Having spent a tedious morning on the phone to the Department of Work & Pensions, followed by a lengthy call to BT to try and sort out longstanding internet problems, I decided it was time to visit a garden and restore my equilibrium. Twitter brought my attention to the fact that Madingley Hall was opening its gates as part of the NGS Gardens and Health week.
Driving through the impressive iron gates and sweeping up the drive, the big blue sky and the gentle green meadow had an instant calming effect.
Having parked the car I found the entrance to the estate is through the walled garden. This dates back to the 18th century, with the first recording being of a plant inventory dated 1757. Today a blackboard notes the plants of particular interest.
Two gravel paths diverged……… and I am faced with the age-old dilemma, which one should I take ?
The borders are overflowing with every type of herb to promote well-being;
Not only are these plants of a curative nature, but also many can be used for dyeing. Much information about the history and use of these plants is displayed and I realise that I could do much to alter my wardrobe.
Enclosed by hedges the sunken garden is a delightful spot to sit and soak up the sun; planted with white flowers such as perennial sweet pea and gaura lindheimeri, it is softened by the gentle clumps of stipa tenuissima.
There is such variety within these walls, a wooden rose pergola runs roughly from north to south providing much-needed shade rather than colour at this time of year.
Mature trees also provide plenty of canopy and across the curiously patterned round lawn is a circular raised alpine bed.
where the tiny autumn snowflake Acis autumnalis seems a little premature on this warm summer’s day.
Running from east to west is the fine hazel walk Corylus avellana shown on the tithe map of 1849; it is a lengthy 60 metres (just under 200ft) long.
The path emerges from the mature planting into an open expanse of lawn with a thatched summerhouse nestling in the corner.
No sense of autumn approaching here; the border has plenty in flower, hibiscus, heliotrope, alstoemeria and helenium all provide late summer colour.
Leaving the walled garden through a door in the wall and passing the crenelated box hedge on my right I descend some steps to the courtyard in front of the Hall.
Over the ornamental pond and to my horror, I find a patient abandoned on a hospital trolley. Startled, I wonder that it must be the first corpse I have found in a garden, then realise I have blundered into a serious first-aid course and, being of the somewhat lightheaded disposition, I quickly scurry away and
take deep breaths in front of the heavenly hibiscus.
At the east end of the Hall is a formal raised terraced garden with a circular pond surrounded by smooth quirky-shaped topiary.
The view east to the lake is totally unspoilt and uncluttered.
Stepping down to the wide North Walk, I see the balustrade is repeated along the edge of the croquet lawn,
broken at the centre to reveal an avenue of giant clipped yew bollards marching into the far distance.
It is a fine view for this small statue of a buddha protected behind a semi-circular pond and perched in a recess in the wall.
Madingley Hall was built in the 1540s and the development of the garden over the years is a fine example of the history of garden design. Growing at the west end is a large yew taxus baccata, which is thought to date back to when ‘Capability’ Brown improved the estate.
The yew topiary garden was created in the 1920s when some of the topiary were transferred from nearby Histon Manor. Waiting for their annual clip the different shapes seemingly move around an astrolabe mounted in the centre on a stone plinth.
A large elegant croquet lawn with its backdrop of mature trees, must have provided plenty of entertainment over the years. The game is still played today by the many students and staff who now occupy the Hall, which was bought by Cambridge University 1948.
There is a different feel down on this north side of the site; here it is spacious, green, still and silent. Today the majestic trees are quite lovely; upright, spreading, weeping and clipped they create a verdant theatre.
Some trees are multi stemmed and like a cluster of balloon strings they reach up to the sky.
The wild flower meadows have finished their display but next May they will return. Richard Gant, the Head Gardener is tidying the edges of the clipped yews. He has been responsible for these gardens for 30 years. The names of the trees roll off his tongue, for his knowledge and enthusiasm is truly impressive.
And it is as if this weeping Redwood, Wellingtonia (sequoiadendron giganteum ‘Pendula’) bows its head in respect.
Sadly this Cedar of Lebanon, Cedrus libani is unwell with white rot caused by a type of bracket fungus. Now fenced off, the decay of this tree is being closely monitored.
I follow the dog walkers along the wooded path, a section of the route created to celebrate the 300 years of Capability Brown.
It is a beautiful spot enjoyed by the locals. By the lakeside the remains of the footings of the old boat house are guarded by a “lake keeper” who is in fact surprisingly friendly.
From the other side of the lake you can see the small church tucked in to the left of the drive. I have completed my walk and so I return back through the gates and up the drive to the hall.
Madingley Hall is an institute of continuing education and a centre for events and conferences. The 8 acre garden sits within an estate of some 12,500 acres; it is beautifully maintained and reads like a manual on garden history with the different areas reflecting the changing trends in design throughout the garden’s life. It is impressive too and thanks to the Head Gardener, Madingley has been opening its gates for the NGS for the past 27 years.
The NGS have worked hard to highlight the connection between health and gardens, having commissioned the King’s Fund a few years ago to publish a report. My visit today endorsed the feeling of well being that a garden can induce and after such an enjoyable and peaceful afternoon, I left the Hall in a better state of mind than when I entered.