The Sculpture Park at the Sainsbury Centre

The other evening I was invited through an alternative Garden Gate, to a special tour of the Sculptures sited around the large campus of the University of East Anglia. Situated in a landscape of some 350 acres, a large lake and the river Yare, this is remarkably, an unknown delight, except maybe to those who are former students.

We met at the Sainsbury Centre, and for those who don’t know, this is not another supermarket but an amazing building designed by the then relatively unknown architect Norman Foster in 1974, which houses an extraordinary collection of art. Our tour began at the west end of the building where woodland curves round behind a grassy area. Four magnificent sculpture are sited here and you might be forgiven for thinking with such an acreage why are they not more spread out across the rest of the landscape. The simple answer is that it is only on this small site that no planning permission is required but because it is a public park, planning permission is needed anywhere else. It had never occurred to me before that you might need planning permission to erect a piece of art.

All the pieces are on loan and it is the bronze head created in 1997 by John Davies (b1946) and positioned just at the edge of the woodland that you first see. By the nature of its position you feel it must be looking towards the glass facade of the building,

however on closer inspection the eyes appear from this monumental head to be looking at nothing in particular.

Nearby is a Henry Moore; surely no sculpture park is complete without one and perhaps it was through Moore’s sculptures that so many of us were introduced to the abstract art world. ‘Draped reclining woman ‘ is cast in bronze and dated 1957-58.

So utterly different from Moore’s familiar form is ‘Sun’s roots II’ by Phillip King (b1934) who actually spent a year as an assistant to Moore. Over the course of his career he exhibited all over the world and worked in a variety of media;

this is painted steel and is influenced by his time spent in Japan. Sun meets earth and as you move round …

… the piece seems to flow, move a little and bend too.

There is also movement from this static couple, ‘Pair of Walking Figures – Jubilee’. They are the final sculpture in this space created in 1977 by Lynn Chadwick (1914 – 2003). Walking towards the Centre,

together they seem intent on visiting the exhibition, currently Art Noveau, and I know they will enjoy it, for it is a dazzling display. Their cloaks ruffle and flow behind,

abstract but expressive, their flat faces are expressionless whilst their bodies hold an air of elegance, perhaps best not to step in their way.

We walk along the south side of the exhibition centre. It is empty of people right now but during lockdown the park became a delightful escape for many Norwich residents. As a consequence the university is having a rethink about the park and its sculpture and an exciting new project is in the planning to increase the number of exhibits and ultimately create the best sculpture park in the country.

Tatlin’s tower stands prominently. After the Russian revolution Vladimir Tatlin (1885-19530) was charged by Lenin to implement his campaign to replace monuments reflecting the Tsarist period. Tatlin proposed an abstract design that would not only commemorate the revolution but also to serve as the headquarters of the Third International or Comintern. The monument was never realised and this is a reconstruction ‘Model of the Monument to the Third International’

We have arrived at the east end of the Sainsbury Centre where we find Lynn Chadwick’s three beasts captured in various states of action; on the left is ‘Crouching Beast II, in the middle ‘Beast Alerted I’ and on the right ‘Lion I’

They were made in 1990 from welded sheets of stainless steel. Chadwick is said to have delighted in the properties that steel afforded, feeling that no matter how dull the weather some facet of the sculptures would catch and reflect the light. As the sun fades the beasts certainly demonstrate that quality.

How fortunate these students are to be able to gaze upon these sculptures as they go about their studies on campus. Moore’s ‘Reclining Figure’ was acquired in 1962 and I am sure has enjoyed many an undergraduate’s prank.

Sir Denys Lasdun designed the Ziggurats which were completed in 1968. They are unique, pieces of art in their own right, and nestling into the landscape, they are in fact the students’ residential quarters. Placed in front of the Ziggurats is the large tubular metal structure painted in matt black and created in 2006 by Ian Tyson it is appropriately named ‘Proximity’.

I had never been down to the lake; it is a vast expanse set below the Ziggurats.

At the water’s edge are Dame Elizabeth Frink’s ‘Mirage I and II’ (1969). These extraordinary shapes were inspired by seeing the heat hazes and flamingoes in the south of France. No heat haze this evening but these part-bird and part-human structures still appear to shimmer.

Looking back towards the university buildings there on top of the central library is Sir Anthony Gormley’s figure ‘Another Time II’. Gormley might be considered as a local now that he lives in Norfolk.

There are actually three of these cast iron figures which were created in 2007, but before we ascend the stairs up to the library level in search of the remaining two, we encounter ‘ Extrapolation’ a structure of ascending steel plates which was originally created for Norwich Central Library in 1982 by the American born artist Liliane Lijn.

At the top of the winding concrete stairs we are met by a little surprise of ‘Another Time IV’.

and over up on the roof of the Biology Department is ‘Another Time II’. Using casts of his own body, Gormley personally selected the locations around the campus.

The pamphlet describes these figures as ‘thought-provoking and uncanny offering spectacle and surprise’, it is a description that could be afforded to all the sculptures in the park .

We end our tour, and close by the car we catch sight of the third Moore ‘Two Piece Reclining figure No 3’. Solid and familiar it is indeed thought-provoking.

The sculpture park is open to all and is free. It is a space to visit and watch with interest. The Sainsbury Centre is a spacious building and for this reason was the first gallery to re-open after lockdown. For further information https://sainsburycentre.ac.uk/

Paget House, an inspired modern design, near Saxmundham, Suffolk

Last Saturday I combined calling in on my cousin with a visit to an intriguing garden open for the National Garden Scheme. Entrance was by slipping through the back gate into an informal area, and for a moment I wondered if I had come the right way.

The plan eased my mind and was a promise of greater things ahead, and as with so many gardens open for the National Garden Scheme it did not disappoint. The modern house built by the owners some 9 years ago is in the shape of a cross and is very much at the centre of the garden.

This cross shape in effect dictates the layout of the garden marking out four separate but connecting gardens. Walking down across the roughly mown lawn, I come to west side of the house where raised beds are filled with vegetables and flowers.

It is a marvellous idea to place the productive side of the garden so close to the house rather than banishing it to the far reaches of the garden. It must be a real joy and so convenient to be able to just step outside and pick your vegetables,

and to enjoy the scent of those heavenly sweet peas.

I step through the wooden covered walkway which extends out like an arm from the house and cleverly acts as a division.

Here there is a quite different feel. An informal pond is the point of focus, making good use of this northern aspect. A striking sculpture by Paul Richards sits between pond and house. It must be a delight to watch the visiting wildlife from the comfort of an Adirondack chair.

Further away from the pond is a semi-circular border is bursting with colour;

familiar favourites in amongst the bright crocosmia such as this delightful salvia,

and rich hemoracallis.

Away from the house paths lead between mature trees,

and meander through the long grass,

where there are delightful places to sit and chill. It is as though these two decorative deck chairs are having their own dialogue.

The front door of the house is on the east side where the drive sweeps in, and alongside the yew hedge is softened by sections of ornamental grass.

On the other side of the drive is an arbor which leads you into a secret garden,

where a Lutyens bench sits majestically behind a table. The hand sanitiser a small sign of the times.

The planting by the front door is soft and free flowing.

Romneya coulteri, the Californian tree poppy steals the show with petals like finely crumpled tissue paper,

and the pot plants tumble through the front door.

You don’t really appreciate how much this house is on a slope, and now, on the other side of the house and through the door and up the steps, the mood changes again.

A mixed native hedge runs along the boundary on the left hand side and fruit trees grow in this wild meadow,

contrasting with the informal but careful colourful planting next to the house.

Paving and plants wrap comfortably around the house. Familiar favourites which include lavender, gaura, perovskia and verbena.

Agastache ‘Black Adder’, Mexican giant hyssop is particularly at home here.

Each side of the house moves effortlessly out into the garden and each side is subtly divided. The wall is smothered in delightfully scented trachelospermum jasminoides and on through the open door,

I am back where I started in the vegetable area.

It has been a delight to see this garden so thoughtfully designed and such an integral part of the house. Wildlife-friendly, it is a pure pleasure and a moment of freedom for all of us in these strange restricted times.

Each Monday a variety of gardens to visit are uploaded onto the website www. ngs.org.uk So why don’t you find one near you, pre-book a ticket, and Help Support Our Nurses.

——-2020——

Furzelea, a fantastic fusion of flora.

It is always a delight to find a garden gate open for the National Garden Scheme on a Wednesday. So on my way to pick up some items for my own garden from Lime Avenue Antiques https://limeavenueantiques.co.uk/ I called into Furzelea at Danbury near Chelmsford in Essex.

As I entered the enforced one way system my eye is drawn to the beautifully trimmed bay leaf, and already in my mind I have re-shaped my dull specimen at home.

Weather-wise it was not really a day for garden visiting but the good thing about the ticketing system is that you have already purchased the ticket so you might as well go. And I was so pleased that I did.

It is a joy to come across a plant that I am unfamiliar with, and there it is at the beginning of my visit, Acacia baileyana Purpurea; sadly my camera skills did not do justice to the silvery purple feathery leaves.

We are directed to the east side of the house, where dainty diascia mingles amongst the rosemary and tulbaghia around the foot of the wall.

Opposite, through the arch, we are drawn to the gap in the hedge which has the effect of extending the path until you realise it is a mirror cleverly placed in the ivy.

It is such a good idea to have the productive part of the garden so close to the house and not far down at the bottom of the garden. Just imagine nipping out to pick a lemon for your g & t before munching your way through a little something with fresh cucumbers, followed by bowlfuls of raspberries.

The path meanders away from the greenhouse down through

such a pretty palette of pinks and purples.

You can take an alternative route down the steps from the terrace by the house through the arch to the lawn,

where curvaceous edges guide you onwards with such rhythm and movement, swirling you around well-planted beds and wonderful shapes.

You can trample the camomile steps down to the little pond or continue round on the lawn,

where you can admire the Angels’ fishing rods Dierama pulcherrimum, dangling daintily over the water.

An arch of golden hop with its shaggy boot of ornamental grass Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’ makes an entrance to the narrow path made from nut shells collected from the two copper beech trees in the drive.

Roger and Avril have lived here for nearly forty years and it is so hard to believe that this spacious area was once an unkempt field where their daughters’ ponies grazed. Tucked away down in the left hand corner the clipped topiary twirls highlight

a fine thatched summer house which provides the perfect place to sit. I wonder if Roger and Avril ever find time to sit in this plant-packed garden; they employed no help doing all the work themselves.

This area is so cleverly divided; an island bed with a purpose and a magnificent array of planting.

