Witton Hall; a walk on the wild side. (30)

As you travel up the drive to Witton Hall, bluebells stretch out either side under a canopy of deciduous woods. Confusingly there are in fact two Witton Halls in Norfolk; this one is near North Walsham whilst the other is closer to Norwich.

The original Hall was burnt down, the footings of which can still be seen. This entry into the Norfolk NGS booklet is not so much a garden; certainly no neatly mown lawns and sumptuous flower beds.  It is however a walk through glorious woods.


This resplendent beauty greets us at the top of the drive.


The wooded walk begins over on the other side of the grass. On Open Day there will be a tent here serving teas.


You can see why a house was sited here, the view to Happisburgh and the sea is memorable. It is permitted on the Open Day to walk across the field to the local church (not visible in the next picture).


It came as a surprise to me to discover that bluebells are part of the asparagus family. There is no doubt that these are the ‘real McCoy’  but do we know how to tell the difference between the native hyacinthoides non-scripta, and the Spanish immigrant hyacinthoides hispanica ? I will quote from the Woodland Trust:

The easiest way to tell the difference between native and non-native bluebells is to look at the colour of the pollen. If it is creamy-white then the bluebell is native. If it is any other colour such as pale green or blue then it’s not native.

If you don’t want to lie down on the woodland floor in order to check this out then there are other clues too. The sweet smell being the most noticeable one.

A clump of bluebells, which many of us might have in our garden, is a joy

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but a carpet of bluebells on the floor of natural woodland is just stunning.


There are many varieties of rhododendrons here. I garden on chalk so am not an expert but I know this is the bright and fragrant Rhododendron luteum. 


Is there another genus with such a range of vibrant colour? 


It is interesting to see the development of the opening flower all happening on the same bush:

Variations can be subtle, here it is in the colour of the flower stalks.

Evergreens break up the palette allowing the eye not to become too overwhelmed by the splash of colour. Some such as the ilex are variegated.


So too is there variegation on this unusual Stachyrus praecox ‘Magpie’.


We follow the path through naturally formed archways of dark laurel,


and into areas where the soft fresh green of an acer spreads its elegant branches.


The gentle Magnolia stellata, hails from Japan


While this shocking pink of a type of magnolia lilliflora comes from China.


Another Chinaman is the Handkerchief tree, davidia involucrata whose  dark flower heads are enveloped by white bracts.

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Conifers play their part in the woods. From the fairly recently planted Cryptomeria japonica,


to this unidentified specimen; once bought as a low growing prostrate shrub, like Alice it just grew and grew!


There is a profusion of blossom on the rounded bush of an exochordia x macrantha which grows on the edge of the wood.


A wooden throne sits with its back to the wood. It is not far from the house and the garden owner assures me that it is very comfortable.


From the throne you can admire the perfect camellia growing luxuriently on the corner of the house. Totally deprived of feed it is hard to believe that it suffers a hard prune each year.


We weren’t the only visitors today. Early in the morning six red deer ambled across the lawn. Badgers, muntjac, squirrels and rabbits all share this garden. In such places you live with the wildlife and it is they who dictate how the garden should grow.

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Witton Hall is open this coming Monday 1st May between 12-4pm. The entrance is just £3.00 with children going free. There are surely not so many places where, for such a minimal cost one can take children to run along the paths through the bluebells, experience the natural colours and enjoy the freedom of the woods.


The Old House; sculptures and trees (29).

It is a rare moment  that I get a chance to visit a garden ahead of the formal opening date so I was fortunate to be able to see The Old House as preparations were being made for this Sunday.

The garden is situated between the Church and the Broad at Ranworth on the East side of Norfolk.

A beautiful memorial stone  lines up with the church tower.


We follow the path beyond and into the arboretum, the planting of which began in 1991.


Cornus ‘Eddies White Wonder’ originally from America not only looks lovely now but will also have splendid Autumn colour.


Paths wind round and under branches. It is such a bonus to find all the trees have labels.



It is easy to forget how magnificent is the flower of the Horse Chestnut Aesculus hippocastanum.


The  cherry trees are overloaded with blossom,


and the variety in colour is striking.


Paths radiate out from the church tower including this avenue of oaks. The joy of an arboretum at this time of year is there is still plenty to come.


The cow parsley is nearly out and is going to look good with this Betula ‘inverleith’ .


