the pathway:
And an armillary sphere is tucked into the shrubs.
While another urn, raised on a plinth provides a focal point across the water and a feel of antiquity.
Wooded and watery, the paths and bridges lead you over and around the ponds.
Wintery reflections are captured on the water’s surface either side of the moored dinghy.
Marsh Marigolds caltha palustris luxuriate in the damp habitat.
It is also a perfect place for the giant butterbur Petasitis japonica, a perennial rhizome whose leaves in the summer will grow up to 3 feet tall.
Clumps of pulmonaria are also showing through, as are joyful primroses.
There is no lack of places to sit. Either to enjoy a watery view.
Or simply under a tree.
The curvature of this bench is perfectly placed in the indentation of the planting behind.
While the box either side of this solid bench is clipped to imitate the shape of the spire of the distant church.
We adjourn for coffee and cannot resist this french elegance sited in an intimate space by the house.
There is indeed seating for all sizes.
A splash of colour from 3 ceramic poppies used in the installation at Tower of London. Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red, marked the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War, I wonder where the other 888,243 have now been planted?
In the little room where the teas are served, a book Dream gardens of England, is open at the right page; St Helens pictured in the summer is one of those 100 inspirational gardens.
On the wall the certificate is proudly displayed marking a commendable 10 years of opening for the NGS.
The sun has at last broken through. This garden largely wooded and watery, has something for everyone. From rare specimens to common species. Horticulture and humour are displayed on our exit as we walk down the drive; on the one side are vines trained against the wall,
while on the other, a curiously clipped creature. Children too, would love it here, but there is no sign of a young visitor today; a pity because entrance for children is free in all NGS gardens.