The plant combinations in this garden are a noticeable feature and they are superb. Behind us in this long border there is a blend of yellows not just in flower but also in leaf.

The garden also opens earlier in June for the display of roses and as I walk back up towards the house I can imagine how lovely this arch must have looked.

On this dreary day there has been no shortage of colour, a haze of rich burgundy from the cornflower which have happily self-seeded in this part of the garden,

and the roses may be over but the clematis are clambering for attention; either softly adorning a pergola,

growing through the metal support at the back of the border,

or simply scrambling through the wisteria against the house.

Before we leave we make a final visit to the pond where we are reminded that it does rain in the east,

and from the terrace situated by the back door there is a misty view over the garden.

Government guidelines have put the serving of refreshments on hold. So, never wishing to leave a garden empty handed I turn to Roger’s plant supports which he has been making in aid of the National Garden Scheme, this year he has raised an incredible £900. Well, you never have enough supports.

You can visit Furzelea this coming Sunday and it is so easy to purchase a ticket: https://ngs.org.uk/shop/garden-tickets/east/essex-furzelea-sunday-12th-july/

——-2020——-

38 Chapel Street, Ely

Hurrah, the National Garden Scheme has begun to open some of its gardens. The system has changed a little and I had to go the website to pre-book my ticket online beforehand, which was perfectly easy and I found a small garden in Ely. It is such a long time since I have been anywhere so I was quite excited and having made my online purchase I was not going to let the cold miserable rain put me off.

Ely was void of the usual tourists and after managing to remember how to manoeuvre my Mini into a convenient parking slot I walked up the street towards the Cathedral, the grey clouds were pretty threatening.

It was a windy day and by the time I reached the cathedral it was blue sky.

Number 38 is minutes from the historic centre and as I walked along the residential street I received a warm welcome from the roses. The original plan was to open with a group of other gardens but coronavirus prevented this from happening.

The gate was open with a plant stall in front, and garden owner Julia had been busy raising and selling plants during the lockdown making over £600 for the National Garden Scheme. Julia is a retired nurse and she believes this is her way of helping.

I hurry down the west side of the bungalow, as that sky does not look too good.

A garden on heavy clay and with Ely’s dry climate this is surely a welcome load,

despite the threatening clouds there is a sunny feel to this secluded back garden. Julia and Peter have lived here for three years working hard to restore the garden from a jungle of ivy.

For her 80th birthday, family and friends gave Julia the materials and labour to create a rock garden on a dry piece close to the house.

Here grow all sorts of treasures; a bright horned poppy with glaucous leaves,

the enchanting Dianthus cruentis

and a fishy friend.

Beyond this area is the fountain and the glaucous theme is repeated around the base.

The roses have been truly floriferous this year and here is no exception. Through the arch, I walk into a little fruit area

and come face to face with some ripening greengages. The bungalow was originally built on the site of an old orchard and several fruit trees remain providing an abundance of apples, plums and quince.

Returning through another arch I am back into the main garden where there is an explosion of colour reminiscent of the sixties, those classic summer plants roses, alstroemeria and delphiniums.

Roses planted by previous owners are blooming everywhere mingling with shrubs including the sweet-scented philadelphus.

Over in the corner are the raised beds, the perfect size for vegetables, and close by is the all-essential greenhouse where Julia’s skills raise many a plant.

The garden is well screened being surrounded by mature trees, and several wooden arches provide height and interest. Here it is a perfect support for the pink climbing rose, and the yellow jasmine fruticans is pure joy.

Wafts of honey fragrance fill the air and I know it is not from the jasmine but am unsure where it is coming from until I discover this lovely unusual viburnum japonicum just by the house.

There is a convenient one way system, and along the east side of the house a border has been designed to give form and foliage colour,

with astrantia major popping up below to add to the colour.

Out in the front again where the Judas tree is in full leaf, salvias, geraniums alstroemerias are just a few of the plants in this dry open space.

This small daisy-like perennial Erigeron karvinskianus is so useful for softening those hard areas.

Garden owners are prohibited from providing teas, and it is a blessed relief to those of us who have added centimetres to our waist lines during the lockdown. So I head for home, the recommended distance for visiting is about 20 miles, and I must admit to have slightly exceeded this suggestion, but for those of us living in rural places the requirement might have to be more. However, you must remember that no facilities can be available and on the way home I was glad that my journey was not longer and next time I will remember not to have that second cup of coffee before I set out.

Gardens will be uploaded each week on http://www.ngs.org.uk where you can purchase your tickets. If you cannot get to a garden or do not wish to venture out, why not enjoy one of the NGS video virtual tours?

There has been no greater time when we need to support our nurses, and the all-round benefits of visiting a garden are huge.

——-2020——-

Towering above the landscape

On the edge of Castle Acre village in West Norfolk stands a rusty old water tower. Apparently a Braithwaite type (the name refers to the manufacturer), it was originally constructed for nearby RAF Massingham during WWII, and afterwards recycled and moved to Castle Acre where it was decommissioned in the early 90s. Left to stand and rust, it became a familiar landmark to us locals and in some people’s eyes it was considered a bit of a blot on the lovely landscape, well that is until recently.

Picture: Matthew Usher.

Bought in an auction by a professional photographer from London it has, in the last couple of years been given it a complete face lift. Driving by we have watched the transformation with curiosity.