Moving away from the arboretum towards the house the spreading arms of the sweet chestnut castanea sativa make it look positively human!


In the garden there is a potager with much activity in preparation for the opening.


It was inspired by a visit to the Chateau de Villandry many years ago.


The goddess Gaia, the personification of the Earth, overlooks the planting.


This pattern was taken from the ceiling of Cordoba cathedral,


whilst this brickwork was inspired by the floor.


An ancient terracotta pot surrounded by herbs,  sits firmly on a bed of thrift.


And a decorative bench is nearby.

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The long grass path edged with box leads to a sculpture,


which is of a cheetah so swift of foot.


Aggie takes us through the gate,


which we close firmly behind.

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We have entered another garden


which is overlooked by the pair of guinea fowl.


On the other side of this space is yet a further garden.


with yet another fine sculpture


Sheltering near the house the tree fern too is a work of art.


Part of the garden faces the wide expanse of water of Ranworth Broad. These beautiful gates were made by a granddaughter.


Narcissi and snowflake brighten the foreground. This broad is cut off from the boat traffic and is a peaceful haven for wildlife.


This realistic heron waits.


By the front door is Bengal Beauty, one of the first roses to flower.


On the stable block the wisteria has not been snapped by the first frost.


As I walk back to the car Magnolia Elizabeth is looking lovely with its soft yellow blooms.

This is a garden full of artistry; calming sculptures, fine trees, and beautiful blossom. Such glorious gates too, and they will be opening for visitors on Sunday 23rd April.


Rivendell (28)

On Easter Monday we enjoyed a walk through the south Buckinghamshire Shardeloes estate, finishing up with the all essential Ham Egg and Chips at the pub in Little Missenden. Afterwards our friends joined us on a garden visit in nearby Amersham.

A bright display of tulips greeted us.


And the sweet scent of Daphne was welcoming too,


as well as the owl who has a flip side of a Teddy bear.


We enter the garden down the side of the house where against the shade of the wall stand a collection of pots of hostas.


The garden is packed and not just with plants. We arrived at  opening time and already there are many visitors.


At first sight there is a glory of colour and interest, form and texture.


A stoney face watches us all.


The raising of the crown is repeated around the garden. You can glimpse through and of course it allows for more planting.


A bit of fun hides the fence.



Everywhere is neat and tidy. The colour comes from not just the flowers.


Foliage plays a large part in the planting.


Bright green sweet woodruff edges the paths.


Even the frog blends in with the colour of the foliage.


In the clean new shed is a display of photographs which shows the making of the garden; just a bare field in 1991. There is a picture too of Mary Berry presenting an award of longevity opening for the NGS.

Even the corner behind the hut has not been forgotten.


At the far end of the garden are the shade loving plants; Erythronium ‘Pagoda’ the dog’s tooth violet grows brightly.


pulmonaria pretty in pink.


Hellebores after a long season are still giving colour.  Looking splendid in the pot, they stand heads bowed on the circular paving.


Close by the circular theme is carried on with a pond,


and at the centre of the garden is the circular lawn,


Divided by the path which has become the home for pretty saxifrage and other alpines.


It is a productive garden too with signs of serious composting. The owner also brings in spent mushroom compost.


Euphorbia is supported by the apple trees.


While there is much to keep the plant hunters happy,  these old boys are enjoying their tea. The cakes are sumptuous but they are pretending they don’t know that.


Yellow and white seem to be predominant with many fine narcissi and this stunning magnolia.


A jolly witch is content to fly nowhere.



Plant sales are doing a fantastic trade. Propagated by the owner and sold for the NGS, we can’t resist.

Eventually we take our leave but not without admiring this enormous fritillaria imperialis.




Overstroud Cottage; comfort and comfrey. (27)

Easter Day. On our way to stay with some lovely friends we visited this charming garden at Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire.

The cottage was once the fever house for Missenden Abbey providing a home for the sick; hundreds of years later the connection with health is still there, now opening its gate for the NGS and providing funds for the nursing charities it supports.


The house sits perched on a higher level to the entrance gate. So we begin by going down into the green dell below the cottage. The ground is covered by hellebores, comfrey and pulmonaria interspersed with tulip.


I wonder why the ordinary comfrey I  battle with at home isn’t this lovely blue variety.


Looking up towards the house the blossom on trees is  bursting out.


