October at Helmingham Hall

It was bright and sunny when I began my October tour of Helmingham’s Grade 1-listed Gardens, although the fresh breeze was hurrying along some darker clouds. It felt strange to be there when it was so quiet, without the hundreds of people milling about and the grounds filled with parked cars. It was extremely peaceful and the  sheep and deer grazed close to the hall itself.

I started my visit in the Rose Garden, with its accompanying accents of purple provided by Asters and Aconitum. One of my favourite David Austin roses – the wildy romantic Harlow Carr – was swirling in circles in the wind as Flora looked on unperturbed.

I’ve always loved the view of the Knot Garden from the raised walkway that runs beside the moat. It was designed back in 1982, specifically to provide such a vista from the house and for those progressing, as I was, towards the walled garden on the opposite side of the hall. The two urns flanking the steps down to the Knot Garden are always a favourite photographic subject for me with their richly-coloured Pelargoniums.

The Hall itself is one of my favourite historic buildings and always seems more romantic when the dark clouds gather in the sky above its orange/red brick facades. There was definitely a brooding nature to the sky as I walked closer to the Parterre Garden.

The two large stone urns in the Parterre’s round beds had been emptied and the white Cosmos taken away. In its place neat rows of Wallflower were newly planted. I’m looking forward to the privilege of seeing them when they first come into flower. It was at this point that the heavens’ opened, giving me the chance to capture the Parterre in the rain as we sheltered under a delightful canopy to the side of the garden.


Thanks to the fresh breeze, the rainstorm was soon over and I was able to continue through the wrought iron gates into the Walled Garden. I love the way the pink and white Anemones provide  a soft counterpoint to the statuesque gate pillars with their majestic Pegasus finials.

Entrance to The Walled Garden

Once inside the walls, I visited each area in turn, trying capture the spirit of the garden as it begins its period of hibernation. The gardeners had been busy cutting away spent foliage, clearing the wildflower spiral and spreading manure on the flower borders. The Gourd Tunnel still hung with fruits, which glowed in the autumn sun.

The flower borders seemed asleep apart from the purple and pinks of Asters – yet the Sunflowers in their wrought iron tunnel seemed to be refusing to acknowledge the end of Summer.

Beautifully vivid pink Nerines lined the inside of the west wall and provided a perfect backdrop to the glossy green leaves of the box sculptures.

Dahlias in the cutting bed dazzled me with their jewelled brilliance – the gardeners told me that they would remain until the first frosts, although the tubers in the herbaceous borders had already been lifted.

It was time for me to think about finishing for the day and starting my journey down to Sussex. I couldn’t resist a few more images of favourite things, as I left the Walled Garden.

As I left Helmingham Hall and gazed back up the long main drive with its wonderful avenue of trees, I felt honoured and very happy that I will be able to follow the Hall and its beautiful gardens each month as it gently and peacefully makes its way through Winter and into Spring.

I look forward to seeing you again in November …

Dahlia – Henriette

I captured these images of this gorgeous cactus Dahlia in my friend Lisa’s garden. It’s called Henriette and has the most wonderful blend of pinks & yellows to be refreshingly different. The fantastic shapes created by its spikey, yet delicate petals are a joy to photograph …



Helmingham Hall Gardens – August 2016

Helmingham Hall is only a stone’s throw away from Otley Hall in Suffolk, yet somehow I had never thought of visiting to take flower images – until this summer.  I ‘discovered’ the beautiful walled garden whilst at the hall for the Suffolk Dog Day in July – was bowled over by its romantic beauty – and made a plan to return as soon as possible …

My first Photoshoot was at the beginning of August and I was filled with a restless excitement to capture as much as possible. I was visiting with a couple of fellow photographers – who were put off by the breezy conditions – so I struck off on my own to concentrate fully on the task in hand.  The weather was brooding and gave a fantastic atmosphere to the views of the hall and its grounds -:

The hall itself cannot be under-estimated. It has all my favourite elements – red brick, masses of handsome chimneys, elegant proportions and a moat with romantic drawbridges. So pleasingly photogenic …


I took a few shots of the formal knot garden before making my way to the walled garden -:



The walled garden itself has a parterre between the hall and its entrance, which allows for beautiful vistas in every direction. There are urns and intricate wrought iron gates, with Pegasus finials on the gate pillars.


My overriding impression is that the design of the garden – despite all these formal elements (and not-withstanding the formality of the grid layout within the walls themselves) – has achieved a relaxed and informal feel, romantic and flowing and extremely welcoming.



The planting has a great deal to do with this achievement. There are no harsh lines or edges – gateways are softened by Japanese anemones, hibiscus clothes the end of the wrought iron bean tunnel, pure white cosmos form wispy swaying circles around the grand urns – and wide herbaceous borders crammed full of complementary colours, heights and textures stretch out in all directions to achieve maximum impact from the grid of pathways …



Once I had fully soaked up the atmosphere of the garden, I set about studying individual plants and found plenty of favourites …


This slideshow requires JavaScript.


There were fruit & vegetable areas within the walled garden, which blended in beautifully …



… and a cleverly designed dahlia ‘cutting garden’ which represented the individual plants set out throughout the herbaceous borders. These were thankfully all neatly labelled and so acted like a key on a map for me. The neat line of plants also made it easy to photograph individual blooms -:



It was all too soon time for the garden to close – my friends having departed some time before me – and yet I had only managed to concentrate on about a third of the area within the walls. I felt that it would take several days to do this garden justice, however, I had thoroughly enjoyed myself was left with the pleasurable thought of knowing that I needed to return again very soon.


Dahlias – A Rustic Romance …

I visited the Helmingham Hall Autumn Plant Fair yesterday and was lucky enough to come across a stall selling bouquets of voluptuous ‘Dinner-Plate’ dahlias – which ( of course) I was unable to resist …

I had spent most of the afternoon taking photographs in the glorious walled garden and so the owners of the stall were packing away by the time I came back to buy my flowers. I chose a large bunch – comprised of a selection of ‘Cafe au Lait’, ‘Shiloh Noelle’ and  ‘Babylon Bronze’ – a gorgeous subtle orange in colour.

My plan was to take some images of these in a rustic setting, which I felt would suit their wildly romantic appearance. The flower heads are large and flouncy and the colours blended together beautifully.

The following are my favourite 3 photos from my collection of images.

The florists stall was run by Elizabeth and Alison from Suffolk Seasons Flower Farm in Cratfield, near Halesworth. Their stall appealed to me because of their wonderful dahlias – although it was the fact that they grow all their own flowers that really impressed me …

You can visit their website at -:



Weston Spanish Dancer

I was keen to do some flower photography after a lazy bank holiday weekend – and fancied the idea of taking some cut flower images. What better variety to choose than dahlias ?  I love it when ‘Dahlia Season’ comes around …


These striking dahlias were purchased from the award-winning Rob Sherriff at Tye barn in Honey Tye, Leavenheath – just a stone’s throw away from my home …



Weston Spanish Dancer is a miniature cactus dahlia – and certainly conveys the fiery impression of a passionate flamenco dance.



It is a fabulous dahlia to photograph and I highly recommended it as a cut flower. It is simply stunning.

Definitely a Top Ten Dahlia …

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 …
Continue reading

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 …