So what joy it was back in September when the new owners kindly held an open day and invited us all in, and free of charge. We went in droves, proving that we all love a good snoop when the opportunity arises. The garden gates were open wide and with a glorious blue sky and a quirky house sign we were welcomed in.

The recently laid drive has on one side a mature mixed hedgerow and on the other newly planted Corsican pines.

At first sight the impressive structure appears almost menacing and I wondered for a brief moment if I might spy a German soldier peering from the slit windows.

The owners employed the clever team of architects tonkin liu https://tonkinliu.co.uk/architecture .

An awesome beast, it is a touch industrial but at the same elegant.The understated front door is pinned open…….

and you enter into a garden room.

The spiral stairs beckons you upwards

each step crafted into neat wooden sandwiches.

I am keen to get straight to the top just allowing my heavily pregnant daughter-in-law to stop a second to admire the windows,

and then the stairs morph into a metal ladder

and we clamber up out on to the roof. We thought it a still day but the wind blows up here.

My friend seems to be a very long way down,

But the views are stunning; stubble fields stretch northwards,

while to the east, the small village of Newton by Castle Acre is hidden by trees.

To the south is the village of Castle Acre, with Southacre beyond,

and to the west, the road winds towards Westacre. Much of these acres are owned by the Holkham estate situated some 18 miles away, the home of the Coke family. The story goes that when Coke was increasing his lands back in the 17th Century, King James 1 was not happy with the acquisition. Coke’s comment was that it was just three more acres he wanted to purchase and so proceeded to acquire Castle Acre, West Acre and South Acre.

It is time to descend, the way down through the hatch somehow does not seem as inviting as it did on the way up.

We go down into the floor below which is in fact the old water tank and now the kitchen,

with the large ballcocks cunningly recycled into ceiling lights,

and the windows cut out of the metal sides to reveal the landscape. It is pure art.

Below the kitchen, on different levels are the two bedrooms, a ladder reaches to the raised bed area. No curtains adorn the ceiling to floor windows but why would you want to block out that view.

The owner Denis and his wife haven’t quite moved in and have been residing in a double converted container situated by the tower. There is no garden as yet, and indeed surrounded by such landscape there is no need. Outside the container the patio area is decoratively paved with recycled manhole covers,

and from here you can look up and check the time. And for us we realise it is time to go.

Owner Denis is an acclaimed still-life photographer and his profile describes his ability ‘to create spectacular, dynamic imagery from all manner of raw material’, I think it could be said that he displays his talent in this extraordinary building.

Something a little special in Spencer Road

Last Thursday number 7 Spencer Road, situated by Wandsworth Common in London was open for the National Garden Scheme, an evening opening beginning at 5.30pm.

It so happens that I look after my grandson on a Thursday nearby so it seemed an opportunity not to miss, with the added fact of course, the young chap was keen to accompany me.

The entry in the Garden Visitor’s Handbook describes it as the ‘garden designer’s experimental ground’ and with a quirky quince winding up in front of the window on the street side, it promised to be an intriguing garden.

A touch of topiary compliments the terracotta pots on the front steps which are filled with Cleome hassleriana ‘White Queen’ combined with the dainty white Euphorbia hypericifolia ‘Diamond Frost’

We hurry through the narrow, thankfully uncluttered walkway to the left of the front door ever anxious to explore what is beyond.

Young Alfie allows just a second for me to pause and read the notice; I am not quite sure if it is a warning or indeed an apology.

Then in that way of secret gardens we find ourselves in an inviting explosion of branches and verdant leaves. It is a compact space and I am glad we made the decision to leave the pushchair at home.

No lawns here but a glorious variety of plants through which stone steps and a narrow, natural looking path are laid; slightly off centre it has a way of encouraging those small feet to hurry along.

Several visitors are already here chatting and admiring the rich planting in this beautiful space but that does not deter the grandson as he slips through their legs

clutching his friend Piglet.

The garden is long and thin and faces north-east. We are very careful not to tread on the tapestry of foliage and flower growing at ground level.

For the not so small visitor there is much to see at eye level, horizontal and vertical shapes with a gentle dabb of colour.

The ultimate destination is the sunroom situated at the far end of the garden; it was built at an angle to reach the later lower light of the south-west winter sun.

High up on the corner of the roof is a plant in a pot and garden-owner Christopher Masson feels that in London gardens, such pots should be raised up high.

Around every corner there are beautiful combinations of containers, plants and structures,

cleverly arranged to give height, interest and an elegance of antiquity.

As those little legs explore the garden we are naturally attracted to the pond, calming and restful,

the sound of water gently trickling over the stone plinth is mesmerising.

There is that rose again, my favourite I have seen it everywhere this year and seemingly always in flower; it is Bengal Beauty.

Places to sit and relax are positioned to capture those precious moments in the sun,

just a perfect spot to nibble a pork pie.

The garden is planted specifically to be enjoyed in late summer; Eucomis, Dahlia and Plumbago are a joy at this time of year.

It has been a good year for Salvias and they will continue to flower on into the Autumn.

Not yet in flower is the bewitching Tibouchina urvilleana commonly known as the Glory Bush. It is new to me but Wikipedia tells me that it comes from Brazil

and shows a picture of a stunning flower.

We haven’t time to stay too long, as Piglet says it’s time for bed. So we leave Christopher Masson sharing his expertise in his glorious ‘experimental ground’, his own ‘hundred acre wood’.

We have had good fun, both of us in our different ways; never too early to share our love of garden visiting and I think how fortunate we are that the National Garden Scheme allows children to enter without charge.

