Helmingham Hall Plant Heritage Autumn Fair


I was delighted to be asked by Maggie Thorpe, President & Chairman of Suffolk Plant Heritage, to take photographs at the society’s Autumn Plant Fair on Sunday 15th September.

A wonderful array of plants and garden accessories was on show, together with glorious September sunshine – all against the wonderful backdrop of Helmingham Hall; with its gabled, red brick facades and grand drawbridge across its wide moat.

One of the main aims of Suffolk Plant Heritage is to rediscover and reintroduce cultivated plants that are under threat of extinction – and there were many examples of such at the fair. Members ran a special stall from which I purchased some ‘Lucifer’ narcissi bulbs to pot up for Spring.

Keeping to tradition, there were 800 paper bags containing bulbs of Tulipa linifolia (Batalinii Group) ‘Bright Gem’ distributed to eager visitors as they arrived at the Suffolk Heritage Marquee. They will be my only example of early tulips – and my only ‘Botanical’ ones. Botanical Tulips are the ancestors of the Hybrid Tulip, the former having bred naturally and so focus on survival. This means they are able to bloom year after year and their study low-growing habit makes them more resistance to bad weather conditions. I’m very much looking forward to seeing how ‘Bright Gem’ compares to my fancy, hybridised varieties !

Visitors collecting their free bulbs

The marquee also had examples and information about some of the rare plants as well as listing the important National Plant Collections. I was thrilled to find that Mickfield Hostas ( who have the largest National Collection of Hostas in the UK) had brought along some potted examples of a beautiful and uncommon small Hosta – ‘Remember Me’. It’s a sport of my favourite Hosta ‘June’ – so was bound to attract my attention.  Needless to say, I was the 1st person to reserve my own plant to take home !


The National Plant Collection of Sir Michael Foster’s Irises was represented by Lucy Skellorn, Sir Michael’s Great-Grandaughter. Sir Michael was responsible for the first hybridisation of the Bearded Iris, back in the 1880’s. I would love to have purchased an example of Lucy’s 2 favourites – ‘Mrs Horace Darwin’ and ‘Mrs George Darwin’ – both delicate white flowers with purple veining. Perhaps I will have to visit her early next year when I replan my pond border.

Lucy Skellorn

As I had arrived early, I was able to wander around the stalls as the owners were preparing their wares for the public. There were many selling interesting garden ephemera, as well as a host of autumn plants. I was especially interested in the large number of galvanised buckets, tubs and troughs with the potential to display my planned tulip display next Spring.

There were several artisans working as they displayed to the public …

As well as ‘everything garden’, there were stalls selling vintage collectibles, clothing, bags and hats. This young lady and her friends caused quite a stir by sporting bright-coloured summer hats, which led to a succession of impressed ladies visiting the hat stall. They were soon to be seen throughout the fair. Unfortunately, my coveted pink version was not to be, because the stall only accepted cash.

This young lady started a craze for the colouful hats on sale …

Dogs are always welcomed at Helmingham – and here are a few of my favourites.

Helmingham Hall, owned by the Tollemache family since 1480, has Grade 1 listed gardens  – as well as its extensive grounds and deer park. Lady Xa Tollemache is responsible for designing the present gardens and conducted a special tour of them for a small number of visitors. It was extremely interesting to discover the reasons behind her design choices, both creative and practical; especially as the walled garden is one of my favourites.

Other entertainment was provided by musical performers, dancers and birds of prey. Suffolk Plant Heritage also held a number of informative talks throughout the day – such as Matthew Tanton-Brown’s on choosing the best shrubs for autumn colour.

There were many happy customers at the Fair, including myself – and the Plant Creche had an amazing number of purchases in its care.  My favourite purchase, a vintage potato fork, can be seen below.

Riverside Bulbs, with Imogen Long’s captivating smile and bubbly enthusiasm, succeeded in encouraging me to buy 5 more varieties of Tulip to add to my online orders – which sent me off in pursuit of yet another galvanised tub !

I had a fabulous day, surrounded by happy visitors and friendly stallholders, in one of the most picturesque places in East Anglia.

I’m very grateful for the opportunity given to me by Maggie Thorpe and extremely pleased with my purchases, as seen below – back at Marlborough House.

Narcissus Photoshoot – Hillhouse Farm

My third Narcissus Blogpost highlights a beautiful garden that is literally just around the corner from my house in Boxted. 

I am extremely lucky to be able to enjoy this wonderful and rather unique area , which I feel resembles a country park rather than a traditional garden. It hugs the contours of the Hill, as its name suggests and gives wonderful view across the valley towards the other part of the village and St Peter’s Church. There are trees, shrubs and a lawned meadow, a natural pond and an ancient beech grove. And at the moment – a wondrous display of daffodils …

 It gives me a great deal of pleasure all year round, however, being able to have readily available access to my latest plant fascination has been such a great photographic opportunity – and the owner has planted dozens of different cultivars to be enjoyed throughout the whole Spring season.

Poeticus cultivars are amongst my favourites and are late bloomers, along with ‘tazetta’ daffodils, as below -:

This white daffodil has a delicate, exquisite beauty …

This gorgeous double is called ‘Bridal Crown’

There were so many different types to enjoy -:

One of my challenges is to try to name all the different cultivars – so I am hoping that I can enlist some help from the garden owner !

My time spent amongst the daffodils in that beautiful garden – with the golden afternoon sun and deep blue sky – was nearing an end. There was a hint of  mist rising from the valley and the view through the ancient beech trees taking in that wonderful view seems an apt image to conclude my post. 

Whatever the weather holds for tomorrow; I know that this corner of Boxted will be full of Sunshine …

Narcissus Photoshoot – Part Two

Everywhere I have visited over the past few weeks – camera in hand – has had an amazing display of daffodils. All shapes, sizes and colour combinations.

Here are some more of my favourites …

Firstly, these narcissus were from the Place For Plants at East Bergholt – :

Then there were the beautiful specimens in my friend’s garden in Chelsworth – which gave me my first experience of a ‘pink-trumpeted’ daffodil …


These last two were captured on local walks around Boxted Village -:

It’s totally about sunshine …

Springtime – Narcissus Photoshoots (Part One)

Each new season that arrives brings with it a fresh lesson from Mother Nature.

I somehow seem to see an all-too-familiar species of flower in a completely different light – really appreciating its beauty and importance – as if I’m seeing it for the very first time.

It’s a strange, but nevertheless welcome experience – which gives me a great deal of pleasure, as well as many photographic opportunities.

Now is the time for the narcissus to steal my attention – as its many beautiful cultivars seem to radiate ‘quintessential’ Springtime from everywhere around me …



I’ve had miniature Tête á Tête daffodils growing around my pond at Marlborough House for more than 15 years – and have always loved them. Here they are with one of my bantams …



On my February visit to Beth Chatto’s Gardens, I found 3 early-flowering species; Rijnveld’s Early Sensation, Cedric Morris and Narcissus cyclamanieus, with the latter capturing my heart because of its daintiness.



It was my visit to Anglesey Abbey in early March, however, where my fascination really began – when I took the Hoe Fen Trail through the woods amongst a myriad of bluish/green leaves resembling those of onions or leeks. Each stalk had a bud ready to burst through its brown papery sheath – and I found myself fascinated by taking images of these daffodils before they had even come into bloom. From that point on, I was hooked.



The 2017 daffodil season is the most glorious and long-lived that I can ever recall – and I have fallen in love with so many different cultivars.

They have all been wonderful subjects to photograph – so please see more in Part Two …


‘Snowdrop Heaven’ at Beth Chatto Gardens.

Just as the onset of Spring has been heralded by a magnificent show of snowdrops, hellebores and early narcissi; my flower photography has been re-awakened by the marvellous opportunity to take photographs at the internationally-renowned Beth Chatto’s Garden in Elmstead Market near Colchester.

I am thrilled to have secured a volunteer position there, which means that I can provide them with images of the gardens for their website, at the same time as enjoying all the wonderful plants on show throughout the seasons …

I have long been an admirer of Beth’s famous dry gravel garden, which survives beautifully without need for artificial irrigation. The beautiful palette of colours and the clever use of textures and plant heights have inspired many a purchase for my own modest garden. I love the gravel base, as it sets the plants off perfectly and does away with the need for border edging. Everything flows from one section to the next; beautifully.

Even in these early months, there is something very appealing about the area ..



As for the main garden, I am excited at the prospect of being able to get to know it better, as I have only visited once before, on a photography workshop in late Autumn 2015. I have no real idea of what gems I will encounter as the year progresses – but I am certain that the effect will be breathtaking…

I made my first visit last Friday, on what at first appeared to be the dullest day of the half-term holiday week. The garden was quiet and fairly calm with no sun, although there was sufficient brightness to give a good soft light for my photography.



My first impression was that of a garden reawakening from its winter rest – with clumps of pure white snowdrops dominating my first views of the upper area around the water garden. Their petals bobbed and swayed gently in the slight breeze like a mass of dancing ladies in their delicate party dresses.



I had been told that the best part of the garden this month was the woodland area,  so I made my way excitedly through the rest of the garden to reach it …I was not to be disappointed. Carpets of snowdrops of all shapes and sizes spread amongst the trees with patches of winter aconites bringing flashes of sunshine. A few early daffodils added to that effect and contrasted beautifully with the white. As I looked closer, I could see the dusky pinks and creamy yellows of a few hellebores starting to bloom, with their fat drooping buds full of promise for my next visit.





This was to be where I would spend the majority of my day. There were so many wonderful views and individual plants to capture. Every step revealed new possibilities for me and I had to be methodical in order to avoid forgetting what my next shot was going to be.  It was peaceful and calming being down there, with the woodland stream burbling and the cosseting feel of the tall tree trunks surrounding me. Occasionally, a pair of visitors would arrive, marvel at the snowdrops and point out a particular one that they liked best. It was always agreed that none of us realised how many different types of snowdrop existed …





After taking some general views, I got down low to capture some individual clumps or pairs of flower heads. I had to be patient with their gentle bobbing about (as it makes a greater difference when you are so close up)  – and I was keen to convey as much detail of their delicate petals as possible – always extra tricky with a white flower …



Snowdrops have a lovely, graceful character and so it was not difficult to spot some charming specimens. Looking at the individual stems close up made me think of tiny lanterns dangling down and I was fascinated by the way their flower heads emerged from the main stem.

Large-petalled varieties with thick leaves, small double blooms, petals with green tips and ones with textures like seersucker fabric – all happily mingled together.

As the morning progressed towards midday, the grey of the sky lifted a little and brought shafts of soft sunlight through the trees – lighting up the snowdrops and adding a magical touch to the woodland. The stream glistened and the yellow of the daffodils & aconites shone even brighter.


I was amazed at how much the sight of it all tugged at my emotions. I felt very privileged to be part of that glorious woodland and able to preserve at least some sense of those feelings in my images.

It is most certainly a ‘Snowdrop Heaven’ at Beth Chatto’s – with visitors over the next few weeks being treated to a spectacular array of snowdrops and so much more …