Helmingham Hall – Illuminated Garden Trail

My Helmingham assignment for November/December was to visit the Hall during one of its special Illuminated Garden nights, held between 23rd November and December 8th.  This was very exciting, as I had neither experienced such a spectacle before – nor been asked to take images after dark.

So armed with tripod, wide angle lens, remote shutter release and dressed in several warming layers of clothing; Rusty and I set off for the Hall on our mission …

I arranged arrival just before dusk, so that I had the chance to set up my equipment and do a few practice shots before the first visitors arrived. I love the architectural style of the Hall itself, so knew I wouldn’t be disappointed with how it looked at night. Needless to say, it looked amazing.


What I couldn’t have anticipated was how beautiful the main structural elements of the garden would look either adorned with lights or strategically lit.

The Yew topiary domes that line the causeway between the Hall moat and Parterre were covered in bands of fairy lights, which reflected beautifully in the water. The Box topiary of the parterre was lit with a misty blue, the urns with a soft white light that emphasised each flute and scallop of their lichened surfaces – and the brick wall was lit with a warm golden hue.

Wonderful mistletoe-like balls of light hung from the two Mulberry trees.  The wind was brisk and chilling and served to swirl these balls delightfully in a mesmerising dance. I decided to capture their movement in a long exposure in the second image.

The nearest tree to the hall stood majestically bathed in a green and purple light; and a double row of white paper lanterns heralded the start of the trail around the garden.

The spirit of Christmas was enhanced with musical excerpts from the Nutcracker Suite and traditional carols – synchronised with the changing colours of the lights adorning the Apple Tree Walk; the latter forming a dramatic backdrop to the view from the Hall, garden moat and across the Parterre. The ‘Carol of the Bells’ was particularly stirring.

As the first throng of people arrived, Rusty found visiting each and everyone irresistible, so unfortunately I had to return him to the car so that I could fully concentrate on my images. The guests, arranged in timed tranches, followed a designated trail of lighted paths throughout the garden, after first being welcomed in the courtyard for either a Christmas Punch or Mulled Wine. On my return to the Hall, I took advantage of the wonderful warming cup of mulled wine. The intoxicating smell of spices and the heat of the wine as I drank added perfectly to the magic of standing on the cobbled courtyard of this wonderful building, admiring its chimney, towers and gateways from a privileged new perspective.

As I followed the trail through the trees to the south-west of the garden, there were plenty of delights to charm children and adults alike, such a glitter balls, bubbles, fairy jars and Christmas Bambi.

Once the trail reached the walled garden, I could see that the long tunnels had been beautifully lit with thousands of fairy lights, glitter balls and paper star lanterns. I particularly enjoyed the line of illuminated eggs.

Over the bridge crossing the garden moat was an area for visitors to sit, eat and drink – and toast marshmallows on open fires.

The route back to the Hall took me along the avenue of apple trees with its stirring music and changing colours. There was also a beautiful view of the bridge, reflecting in the moat and changing from orange to blue to purple – magical.

The Hall itself with its yew domes gave me my favourite views of the evening. I loved the reflections in the moat, the warm glow from inside the hall …

… and the glimpse of a beautiful Christmas Tree.

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 …

Blog -35

 

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.

 

Blog -25

 

 

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 

Chelswoth Blog-1

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 …

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Long Melford Open Gardens – 30/5/16

With RHS Chelsea under our belts, our enthusiasm for ‘all things horticultural’ awakened and our gardens burgeoning with the wonderful colours of Late Spring – what better way for me to start my new blog than with a pictorial account of my first Open Gardens Photoshoot of 2016  ..?!

Long Melford is one of Suffolk’s most picturesque villages, with its long main street of listed buildings and cosy cottages, rising uphill to give visitors a splendid vista of Holy Trinity Church beyond an impressive village green. With the National Trust’s Melford Hall to their right and its near neighbour Kentwell Hall ( both Tudor mansions) just beyond the church – the village is a Mecca for visitors wishing to immerse themselves in the grandeur and beauty of this former wool village.

The weather was disappointing for visitors, after a reasonable preceding fortnight of sun and light breezes – however, the cloudy skies presented me with the perfect conditions for my flower photography; despite a keen wind at times.

This was my first visit to Long Melford’s Open Gardens and I was extremely excited. There were 18 gardens on show (although one was the village cricket pitch !) and I managed to visit 17 of them.

I found all the garden owners to be very friendly, welcoming, helpful and immensely dedicated to their own special ‘patch’. I thoroughly enjoyed visiting each and every garden, although I did have my special favourites. I will reveal these at the end – in case anyone reading is tempted to visit next year, or if fellow visitors wish to compare notes against their No. 1 choice ?

