Otley Hall – 29/6/16

Otley Hall is an enchanting 16th Century timbered hall in Suffolk, surrounded by beautiful gardens. It is unmistakably Tudor and supposedly the oldest house in Suffolk to have remained largely unaltered by the passing of time and fashions.

There is something magical and mysterious about the place, which is difficult to explain. It is a certain feeling that I get when I visit – rather like entering a secret garden that only a few people know is there.

This may be because it’s only open in the summer months – and only on a Wednesday for a few hours ? Or perhaps because it is still a private home with a completely separate identity when visitors are not around  ? It may also be because it is located in a ‘sleepy’, unspoilt area of Suffolk which many pass by on their way to somewhere more famous, such as Helmingham Hall ? Or it may be because the planting has a relaxed informal feel about it – with areas given over to wildflowers, orchards, and a soothing labyrinth. I always feel that I can lose myself there, totally absorbed in my photography, as if it were just me and the flowers and no one else …

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On this particular visit, I was too late to see the mass of Ox-Eye Daisies and Columbines – which are a speciality of early Summer in the garden. In their place were many other species that I had not been able to photograph before – such is the beauty of Nature – always being able to produce something beautiful to please us. I was lucky enough though to spot a small patch of the daisies amongst the trees …

 

 

I started my day in the knot garden, which was looking delightful – with old-fashioned pinks, lavender, corncockles and roses.

 

 

From there, I was attracted towards a shady walkway where I had spotted one of my favourite flowers – Astrantia major. There are so many different versions of this flower ranging from white, through rose, to deep claret. The original white, with its pink-tinged stamens always remains my favourite. ‘Hattie’s Pincushion’ is a wonderful common name for this flower, as it describes the bloom so much better than its old-fashioned name of Masterwort. It also has the most artistic way of flowering, with each main flower-head surrounded by radiating blooms at a slightly lower level – rather like a princess attended by her ladies-in-waiting. My aim is to get a perfect image of this effect, with exactly the right focus on all the beautiful elements. Whatever the outcome, I certainly have immense fun trying …

 

The herbaceous borders closest to the house are set out around a square area of lawn – with 3 sides in the sun and the 4th a shade border. Although it would seem like a suitable template for a more formal area of the garden, the planting has a cottage garden feel to it, with a definite romantic nature. It is a prime example of a great deal of hard work being undertaken to give the impression of a nonchalant planting scheme. This results -in my opinion- in an enchanting area of the garden ( and my personal favourite ) with the wonderful timbered hall as its backdrop.

 

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wc-3Unfortunately, the wind was quite fresh on this particular visit and so flowers like the gorgeous Cephalaria gigantea were swaying in the breeze. Not good for photography – although beautiful to watch – with a multitude of different bees feeding greedily on its creamy-yellow blooms.

 

There were plenty of other exciting flowers to photograph, whose blooms were closer to the ground – so I spent the rest of my visit happily working my way around the borders – watched only by one of the resident peacocks, who was resting in the rose garden closest to the house.

 

 

wc-1 I would like to end my piece by giving a mention to the Head Gardener, Simon Nickson. I have been lucky enough to speak to him on each of my visits to the garden, finding him to be very approachable and friendly. He has always been happy to chat about the garden and help with identification of particular plants. It was great to be able to thank him for the root of Epilobium angustifolium ‘Stahl Rose’ (a garden version of the Rosebay Willowherb) which he had saved for me last Autumn. I had admired it the previous summer – and it is now blooming beautifully in my pond border. I feel proud to have a small part of the wonderful gardens of Otley Hall in my own modest patch.

I believe that the romantic beauty of the garden here owes a great deal to his hard work and vision, which in turn creates the magical, mystical atmosphere that I love so much …

 

 

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