As promised in the last blog, there was one more place we visited in Suffolk which deserved a blog entry all of its own – a garden so stunning I am still not quite sure it was real.
Just a few miles from where we were staying is Helmingham Hall. The house itself is an impressive moated Elizabethan pile, but is not open to visitors – in any case, the Chelsea-medal winning gardens are what people (by people, meaning ‘me’) come to see.
You approach the main garden down an avenue of fruit trees, and then wind through a wild flower meadow and woodland area before crossing a bridge into the walled garden – all the while getting tantalising glimpses, Secret Garden-style, of the treasures within.
What seemed like miles and miles of borders, all fully packed from front to back with flowers in bloom. Not a weed in sight, not a plant out of place, everything so tightly packed you could barely see a patch of soil.
The amount of effort that goes into making gardens like this, I can scarcely imagine. The planning required to get the right heights of plants in the right places, the seasonal planting, the colour schemes, just seems exhausting to me – who can’t even keep one raised bed consistently planted and looking anything other than patchy and shambolic!
Of course this garden has its peaks and troughs too – the wild flower meadow was past its best when we saw it, and the sweet peas were all but done, but we saw the ‘late summer’ borders just coming to their peak.
This border particularly impressed me with its composition – the contrast of light and dark foliage, the ivy providing a uniform backdrop to the sharp oranges and yellows of the flowers – but all offset by the graceful verbena providing height and a restful purple hint after all that citrus.
Now, I’d never think of planting a bed like this. I don’t know my shrubs well enough to know what background foliage to put in, I prefer blues and purples and pinks so I avoid yellow and orange flowers – so I miss out on the striking contrasts a display like this can give you.
Well obviously I don’t also have years of experience or a fleet of gardeners helping me, either, but this picture does give me some sense of what I’d like my raised bed to be like – lots of different shapes and heights, no gaps or bare earth, lots of contrast, a sense of there being waves of colour laid over darker foliage. Well, it’s something to work towards.
Besides the borders, there were avenues of runner beans and squash, lavender in full bloom, beds of globe artichoke, sweet corn and courgette, and lovely flowers everywhere you looked.
Lots of mental notes of plants I’d like in the garden one day…alliums, more poppies, ornamental thistles…plus, the bare bones of the garden structure itself was beautiful, too – the gates, the statues and urns all looking exactly the part.
There was also, I was relieved to see, what appeared to be a bit of private fenced-off garden for the family to be away from prying eyes (where else to put your swing ball or hang out your washing?)
I can’t imagine what it’s like to have this as your real, actual everyday garden – I wonder if the owners do go and sit in the main walled garden when all the visitors are gone, or do they see it as more of a stage set for the glorious flowers, rather than somewhere to actually live in, to belong?
Truth be told, I don’t spend much time sitting in my garden, either – sitting in the house looking at it, yes, but not in it. That is something I’d like to change next year if we can sort some better garden furniture.
I would recommend Helmingham to anyone who even slightly likes gardens – though be prepared to come away with serious envy of all the plants you’ll never have time or space to grow.
Plus the pretty, rather shabby stables courtyard cafe gave us a chance to watch baby house martins being fed in their nests while we ate our lunch – how lovely is that?
I’ll be making a plan to come back to Helmingham one day -maybe next time a guided tour….