I must say, however, that there was certainly a garden to suit everyone’s taste – from the modest to the grand – and enough inspirational flowers and planting designs to compete with the best of Chelsea…!

I didn’t visit the gardens in numerical order, however, I think it is easiest to list them that way. If I don’t have a photo for a particular garden – it is not because I wasn’t impressed – sometimes photos don’t turn out quite how you expect them to …

Garden 1 – Doghouse Cottage

A long walk was worth the effort – although the wind had started to blow with force by late afternoon. The Wisteria sinensis was looking glorious …

Wisteria sinensis
Wisteria sinensis

 

Garden 2 – Holy Trinity Church

 

Blue Cornflower
Blue Cornflower

 

Garden 3 – Fern House

 

Small but perfectly formed ...
Small but perfectly formed …

 

Garden 4 – Sloane Cottage

 

Terracotta Glory
Terracotta Glory

 

Geranium
Geranium

 

Dolly
Dolly

 

Garden 5 – Melford Hall

 

Crimson Lupins
Crimson Lupins

 

Garden 6 – Brook House

A wonderful display of Iris sibirica in the garden of this handsome ‘Hall House’ originating from the Elizabethan era.

Iris sibirica
Iris sibirica

 

Iris sibirica
Iris sibirica

 

Iris sibirica
Iris sibirica

 

Gate to Hall Hall Street
Gate to Hall Street

 

Periscaria bistorta 'Superba'
Persicaria bistorta ‘Superba’

 

Garden 7 – Number 10, Spring Gardens

Silly Moo !
Silly Moo !

 

Garden 8 – Number 2, Hanwell House, Spring Gardens

One of the many glorious Hosta on display in this wonderful walled garden.
One of the many glorious Hosta on display in this wonderful walled garden.

 

Garden 9 – Sun House

Shades of Purple
Shades of Purple

 

Gladioli byzantinus
Gladioli byzantinus

 

Yellow bearded Iris
Yellow bearded Iris

 

Aquilegia
Aquilegia

 

…and the ‘Piece de resistance’ …

Nectaroscordum siculum- Sicilian Honey Garlic
Nectaroscordum siculum- Sicilian Honey Garlic

 

Garden 10 – Eldon Cottage

A pretty cottage garden dedicated to Wildflowers and Wildlife …

Garden 10 - Eldon Cottage
Sweet Rocket – Hesperis matronalis ‘White’.

 

Garden 11 – The Posting House

An amazing garden – long & luscious, with many different plant habitats. A wonderful plant stall packed to the brim with gorgeous plants propagated from the lovely species on view.

 

This pale lemon Aquilegia caught my eye …

WC - LM-2

 

Garden 14 – Mia Casa

A smaller garden with the most amazing view of meadows, with willows and grazing cows. The foxgloves suited it perfectly …

Garden 14 - Mia Casa
View over meadows.

 

Foxgloves
Foxgloves.

 

Garden 15 – Bishops Rock

Although this was a more modern property, the garden evoked a sense of a bygone era – with its splendid herbaceous border and its cottage garden plants. I found my favourite Aquilegia of the day; along with Lupins, Alliums and an exquisitively-perfumed White Lilac …

My favourite Aquilegia
My favourite Aquilegia.

 

Lupin 'Manhattan Lights'
Lupin ‘Manhattan Lights’.

 

Allium trio
Allium trio.

 

WC - LM-13
Herbaceous Border Glory.

 

A wonderful colour combination of purple Aquilegia and Alchemilla Mollis
A wonderful colour combination of purple Aquilegia amongst Alchemilla mollis.

 

Garden 17 – St Mary’s Hall

Cottage planting and gravel path - a perfect combination ...
Cottage garden planting and gravel path – a perfect combination.

 

So here’s to a successful and thoroughly enjoyable day spent in a quintessential English village – I really hope you like my pictorial journey. Now for my own special awards …

My particular favourites evoked a sense of romanticism in me – either because they were filled with my favourite types of flowers, or because they stretched my imagination to envisage what could be possible in my own very modest garden.

Just out of the medals; my 4th place award goes to Sloane Cottage.

In Bronze Medal place is the garden at The Posting House.

My Silver Medal Award goes to Bishops Rock.

Gold for 2016 is Sun House – Just Awesome.

It was a truly special day filled with beautiful plants and the friendliest people you could hope to meet on a Bank Holiday Monday in Suffolk …

Continue reading