The Garden Gate is Open at Tudor Lodgings.

There are an incredible 340 gardens open for the National Garden Scheme during August. Sadly I have been unable to visit any so far partly because I am busy with my own garden being one of the 340, added to which my ‘under-gardener’ had an unfortunate accident resulting in him being confined to crutches and so leaving me with much to do.

So forgive me, it has to be a tour of my own garden. Tudor Lodgings is perched on the edge of the historic village of Castle Acre, and was built in the late 15th Century.

Thank heaven we were open combined with Highfield House, as lovely Jackie and David were very supportive and brilliant at putting up the posters and all the important signage.

As you can imagine much preparation goes into opening the garden, and always as the day approaches I never feel that the garden is quite ready and as I would like it to be. Radio Norfolk announced its opening and a very complimentary write up in the Saturday Telegraph the day before did nothing to relieve my anxiety. Was the garden really up to this sort of standard?

Whilst you can work your socks off, you can do absolutely nothing about the weather; the view from my bedroom window on the Sunday looked promising. Swinging into action frighteningly early I began the day by putting the first of the home-made sausage rolls and quiches into the oven, timing each bake between walking dogs and watering.

Mowing the lawn and knocking in the final notices is usually the job of the under-gardener. This year he had to give instructions from his incapacitated position in the sunroom. Our sons rose to the occasion (forgive the pun).

With the final inspection of the lawn being undertaken by our friendly fowl, the under-under-gardener team took up position in the lower paddock.

Here they turned their attention to parking cars, skilfully maximising the open space until for a short moment there was no more room to be had. It was fortunate they had opened the gates earlier than scheduled and the first car or two began to leave just in time to allow others in.

Access to the garden is by walking up the slope through the field gate,

and it is worth just pausing a second here to look at the old medieval wall, in effect a large dry ditch and bank, which surrounds the garden on two sides. An ancient listed monument, it is very steep and therefore tricky to maintain plus the added fact that there are restrictions. We keep the bank directly below the house neatly strimmed,

whilst on the other side we allow the nettles to grow. Both these areas are carpeted with snowdrops in the winter months.

Moving on up towards the garden and situated west of the dovecote is a sculpture by Matthew Frere-Smith (1923-1999). This piece was already here when we arrived and we have become rather fond of it, endlessly moving it around to several different sites within the garden. It has come to rest here which we feel might at last be its proper resting place.

There is no set route around the garden and slipping through the gap in the yew hedge you can go either,

straight up the path bordered on one side with anenomes and hydrangeas and with a block of panicum virgatum on the right,

or you can turn right and head towards the house. Perhaps this is a good starting point. When we moved here in 1985 with toddler and babe in arms, I, and the ‘under-gardener’ knew very little about gardening.

There were certainly the beginnings of a garden here; trees, hedges and topiary had been planted, the paving and steps laid, all sketched out on the back of an envelope by Brenda Colvin, a friend of my predecessor http://www.colmog.co.uk/brenda-colvin/. It is a family garden which has evolved over time and we have simply added to the original design.

The house faces south and visitors are drawn to the shrub growing up in between door and window.

It is Itea illicifolia and the long fragrant catkin-like flowers fill the air with the aroma of honey. The unknown clematis winds itself through and is happy to flower for most of the summer.

Between the house and the lawn is a knot garden. Created in 2013 we did not want a traditional design, but instead were inspired by the artist Mondrian, and within the straight lines of box, the loose planting tries to keep within his palette; blue nepeta, red echinacea, yellow stipa tenuissima mixed with coreopsis, and white cosmos combine with Japanese anenome and gaura. In spring there is a showing of galanthus, muscari and tulips.

From the house there is a slight incline and for years we gardened on the slope until one day we decided to terrace it. So much easier. In the upper section hibiscus, roses, perovskia and phlomis fight for space while below sits a ridiculously large watering can; well what else do you do with an empty green expanse?

The Barn which we let out for self-catering holidays, is kept vacant, and stepping through a border of echinops, kirengeshoma and senecio tangutica it becomes the tea room. Indeed for some this is the most important area of the garden.

It is at this point that I should mention the tea team, led by ‘the nurse’ who has been administering injections twice daily for the past fortnight to the under-gardener whilst at the same time filling my deep freeze with an amazing selection of cakes. There is no doubt that not only are her nursing qualities superb but also she bakes a perfect sponge. The nurse cajoles her family to drive the distance from Gloucestershire to Norfolk to help, and together with over a dozen kind friends from the village they serve and wash up the entire day. It would quite simply be impossible without them.

From the end of the Barn, and the end of the lawn you see gently rolling fields; please don’t think of Norfolk as being flat.

You might think the table and chairs have been moved here to enjoy the view. That is partly true but while showing a group around the garden the day before opening, a gust of wind brought the rather poorly Judas tree in the centre of the lawn crashing down. Just what you need before an opening. With no alternative but to leave it, I moved the table and chairs further away. There is also another reason why it was best to move them; it is the low table that was the cause of the crutches. Let’s say no more and carry on.

Tulip and Jesus (he came at Christmas) are sitting in front of the former dovecote. Built in C16 it is square in plan with the remains of the nesting boxes formed of brick and clunch. There are no doves now but it houses the garden tools instead. The abstract topiary known affectionately as the ‘Bun of box’ is a great place for terriers to play hide and seek.

In the shady corner the hosta fills the copper pot, all summer long its large leaves are never touched by slug or snail.

Squeezing through the keyhole in the yew hedge you re-enter the area where the centre is filled with ornamental grass.

This was originally just long grass with mown paths but we got tired of it becoming unsightly by the end of June and so planted a block of Panicum virgatum ‘Shenandoah’; the seed heads which turn red compliment the hot border to the right,

where more ornamental grasses thread through red-leaved shrubs and bright flowers such as crocosmia, hemerocallis and monarda,

Further round the corner, the campsis radicans this year has been positively trumpeting with flowers climbing over a brick wall by the garage.

Originally I planted this tunnel with roses and apples but as one never saw the rose flowers unless flying overhead, which I seldom did, I removed the roses and now have just apples and pears. The apple is an old variety called Norfolk Beefing, a lovely cooker which never seems to let us down.

The tunnel is a link to the wilder part of the garden but as you move through, on the right there are autumn raspberries and on the left in the fruit cage are various currants. The vegetable area has now been planted up with cutting flowers. I am hopeless at growing vegetables and cannot see the point when I have a perfectly good greengrocer in Swaffham. What I love is being able to pick flowers and this year, cornflower, sweet peas and sunflowers have been a delight.

You come through the tunnel to the wilder part of the garden. The shepherd’s hut, where, as it faces west we can catch the evening sun; the perfect place for a sundowner.

From here we can enjoy the tower of the fine church of St James the Great,

and can also watch the sheep safely graze amongst the wild carrot and oxeye daisies.

The ancient monument rises up behind the shepherd’s hut to the south west corner and many years ago we dragged a railway sleeper up there to use as a bench. From here you get a marvellous view:

Due south towards Swaffham, and if you look carefully you can see the wind turbine,

and to the west are the ruins of the priory.

It is a great look out from up here not just for our visitors,

and looking across our property in the far distance beyond the house and hidden by trees are the ruins of the castle.

Having retraced the uneven way down you can then take the path around the pond. Wild it may be but this part of the garden takes a lot of looking after. One day it is our intention to make this wheelchair friendly.

A peaceful place, with just the sound of the little stream behind, you can glimpse the drakes swimming on the pond, sadly their ladies were taken earlier this year by Mr Fox.

The chickens, bantams, guinea fowl and Richard the rhea are safe at the moment and roam the top field during the day and are locked up at night.

We used to keep horses but they have now given way to horticulture, and the potting shed and greenhouse now occupy the yard where the ponies were stabled. Verbena bonariensis happily seeds itself in a riot of colour as does the Stipa gigantea.

Agapanthus grown in pots find it warm enough to stay out all year round,

but we have to bring in the dahlias for the winter; it is surely worth the trouble

A few steps on brings us to the garden gate, this is in fact the main entrance for visitors walking in from the village, and here on open day you can buy the inexpensive but brilliant plants from the stall set up by West Acre Gardens http://www.westacregardens.co.uk/nursery.html

after making your purchases you can then head for the delicious teas in the Barn.

I am glad to report that approximately 520 visitors came on 11th August and the two gardens raised just under £5,000 for the National Garden Scheme. If you missed it this year we will be open again next August. In the meantime there are still plenty of other gardens to visit: https://ngs.org.uk/ Thank you George Plumptre for including us within your section of Gardens to Visit in the Daily Telegraph, and for the prompt to write this blog.

National Garden Scheme

——-August——-

Batteleys Cottage; ponds, paths and plenty of places to sit.

It is a glorious time of year for garden visiting, however I fear many of us this afternoon will be staying at home to watch the Wimbledon finals. So I am going to take you around Batteleys Cottage Garden which I very much enjoyed last Sunday when it was open for the National Garden Scheme.

Situated in the village of Wortham on the Norfolk/Suffolk border I parked on the sandy heathland and walked up the drive admiring first the charming little corner on the right,

and then decorative bicycle propped against the wall on the left.

Like so many of the gardens open for the scheme, this is privately owned, created by the owners and has a delightful element of surprise when you enter. Stepping onto the lawn to the right of the cottage you are drawn in by this intriguing centrepiece.

The neatly mown lawn (no worn Wimbledon patches here), is surrounded by borders packed with plants; a perfect place to pause awhile and take in the beautiful surroundings.

Across the way bursting out of the perennials, is an explosion of soft blue delphiniums.

It is not just the colour of these borders that is so attractive, but the texture, the rhythm and the movement. It is hard to believe that not that long ago the area was a mass of blackthorn and bramble and not a single herbaceous plant to be seen.

When Andy and Linda began to work on the garden some seven years ago they had to clear 30 huge Leylandii from the boundary. Now a gravel path winds around the perimeter allowing views across the neighbouring fields and letting in light onto the roses cascading around the arches.

The garden is seamlessly divided into different spaces; from the more formal area closer to the house,

through to a wilder area further away, creating a different atmosphere and making the whole one acre garden feel much larger.

This simple map explains the outline but does not show the tremendous impact of the rich planting.

In the centre of the garden is the summer house looking out on to a delightful pond,

an area not only perfect for wildlife but also a place where winged sculptures gracefully fly.

Andy and Linda have no help in the garden each working on average two full days a week. They do however find time to enjoy the results of their labour positioning the many seats around the garden to their best advantage. This elegant seat is set in the long grass in the orchard.