 Tree trunks elegantly frame the front door,


the beautiful blossom of malus sargentii is just appearing.


So too is Magnolia wilsonii one of the few fragrant magnolias to tolerate the chalky soil. It is a special bloom and the owner picks it for her friend who’s birthday it is. The pleasure is immense.


We take the steps up, matured with time,


to the lawn in front of the house.


Here we find a rather aged Poppy.


White comfrey, narcissi and tulip gather round the base of a sundial.


To the left of the house is a neat vegetable area. Low apple trees are trained along the path which narrows and ends just beyond the greenhouse.


Outside the greenhouse is a bed of herbs,


and inside a collection of fun looking auricula.


and in the corner a small clematis full of flowers.


Proudly displayed is a token of many years of opening for the NGS.


A bank steeply rises up behind the house; no notices to warn us off but somehow we know not to enter.


A narrow path leads along the front of the house. For now there are tulips and blossom to enjoy, later it will be roses and pears.


A delightful pond gurgles happily


Further on from the pond the neighbour’s house peeps over a confusion of shapes. It is a chilling reminder of progress; there are no neighbours now, they have left due to the HS2 rail link.

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The garden studio is selling flower paintings, the proceeds will go to the NGS,


and the path leads directly down past the striking foliage of  Sorbaria sorbifolia “Sem”.


and the promise of a clematis.

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We climb up the steps back to the house.


where the seats echo the architecture of the windows

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and pink campion seeds itself near the door.

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Sometimes it is only at other people’s gardens you are allowed to sit and relax.


It is time to be on our way and leave this pretty garden. The owners have been busy with plenty of visitors. There is that lovely feeling at the end of the day when, with mug of tea in hand, you close the garden gate.


The visitors find their tea in the church where an enterprising team bake, serve and clear. Not just today but every Sunday throughout the Summer, and it is an added pleasure to be accompanied by a pianist.



Churchill College Garden and Fitzwilliam College Garden (25 & 26)

Churchill and Fitzwilliam Colleges, both opened their gardens last Sunday afternoon. In walking distance of each other they possess today that rare commodity in Cambridge, free parking space.

Designed in the 1960s as a memorial to Sir Winston Churchill this college is set in over 40 acres. Sculptures are an important feature of the gardens, similar to much of the planting they provide all year round interest. We begin in front of the college buildings with ‘Southern Shade 1’ by Nigel Hall.

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Over 700 trees have been planted over the years and a Silver Birch is prominent by the entrance from Churchill Road.


Further down the road is a Huntingdon Elm Ulmus x hollandica ‘vegata’, still managing to resist the Dutch Elm disease.


We first visit the small orchid house where we find a cocktail of colour, beautifully arranged and clearly labelled.


The flowers range from the charmingly exotic,


to bright dripping poached eggs,


the utterly weird,


and the familiarly wonderful.


While they grow up, the air roots cascade down.


Across the road in the Master’s Garden, the border with 21 different plants named after Churchill, is not yet in flower so we are drawn to  ‘Two Circular Forms No 1’ by Robert Adams in painted steel.


In the corner of a nearby quad is Michael Gillespie’s cement white  ‘Spiral’,


and further out in the open, Barbara Hepworth’s ‘Four Square (walk through)’ stands solidly in bronze opposite  residential buildings.


Nearby at the corner of a building, lying amongst the daisies and worked in stone is Michael Dan Archer’s ‘To Boulee’.

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Tree planting is ongoing and this avenue leads up to what we thought might be a chapel but turned out to be a dining room.


Cherry Blossom is in abundance.


and in particular the Great White Cherry Prunus Tai Haku looks glorious against a cloudless sky.



The grounds are wide open spaces and looking back towards the college buildings is ‘Diagram of an object (second state)’, it was created by Dhruva Mistry who was artist in Residence at nearby Kettle’s Yard with a Fellowship at Churchill College (1984-1985).


A moment for reflection in the chapel looking at the John Piper stained glass.


Cutting through the buildings to return along Churchill Road, we come across a quirky pot,


and trees find a place in the paths, with mellow underplanting.


The viburnum will soon be in flower,


and Rosa x xanthina var. spontanea ‘Canary Bird’ is always one of the first roses to bloom.


Pleached lime trees are an added interest to the complex shapes of the buildings.


I have become accustomed to Primroses growing along ditches and banks, so it is a surprise to see them in a pebbled area.


We can just pick out the star shape in the box parterre,

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it has to be the most beautiful design for a bicycle park!


‘Past, Present, Future’ by Denis Mitchell appear to lean up to the sky.


Along the other side of Churchill road away from the buildings the variety of planting  helps to soften the straight line, and


the blossom on the trees is reflected in the buildings.


The rounded evergreen oak Quercus Ilex makes a perfect back drop to the slender ‘Gemini’ by Denis Mitchell.


In amongst the well maintained magnificent green spaces, Churchill College garden has so much with its fine trees and amazing sculptures. I cannot leave without mentioning the compost bins; the 6 orderly bays are surely a masterpiece!


We crossed over Storey’s Way and make our way towards Fitzwilliam College.

We entered the Porter’s Lodge where Head Gardener Steve and his team greeted us and gave us this colourful map.

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The college was built in 1960 by the architect Sir Denys Lasdun. We decided to begin our tour by turning left towards New Court.


A welcome splash of rhododendron caught my eye.


Prunus serrula maintains its winter interest with its coppery peeling bark.


There is very much a feel of the modern but every now and again a touch of the old appears.



The sensuous branches of  Zelkova cretica the Caucasian Elm fill a corner of the Fellows’ lawn,


while diagonally opposite Prunus Maackie gently twists its trunk.


The cafe lies sunken behind a mixed shrub border,


which is predominantly green and white.


Tables outside are decorated with pots of tulip and grape hyacinth.


Up the steps is the appropriately named Tree Court where  Himalayan Birch rise up from the border,


and a handsome English Oak stands on the lawn.


A  line of tulips stand guard by the path.


Viburnum softens the hard brick behind.


Beyond the perfect circle of ‘Dark Planet’ by David Harber is The Grove. This elegant house was built in 1813 and was home to the Darwin family.


By the house the garden gate is open


which leads us out onto more lawns dominated by a large plane Platinus hispanicus is over 200 years old.


The sundial parterre looks stunning.

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The rose winds up the pillar.


The clipped box Snails add a little amusement to the sunny border.


There is dappled shade too in the woodland walk.


where we find ‘The First Undergraduate’. This was commissioned for the College’s 125th anniversary and created by Christopher Marvell.


Further along is Wilson Court where a Japanese maple Acer palmatum ‘Sumi-nagashi’ is the centrepiece.


We cross the elegant avenue of limes leading up to The Grove.


Many wild flowers grow along the grassy banks including the snake’s head fritillaries fritillaria meleagris .


Returning to the entrance we pass through Gatehouse Court. Modern structures have been built around the mature trees. Clipped yew hedges become walls and follow the lines of architecture.


These guys look towards the way out, expecting us to leave.


There is a gentle flow of visitors today but I wonder why there are not more. It is such an interesting garden.  The variety of spaces have been skilfully managed to incorporate the modern with the traditional, the neat with the naturalistic. Hidden away it is so peaceful too, and yet so close to the heaving tourist city centre.


Trinity Fellows’ Garden (24)

Cambridge was the hottest place in the UK last Sunday with the temperature recorded at 25.5 centigrade. Three college gardens opened their gates and we decided to start in the centre with Trinity Fellows’ Garden. It must be one of the few bicycle free zones in the city; bikes were left outside the entrance.


The Gardener’s Chronicle, 15th June 1889 reported ‘The whole of the gardens are under the direction of a committee of Fellows belonging to the College, who are interested in horticulture.’ The Committee still meets regularly but it was the Head Gardener and his young team who were collecting the modest entrance fee.


An abundance of soft blue anemone blanda carpet the avenue walk; once Elm it is now Plane trees that grow along its length.


The Bin Brook meanders from West to East and beside it a wild flower meadow at its Spring best.


A bridge takes us over the stream into the new buildings. Akebia quinata growing on the pergola is delicately in full flower.


There is a clipped order and precision around the new buildings.


The modern seat curved into the wall has a kind of Edwardian feel and is softened by the clematis.


The view beyond is leisurely contrasting with the formality within.


Symmetry continues either side and up to the front door.


The Wisteria clambering over the wall is just waiting to burst into flower. It is such a joy to have blue sky.


The planting has been well thought out. There really is all year round interest.


No bare earth at the base of the tree; it is planted to soften the hard landscaping.

