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 …

 

 

Chelsworth Open Gardens 26/6/2016

Of all the ‘Open Garden’ events on my calendar for the summer months, Chelsworth was the one that I had been looking forward to the most. It had been 3 years since I last visited this wonderful event – in a village that I consider to be one of Suffolk’s most picturesque.

The characterful houses and cottages that line the main winding route through Chelsworth always catch the eye – and make me want to linger a while to soak up the atmosphere of a country village that seems unspoilt by the passage of time. 

The pretty 13th century church, the pair of narrow bridges that span the River Brett and the abundance of green open spaces, all add to the village’s charm – as does the Peacock Inn, which is a quintessentially English country pub, dating back to the 14th century.

The alluring prospect of wandering freely around the beautiful gardens hidden behind these gorgeous listed buildings was too hard to resist – and I was determined to visit as many as possible. There were 22  gardens in the programme and I was able to look around 16 of them. I started at the west end of the village -so I will just have to begin at the opposite end next year !

I was very excited to be taking photographs of the gardens for 2 reasons -:

Firstly, I didn’t have my SLR camera with its special macro lens on my previous visit, which prevented any close-up shots – and secondly, this year was Chelsworth’s 49th Open Garden event and they are running a photographic competition to produce a 50th Anniversay Calendar …

These are my favourite images from the wonderful selection I visited – each garden having its own special charm …

 

Garden 21 – Swifts 

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This garden was of special interest to me, as I was hoping to see a rather gorgeous tabby cat who lived there. I had managed to capture a wonderful close-up photograph of her on my previous visit. Unfortunately, the garden was quite waterlogged after the excess of recent rain, so no doubt Tigger had found a dry, cosy place inside the house ?!

 

Garden 20 – Meadow Cottage

This was the first of the gardens lining the north side of the valley – with many of them lucky enough to have their own meadow land rising up behind them. Perfect for fruit trees, vegetables and wild gardens. I contented myself looking at the lovely cottage plants closest to the house.

 

Garden 19 – Woodstock Cottage

 

 

Garden 18 – Hope Cottage

This garden belonged to a modern cottage which had been blended in perfectly with the older properties surrounding it. The garden was also new and had been made out of a field that belonged to the owner when he had lived next door.

 

Garden 17 -Tudor Cottage

A very pretty cottage garden, where the owner had transferred her upper garden to neighbours since my last visit.

 

 

 

Garden 16 – Church View

Some of my favourite plants were growing in this garden, which was vast and divided into lots of separate ‘gardens rooms’.  My absolute favourite was the Helenium ‘Moerheim Beauty’  –  dancing like pretty ladies in the breeze …

 

 

Garden 15 – Oak Tree Cottage

A wonderful place for tea and cake under the shade of a glorious walnut tree – with an amazing Delphinium bed.

 

Delphinium Bed

 

 

Garden 14 – The Grange

A beautiful garden adjoining the church and belonging to an impressive Hall House originating from the 14th century. It had a walled garden, statuesque formal planting and lovely cottage-garden borders. The roses were beautiful and the atmosphere of this garden (which was also serving afternoon tea & cakes) was friendly and relaxing.

 

Garden 10 – The Summer House

This delightful garden belonged to an old house tucked neatly behind The Peacock Inn. There was a wonderful collection of beautiful roses – mixed with complementing cottage garden plants.

 

 

Garden 9 – Princhetts

A massive garden belonging to a grand old residence. It had a lovely walled garden with an inviting wrought iron gate at its far corner, leading through to a vegetable garden, trees and a wildflower meadow.

 

Garden 8 – Middle House

 

 

 

Garden 7 – The Old Manor

 

Garden 6 – The Old Forge

 

 

Garden 11 – Bridge House

As its name suggests, this house and garden sat just across the old bridges by the side of the River Brett.  It was an amazing garden, due in part to its wonderfully setting beside the river – although mostly because of the vision and hard work of its owners. I heard many people declare that it was their favourite of the day – and from my perspective, it was definitely in my ‘Top Three’. There was just so much to photograph …

To begin, there were the vistas –

…then the plants …

…structures and majestic urns …

… and finally, bridges …

With all of it beautifully illuminated in the late afternoon sunshine, you can certainly see why visitors adored this garden !

Garden 13 – The Coach House

My last garden of the day – I arrived almost as the clock struck 5 o’clock. The friendly owner told me not to worry or rush, which was a lovely relaxing way to end my visit. The garden, set behind an extremely attractive red-bricked house, was full of charm and delicate colours. It was surrounded by fields and had the sense of being miles from anywhere …

 

My ‘garden pilgrimage’ of Chelsworth was at an end – and to be honest, I was exhausted. My schedule to cover as many gardens as possible had meant that there was only time for one refreshment break – and so I felt that a well-earned cold drink at The Peacock Inn was the perfect way to conclude my visit to the village. The Open Gardens event had been superbly organised and the garden owners were friendly and enthusiastic. There was a lovely atmosphere amongst the many visitors to the village, who – like myself – were seriously impressed with the beautiful plants and garden designs, as well as the gorgeous old buildings.

Is it possible that this year’s event could ever be surpassed ..?

Something tells me that the gardeners and their friends will be doing their utmost to make Chelsworth’s 50th Anniversary Open Gardens in 2017 the ‘best ever’ !

 See you there …

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bury St Edmunds Hidden Gardens – 19/6/16

After a successful visit to Lavenham’s Hidden Gardens last summer, I decided that it would be good fun to spend a day in Bury St Edmunds – to explore the hidden gardens of its historic town centre.

The event first started in 1987 and has been raising money for the local St Nicholas Hospice ever since.

It was a very hot and humid day with a mixture of sun and cloud – combined with a reasonable amount of walking around to see all the gardens. I managed to visit two-thirds of the gardens on show – and the following galleries highlight either favourite gardens or favourite plants that I discovered along the way …

Garden 1 – Chantry House.

This was actually the last garden that I visited and was right in the heart of the old town. Luckily by late afternoon it was cool, peaceful with few remaining visitors.

 

Garden 4 – 59 Southgate Street.

There was a long walk in the hot sun to get to this out-lying garden. The advantage was that it was much quieter than the central ones and there was some welcome cooling shade. It was very attractive with lots of cottage garden plants – including aconitums and geraniums.

 

Garden 5 – 6 Southgate Green.

This garden particularly appealed to me because of its mix of wild flowers with the more traditional garden species. It had beautiful herbaceous borders with wonderful colour combinations and areas of wild grasses with ox-eye daisies. There were lots of happy bees and other insects busily feeding – and many people ( including me !) feasting on Gabrielle’s wonderful home-made cakes …

 

Garden 6 – 32 Maynewater Lane.

A beautiful clematis with huge purple flowers caught my eye in this garden …

 

Garden 11 – 6 College Lane.

This garden had once been the exercise yards of the old workhouse and had the feel of a serene and peaceful cloister. There was plenty of room for sunny and shaded areas – and I was delighted to see numerous thriving  Astrantias – one of my most favourite plants.

 

Garden 12 – The Guildhall Feoffment Trust, College Square.

This garden was a real revelation to me, as I was expecting it to adhere to a certain formula – of bedding plants and conventional planting. I was pleasantly surprised at how imaginative the choice of plants was – and this ended up being one of my top gardens of the day …

There were wonderful beds of scented roses in blocks of colour for maximum impact, beautiful aquilegias with long graceful spurs, dahlias and Honey Garlic ( Nectaroscordum siculum) Anyone growing the latter two plants is always going to get ‘brownie points’ from me ! I imagine the residents really love and appreciate such a beautiful garden …

 

Garden 13 – Greyfriars

This was another beautiful walled garden with more interesting plantings – such as a majestic goat’s beard (Aruncus dioicus) and the most impressive and beautiful peony that I had ever seen.

 

Garden 18 – Turret Close

My final gallery today is from this massive garden filled with many different sections and types of plant. It was beautifully designed and cared for – and understandably appeared to be attracting ‘Top Garden of the Day’ votes from many of my fellow visitors. I prefer the more humble and understated – and this was reflected in the plants that I chose to capture from this garden …

 

I had a thoroughly enjoyable, albeit tiring day, exploring the gardens normally hidden from public view. The garden owners and visitors were all extremely friendly and there was a lovely atmosphere around the town.

I was glad though to have worked out a route that kept me away from the crowds that were swarming like bees around this beautiful collection of gardens, as I prefer to do my photography in a more peaceful setting, where I can truly capture the essence and atmosphere of the garden -without getting in anyone’s way.

My special awards for the day have been chosen with that atmosphere in mind – and are as follows :-

Runner up – Garden 4  Peaceful and cottagey.

Bronze Medal – Garden 12  Imaginative, perfumed and restful.

Silver Medal – Garden 11  Serene and secluded.

Gold Medal – Garden 5  Full of colour and wildlife with a wonderful feel of the countryside within the town.

A truly wonderful day in Bury St Edmunds – where the Hidden Gardens revealed Hidden Treasures …
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Nayland Open Gardens – June 2016

Nayland is Boxted’s neighbour, down in the Stour Valley and just across the border into Suffolk.  It is an extremely picturesque village, with listed buildings and quaint cottages whose gardens line the river and mill stream.

The weather threatened rain for my visit, although it was hot and humid. My backpack of camera gear and brolly seemed heavier than normal – however the latter was a great deterrent – as the afternoon thankfully stayed dry. The sky was cloudy but the light was soft rather than dull, which was perfect for taking my photos.

I decided at the outset not to try to visit every garden – as I knew that this would hamper my creativity and concentration – so I took my time enjoying just 6 of the 16 gardens open to visitors. There was one particular garden that I had really enjoyed on a previous visit – so my only plan was to make sure that my walk around the village would take me to it.

I would like to feature 4 gardens from my afternoon – each special yet with very individual styles. These particular gardens gave me inspiration and planting ideas for my own garden, as well as providing an array of beautiful plants and vistas to photograph.

Garden 14 – Loretto, Church Lane

This garden was a revelation to me. It had been created only 3 years ago by its present owners, who have tastefully matched its design to reflect the ‘feel’ of the village and the era of the victorian red-brick house to which it belongs. It has a superior location near to the parish church and is blessed with a wonderful feeling of space surrounding it. There is no other building to overlook it – and this has an extremely calming effect. The owners have created a croquet lawn, a red-brick path which appears to have been laid for many years and a choice of planting that upholds the great tradition of the herbaceous border.

I was amused, when once again ( as had happened in Long Melford) I was asked by the owner to identify the Thalictrum, which was drawing the attention of the many visitors for its soft-pink blooms adding height to accentuate the borders.

 

To reach the next set of gardens, I walked alongside the mill stream, which ran along the front of the picturesque cottages of Fen Street. I had forgotten just how breathtakingly beautiful this area of the village was – as it is “off the beaten track” – and I had not ventured this way for some time. The houses that line the street are joined to the roadway by quaint bridges across the stream and their gardens are unashamedly ‘cottage’ in character.

 

 

Garden 12 – Lopping House, 28 Fen Street

This garden belonged to a modern property, which was part of an attractive line-up of cottages bordering the village mill stream. I was pleasantly surprised by the choice of plants, which certainly did not represent mainstream conventions. The garden may have been small compared to the others I had visited, however the borders were ‘big on’ appeal to plant-lovers. I was swayed immediately by the presence of a Cephalaria gigantea in full bloom – whereas mine is hardly visible above ground. There was also a gorgeous purple semi-cactus Dahlia in bloom – which seemed very early – and a striking Sambucus nigra with its plate-like rose white blooms and finely dissected leaves.

 

Garden 10 – Longwood Barn, 38 Fen Street

This garden was my 2016 favourite, because it seemed to have a ‘Secret Garden’ feel to it. The walled garden bordered the mill stream and the owner had opened the gate to allow visitors a wonderful vista towards the timbered-house and its beautiful garden. The air was filled with the scent of roses and the atmosphere in the garden was one of serenity and beauty in perfect harmony …

 

Garden 8 – 14, Stoke Road

This was the garden which I had planned not to miss. It had been my favourite on my previous Open Gardens visit and I was eager to return.  It was also my last garden of the day and a fitting end to a lovely afternoon.

The garden rises up the side of the Stour Valley to overlook an open field as the land continues to rise – and the views back over Nayland village alone are worth the climb to the top. The garden itself is filled with attractive trees, shrubs and perennials and has been designed perfectly to suit the terrain – which some may have found too daunting to transform. The owners have lived here for 41 years and admitted that they now had help to mow the steep lawn areas …

I loved it as I had done so before – especially the beautifully proportioned suffolk-brick facade – with its canine sentinels. The late-afternoon sun finally broke though as my visit came to an end – lighting up the plants and throwing a warm glow onto the garden as a whole. What a perfect end to a perfect afternoon …