The sad news has been announced that Janet Muter the owner of Lake House, Brundall, Norfolk. has died peacefully at the age of 93. I remember fondly my visit to this extraordinary garden back in 2017, part of my ’90 adventure’ and so, I wish to share it with you again.
Janet had lovingly restored this garden, set on a steep slope, it was once known as ‘The Switzerland of Norfolk’.
The garden was originally created in 1880 by a Dr Beverley who, along with planting an arboretum, dug out a cascade of ponds as seen in the centre of the postcard below. An entrepreneur named Frederick Holmes-Cooper then purchased the grounds in 1917, built a new house for his family which he called ‘Redclyffe’ and set about making ‘Brundall Gardens’ a visitor attraction with a fine hotel and restaurant.
In 1922 it was reported that 60,000 people flocked to see the gardens. Visitors travelled by bicycle, foot, rail and river, disembarking at the jetty just by the restaurant.
Sadly I could not arrive by boat and had to opt for the car. It was a similar time of year to now, a cold April day. Janet Muter was warm and welcoming and told me the story of how she had restored the garden. She and her husband bought a newly-built house on the site in the 1980s, just above the cascade and set about restoring the garden. It had suffered much neglect since its closure in the 1930s and subsequent requisition during the war when the property was used as an enemy aircraft plotting station.
I was very touched when Janet presented me with the book, Rescue of a Garden that she had recently written about the fascinating history of her garden.
So, I cannot resist starting our tour with a picture of the house taken from the book showing the building in 1986, which she describes amusingly as ”A house undressed”:
No longer so ‘undressed’, it is clothed in mahonia and clematis armandii, and smelling delicious,
with an attractive little border that softens the hard landscape by the front door:
From the house we cross to the other side of the roadway which is in fact the drive to the neighbouring house. I have to confess I am a little confused; this is Lake House, but where is the lake? A rustic hut, shades of an alpine idyll, is surrounded by spring planting.
Stepping back over towards the house I admire the welcome signs of spring in the flower bed, and continue to wonder at the apparent lack of water.
Then, walking through the trees towards the south side of the house, I realise that this has just been the warm- up. The curtain rises, and as I look down, the spectacle unfolds; a series of three delightful ponds descending to a large lower lake, and then I understand why it has been named Lake House.
I am now standing on the patio where a collection of colourful acers grow in pots. You can see how the grassy slope falls away very steeply:
We gently follow the path down on the right-hand side admiring the mixture of mature trees and shrubs, some in flower, that have been planted over the years.
The large-handled pot points the way, and its shape is complimented by the planting surrounding it. Perhaps a gentle reminder that this was a site once inhabited by the Romans.
The first pond we come to is the smallest. There are no straight lines in this garden; pool, plants and pots smoothly flow in gentle curves. On occasions, a fountain plays in the centre.
The path leads away from the water’s edge down through swathes of ground cover; vinca, pulmonarias, lamium and ivy dotted with white honesty.
The Bluebell flowers are just emerging around the multi-stemmed tree and I catch glimpses of water through the twisting the branches,
and finally at the furthest point we venture out through the trees to arrive at the lily lake at the lowest level.
Large and untamed, the lake was almost inaccessible back in 1985 when the Muters moved here.
They cleared fallen trees, excess reeds, and rushes. Janet has always been mindful of the wildlife, the enjoyment of which is an important part of this garden. A beach was created and the gravel path seems to ebb and flow in harmony with the water’s edge.
There are some lovely gems growing on this side; the exquisite aronia melonocarpa,
and pinky darmera peltata, its large leaves yet to emerge.
Water lilies spread out in the manner of Monet, growing across the lake from the far side, where the silence is broken by the sound of a railway and a train that rattles by.
After a while we ascend the side of the lower pond where sweet woodruff grows amongst the fresh green unfurling fronds of the ferns.
At the head of the lower pond we cross over and look back. It is deep and requires dredging every year.
The middle pond is in fact in the care of the neighbour. Annually it is drained to remove the leaves. These water gardens do not just flow timelessly, they need maintenance. There has not been much rainfall in recent months and so the water level is low.
The top pond has a variety of plants emerging around its edge and it is the selection of lime green euphorbias that catches my eye today,
with the ajuga edging the carrstone wall. The stone would have originally been brought over from the western side of Norfolk.
An old tree trunk supporting a climbing rose combines with an ancient pot to provide a touch of antiquity.
We are grateful to have gentle steps to climb this last part but I worry that I have kept Janet outside for too long. A hardy type as she might be, she is an octogenarian and it is a chilly day.
We pause on the top step to take in one last look over the haze of light blue periwinkle. I am in awe as to how someone can garden on such steep terrain.
Watery, wonderful and steep this can have been no easy garden to restore and maintain. It is hard to believe that for half a century it was hidden away beneath the undergrowth. Janet’s enthusiasm for gardening was obvious but it was also the fact that she was so keen to share her garden with others, which she did. I quote from Janet’s book:
‘And in 25 years of opening my garden I have never known anyone leave litter or steal so much as a cutting, well not when I was looking anyway. Whilst rescuing my garden it has helped to raise thousands of pounds for many charities, but mainly for the National Garden Scheme.’
Personally I feel honoured to have visited this extraordinary garden, and to have met Janet. I will indeed treasure the book she so kindly gave me: