Suffolk and N Essex Garden Tour – Day 1

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Our first day started with torrential rain causing delays on the motorway  causing us to be late for our first garden of the four day garden visiting extravaganza that we were embarking on.  Due to the awful weather, the owners of The Moat House generously invited us into their home for morning tea and cake.  I think it rakes a real generosity of spirit to invite 38 soggy strangers into your home with their damp shoes and dripping umbrellas and coats particularly given the pale green carpet.

Moat House, Little Saxham
Moat House, Little Saxham

Being hardy gardeners, having refueled, we were keen to explore the first garden.  The Moat House is a partially moated garden of two acres which has been developed over 2 years. The garden is very much your traditional country garden with herbaceous borders full of roses, generally in pastels shades, alliums, geraniums, delphiniums, and peonies.  IMG_5343

As you would expect with any English country garden there was plenty of box edging and topiary around the garden.  Personally, I’m not that keen on box edging but I can see that it provides a nice edge and has the benefit of hiding the legs of plants and the bare soil but you need to have the discipline to keep them looking sharp in order to achieve the best effect.

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And we had the first of many parterres filled with herbs and plants for cutting.

Fullers Mill Garden, West Stow
Fullers Mill Garden, West Stow

With the rain abated and the sun shining we moved on to our next garden – Fullers Mill Garden, West Stow.  The garden was created by Bernard Tickner who has gardened here for some 50 years and has now placed the 7 acre garden in trust for the charity Perennial. Bernard is a plantsman and his approach is to create a garden which is very loosely designed, giving a natural feel, and providing interest all year round.  The garden is almost on an island created by the diverted mill stream which powered the Fullers Mill.  The Fulling Mill has existed on the site since 1458, fulling is a process through which you make cloth thicker by passing it through a series of wooden mallets, the fabric is then stretched out on the drying ground.

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I quite liked the looser planting style to the previous garden and it was the favourite garden for many that day.   generously  borders with gentle curves are planted up with shrubs and perennials merging together in soft mounds.

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However, the real feature of Fullers Mill Garden is the stream and mill-pond.  The inclusion of water in the garden was a real theme of the gardens we visited this week which was interesting as we constantly heard that we were in the driest part of the country.  Presumably this is because when the houses were built there was no water on tap so the properties were located close to streams in order to have easy access to the little water that was available.

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I think Fullers Mill Garden is one that would have benefited us having a little more time to explore but we spent the day trying to catch up the time lost in the morning on the motorway.

Bellflower Nursery, The Walled Garden, Langham Hill
Bellflower Nursery, The Walled Garden, Langham Hill

We ended the day with our first real plant buying opportunity at Bellflower Nursery.  The nursery specialising in Campanula, hence its name, and hold a national collection.  I have to admit that I’m not that keen on Campanula as they never grow very well for me but I really enjoyed visiting this garden purely due to its location within a walled garden.

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The owner of the nursery, Sue Wooster, not only has her nursery to run but also the ornamental side of the walled garden to maintain and she shared with us that she has also just taken on the tenancy of the edible part of the walled garden. She was doing a sterling job is maintaining the borders which I think also act as stock beds for the nursery but what I enjoyed was the slightly dishevelled aspect of parts of the garden which Sue admitted had a habit of getting the better of her.  There is something particularly romantic about a walled garden especially one that has the ghosts of its past still evident.

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So day 1 having started a bit wet under foot ended well with us in high spirits and our coach driver rapidly becoming aware that he was going to have to develop skills in packing plants.

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Meadow Farm – A Plantsman’s Delight

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On Sunday morning before the downpours really started I popped across Worcestershire to visit the garden and nursery of Rob and Diane Cole – Meadow Farm.

Rob and Diane are serious plants people and growers and I met them through the Hardy Plant Society, we go to the same group.  Their nursery isn’t open as they choose to sell through various Plant Fairs and no doubt this gives them the opportunity to meet other like-minded people and I suspect it is easier to manage than feeling you have to be open every day. However, they open to groups and having a day spare they decided to open for charity and invite people they knew.

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Rob, it turns out, has a bit of a thing about Echinacea and has a special trial bed for them.  He told us at a recent group meeting that he lets the bees do the pollinating, sows the seed and then selects the best plants and so on.  When he gets what he considers good strong plants he includes them in the plants he takes to show to sell. At our July meeting his display of double Echinacea was something to behold although I wonder how popular they are with the bees. Needless to say I came home with a few having had clear advice and guidance from Diane on where best to plant them as in the past I have failed to keep Echinacea flowering from one year to the next.

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Not only are Rob and Diane serious plant growers they are mad keen gardeners and their garden was immaculate – stripey mown lawn and not a weed to be seen.  More interestingly was that all their plants looked to be in excellent health which I found very impressive given the heat we have had for the majority of July which has stressed plants and caused scorching etc.  Talking to Diane it is clear they spend every minute of the day working in the garden or nursery and the results show.

It was interesting visiting this garden two days after visiting Veddw. You couldn’t have two gardens more apart from each other in style and ethos.  Being plantaholics, like me, the idea of mass planting one plant is alien to Rob and Diane.  Their garden is a veritable rainbow of colours but there is also a clever mix of textures, leaf shapes etc.  Some of the colour combinations weren’t to my taste but then I think colour is a very subjective thing and I was interested to note that I found myself drawn to the more subtle combinations and again purples and pinks featured.

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My reactions to the two very different gardens has had me pondering in recent days.  As I said before I understand what Anne is advocating and in some areas of her garden I thought this worked to good effect but in others the mass monoculture was too much for me.  Like the Coles I adore plants, I am fascinated by their diversity, where they come from, how they respond to change environments etc and so I cannot see how I would ever be happy and fulfilled in a garden like Veddw.  Equally, I think I would have to pare down some of the planting at Meadow Farm and possibly introduce more plants for their foliage interest.  I have realised that whilst I love bright colours I don’t like them en mass, preferring instead to enjoy a more reduced colour pallett enhanced by foliage.

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Visiting these two very different gardens in such a short time frame has been an eye opener and has really made me think about my reaction to different planting styles.  I think I am beginning to work out what really appeals to me and the style I want to create in my own garden rather than the mish mash I currently have.  It has helped me to prioritise but most importantly it has shown me that you should just plant what you want, how you plant in your own garden and ignore the critics.