Clematis come into play in every part of the garden, either scrambling with roses against trees,

or climbing up well positioned obelisks,

this is the handsome, velvety ‘Romantika’ who will flower through to the Autumn.

The mix of light and shade has a soothing quality,

as does the gentle sound of the water flowing in the stream.

Around every corner there is something different,

sunny, characterful and almost quirky.

There are two areas for vegetables and it is a delight to see this potager sited conveniently right outside the back door.

Linda has a family link with India and it was on a trip there that she was able to purchase this stone plinth.

Returning to the lawn in front of the house I find this bewitching couple emerging gently from the mixed planting.

Inevitably I succumb to the delicious tea and apricot cake, and it is from the colourful patio outside the sun room that I can really take in the splendour of this beautiful garden.

The garden will be open next year, perhaps at a slightly earlier time so don’t miss it: https://www.ngs.org.uk/find-a-garden/garden/29923/

And whether you are punting for the Edelweiss or the Lily-of-the-Valley I hope you enjoy the match.

The Stuart-Smith trilogy

Thursday 13th June was an exceedingly wet day. This neither deterred nor detracted from a delightful day tour of three gardens in the village of Bedmond in Hertfordshire, owned by various members of the Stuart-Smith family and organised by James Bolton of Border Lines http://border-lines.co.uk/

We began the day at The Barn, Serge Hill, the home of the famous designer Tom Stuart-Smith and his wife Sue. Renowned for his landscape artistry with a fresh mix of naturalism, together with contemporary, I had for some time been interested in seeing his own private garden. In the pouring rain we first of all admired the courtyard garden in front of the Barn, richly planted, there was plenty of colour.

Tom’s landscape design practice has won eight gold medals at Chelsea with three winning ‘Best in Show’. Some of the materials here are recycled from the 2005 Daily Telegraph show garden; you may remember the rust coloured corten steel water tanks surrounded by the red coloured Astrantia major, euphorbias and other perennials.

The fresh new growth of Hakonechloa macra softens the steel and cascades in front of the tank and wall. You can perhaps appreciate how very wet it was from the surface of the water.

Taking cover under the tree I view the native meadow in the foreground. Sown some 25 years ago it is cut for hay in the late summer. Although the sound of the M25 can be heard in the distance, the countryside is green and gently rolling.

Before taking one of the mown paths through the long grass I explore the west side of the Barn where the patio is a delightful area with table and chairs,

and leads onto a verdant lawn with floriferous borders either side. It is hard to imagine that twenty years ago this richly planted area was once an empty wheat field.

Looking back you can see that it is in fact a series of enclosed spaces divided by hedges. These spaces are either packed with plants,

or simply empty, compelling you to walk on through to the path beyond.

Following the path there is mature woodland on one side and meadow on the other. Today I can only imagine that the swimming pond must be enticing on a hot summer’s day.

Turning back towards the Barn and walking across the meadow there is a slight touch of ‘Out of Africa’, well, perhaps if the sun was shining.

The exotic meadow created in 2011 is not yet in flower; the exquisite pink flower heads of Dianthus cruentas are just a taster of what is to come.

I do find a splash of colour by following the mown path away through to the left where a little wooden gate opens up to a display of white iris, foxglove and cornus.

There is sadly no time to linger in the greenhouse, so, a little wet from our ramblings we leave the Barn to walk over the road to Serge Hill.

This is the family home where two generations of Stuart-Smiths have gardened. Roses adorn the pillars of the elegant Edwardian veranda. Tom’s sister is now in charge and explains that she is assisted by a team of Wwoofers; for those not familiar with these guys I suggest you take a look at the website https://wwoof.org.uk/. Kate provides a potted history of the garden and explains how her mother was an avid gardener.

Through the relentless rain we turn our backs on the white Regency house and look out over lawn and parkland beyond.

I follow the meandering gravel path alongside the border brightly billowing with June colour,

and enter the walled garden through the gate curiously positioned at the far corner.

Here too is sumptuous planting; climbers cover the walls, roses and clematis vigorously clamber over arches. Hardly an inch of ground is bare, covered with an enviable assortment of perennials.

Even the paths are sometimes difficult to detect.

This half-acre walled garden is fully working with an abundance of first class vegetables.

It is a relief to shelter in the greenhouse for a while, a hive of industry and fully operational with old fashioned handles still in use.

There is a splendid display of ‘down tools’. I imagined the Wwoofers must be at lunch,

and that is exactly where we head off to, mounting the steps through the climbing rose and crossing the courtyard to the backdoor where we are pleased to shed some of our wet clothes.

Lunch, delicious and most welcome is served in the dining room where it transpires the Wwoofers have left off work to serve us.

After lunch we drive the short distance taking the foxglove-lined track to Pie Corner, the home of Tom and Kate’s brother Jeremy and Bella Stuart-Smith. Bella is also a garden designer and plantswoman and has created the house and garden.

We park in the field below this interesting recently-built house.

Gathering near the tulip tree liriodendron tulipifera we hear about its creation from Bella.

Around the corner the deer appears to be galloping towards us,

viewed from the house she appears to be just passing through.

The swimming pool is situated so close to the house and, hidden from the windows by the clipped box and santolina is very much part of the garden.

Moving round to the side of the house it is a wonderful vista from the terrace through the valley.