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The mix of tulips gives a spectacular show, combined with plum-tinged Pittisporum they border the neatly mown lawn.


The straight lines of the paths are cushioned with Epimedium,


and Brunnera with Iris already in flower.


Decisions have to be made when you reach this quirky entrance.

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College lawns and fine trees give a mature appeal to the space.


Ornamental grass flourishes under the canopy of the old tree.


A small knot garden nestles in between buildings on the North side.


And an apple is happy baking against the sunny wall.


Silver and white is a winning combination in a shady area.


The ferns too, freshen the shade.


It is an explosion of colour in the terracotta pot.


We pass through the metal gate into the calm of Duff’s garden.


Once an area to grow choice vegetables and soft fruit for the high table, it now has a small lawn, interesting shapes and an herbaceous border.


The tulip here has more subtle shading.


A small but perfectly proportioned summerhouse looks out on the orchard,


and a beehive stands among the apple trees.


Away from Duff’s Garden we walk along paths mown in the long grass of Burrell’s Field, where cow parsley is inching up.


Across the hidden brook the mistletoe-laden tree rises up in the gap between two modern residential buildings.


A trusty work horse; a Ransome 36″ Mastif is parked by the hedge it must have produced many a fine sward.


The final part of the garden is The Roundabout, a large grass area named after the circular walk around its perimeter.


Which is made interesting by the assortment of colours found in the various shrubs and trees.


On the side of this pleasingly fun-shaped yew is a small clipped entrance


big enough to walk in. What do the Fellows get up to in here?


We found the teas and bought a deliciously freshly baked Hot Cross Bun served by the shy and charming Girl Guides.

It was the 63rd year that this garden has opened its gate for the NGS and we were grateful to be out of the heaving crowds of the City. Thankful too that the gardener and his team had given up their precious Sunday afternoon.





The Laburnums; a collection of Spring colour (23)

It was such a lovely day that following my visit to  Witton Lane,  I decided to head on south across the flat fields of the Waveney Valley to Halesworth in Suffolk. Such a very different garden compared to this morning.  But then no two gardens are the same.

The Laburnums’ gate was swung wide open:


A blend of trees and shrubs curve around the drive with the Amelanchiers looking particularly fine.


Clumps of dark purple violets grow underfoot.


In the front garden you can take the  daffodil lined perimeter walk which links the drive with the pedestrian entrance from the road….


the entrance was closed today; if it were open you would have entered and walked through this rose-lined arch.


These two on their circular seat opposite the front door are quite a talking point.


The flowering currant Ribes sanguineum is a good performer in this Spring garden.


An unusual variety is just coming into flower.


The white blossom bursting out on the prunus is complemented by the summer snowflake Leucojum aestivum at its feet.


It is so popular this afternoon that Jane says that she could have sold this plant a hundred times over. A member of the Amaryllis family, it is charming.


I am glad the gate through to the back garden is wide open today!


A pretty pond is the focus here. The water is circulated up through the pump house, flowing gently down the roof, into the gutter and back into the pond through the down pipe.


Perhaps I should mention the animals which appear round and about the garden. These  sheep in the front garden seem not to be sturdy,


A frog is content to sit in the shade.


Whilst the tortoise is happy marching through a border.


The very pink pigs seem to be protecting the newly sown areas of lawn.


And then the ducks arrive; I am confused because they are actually real and moving!


While the animals are an amusing distraction, it is the flowers that really grab your attention; A magnolia rises above evergreens.


The camellias are stunning.


Even perfect:


The fragrance from Daphne is a delight.


By the back door stands an upright pump with a handy watering can.


Plant-lined paths lead to hidden areas.


The glasshouse is busy with a multitude of potted plants; not an inch to spare.


Beyond, the path bends round through woodland to bring you back again.


An old deciduous tree stands at the furthest point. It might be a sunny day but it is a reminder that summer is not quite here,


and it is easy to forget that it is still daffodil time.


Returning along a different path I find this little chap; with book open on his lap I think his mind is actually farther afield.


It is hard to imagine that this was once just a bare patch of ground. This photograph was taken in 1985.

Jane is a garden designer and we are fortunate that she has opened her garden with the NGS for five years.


She kindly digs up a marsh marigold from the pond for me and I take my leave.


Jane is busy with the many visitors and she answers their questions with enthusiasm. A fitting plaque adorns the wall.