On the other side of the house from the swimming pool side stands another pool, not for swimming it dominates the dry garden planted with a mix of herbs and summer flowering perennials. An archway in the hedge invites us through to a less formal area

where we find the pretty vegetable garden.

Another gate leads out into woodland.

This wooded area which rises up behind the house has recently been cleared and replanted, the foxgloves have sprung to life. I follow the paths and

return to this light, contemporary and comfortable house where we enjoy tea and a glorious piece of coffee cake.

These three gardens are open for the National Garden Scheme; The Barn and Serge Hill which open together have already opened this year so make a note not to miss them next year when hopefully the rain will have stopped. Pie Corner is open “By Arrangement” through July, August and September. Visit the website https://www.ngs.org.uk/find-a-garden/

Parham, photography and flowers

A couple of weeks ago I enjoyed a day at Parham House in West Sussex https://www.parhaminsussex.co.uk/plan-your-visit/. Looking at the garden through the lens of a camera I attended a two day course, sadly shortened to one and run by the Artist in residence the celebrated photographer Elizabeth Zeschin https://www.zeschin.com/.

Photo taken from Parham House website

As is often the case on so many courses I have experienced, you find there are those who arrive brimming with confidence, armed with the best equipment and a knowledge they are keen to impart, and then there are those of us who have no idea what they are doing, come with inadequate tools and simply want to learn a little more about how to improve their photography and move on from using the automatic button.

We met in the Seed Room where Elizabeth is holding her present exhibition; beautiful salt prints, black-and-white painstakingly developed, and in the corner stood the dauntingly old-fashioned camera which she had used to photograph them.

Following our instruction on ISO, aperture and shutter speed, and trying not to trip over my trusty tripod (I had to borrow one as mine was incomplete), we headed out into the garden. Concentrating on all that had been said I took my first photograph; the result was unremarkable, utterly dull and very flat.

Parham House is a wonderful Elizabethan house and as you walk into the walled garden you are overwhelmed with the generous and vibrant planting and you can’t help but feel that many have walked this way before. Situated in a sheltered spot in the far distance you can see the South Downs.

We entered through the south gate; the garden was not open to the public so we had the glorious four acres to ourselves. We were spoilt for choice and pointed our lenses where we could. Fellow student and NGS garden owner chose her spot carefully and looked the part.

The garden is divided into many areas. The main pathway runs north to south along a central axis. Crossing it to the west is the blue border with pools of nepeta billowing out onto to the path, extending towards the painted door in the wall,

and to the east the gold border stretching towards the oak door with the roof of the dovecote rising above.

The summer house on the north wall provides the perfect focal point. Either side of these calming gentle strips of lawn are the memory walls; made of stone they were built in 1965 by Veronica Tritton (the great aunt of the present incumbent) in memory of her father the Hon. Clive Pearson who bought Parham House in the 1920s and restored the property.

I couldn’t help focusing on this divine little chap sitting at the end of the wall and I worry people might not necessarily notice him. As I adjust my lens I realise there is much to think about; how much should I zoom in? Should I include the meadow to the side? Shall I frame him in the evergreen oak?

And then Elizabeth kindly lent me her macro lens and a whole new world opened up before me. The white froth of flowers on the Crambe cordifolia takes on a new appearance and I am reminded of my flowerless plant at home which has never really recovered from being moved.

However the architectural Angelica archangelica flowers freely at home spreading its seeds happily, although I try to keep it contained within the drive.

It is a new intriguing world through this lens; surely there is no better common name for nigella damascena than Love-in-a-Mist.

We are absorbed with our cameras for several enjoyable hours and as we return for a late lunch I cannot but admire this collection of pots. Aren’t professional gardeners so clever at filling those shady corners.

After lunch we blinked ourselves out into the afternoon sun and returning to the walled garden I am drawn to the orchard area immediately on the left. Shadows have appeared over the mown paths through the long grass; it is of course a different light.

Standing boldly, the apple tree spreads its branches and if you look carefully, the mistletoe can just be identified in this tapestry of greens.

Across the way to the orchard the faded wisteria drips over the entrance to the plant sales. I must resist and concentrate on camera in my hand.

So I move swiftly up to the north-eastern corner where the uncut meadow contrasts with the clipped box surrounding the vegetable and cutting garden.

Gardens are so much about health and wellbeing and here is a place that you can escape, admire the flowers, the shapes and form, perhaps take inspiration or simply relish the peaceful surroundings.

As the afternoon draws into evening the light changes again and so too does the atmosphere. The north wall is now bathed in the gentle warm sunlight.

Standing at the far end of the memory walls I position myself for some time under the apple tree watching and waiting for the shadows and trying to get the best angle.

Of course I understand why gardens have to close at the end of the day, but wouldn’t it be good if they remained open for that early evening magical light?

It is time to finish. We have spent a full day in the garden and goodness Elizabeth has patiently worked hard and has been a perfect teacher.

So to the finale, the oak door in the wall is opened, with an imaginary drum roll, and remembering Elizabeth’s on-going mantra ‘ If you can’t imagine it on the page of a magazine or wall of a gallery, DON’T PRESS THE SHUTTER’ 

I take my very last shot of the day. I hope you will agree that it is a huge improvement on my first!

Parham has opened in the past for the NGS for an amazing 40 years and now kindly advertises in the Sussex county booklet. There is much I have not seen today so I will return. For opening times https://www.parhaminsussex.co.uk/plan-your-visit/opening-times-prices/