We had a lovely, slightly damp, time at the Bishop’s House Garden in Norwich on Sunday afternoon. I’ve been meaning to visit all summer. It’s a hidden, walled garden, positioned right in the heart of the city, near the cathedral. Unfortunately it’s not always open to the public and you can only visit on occasional open days. Yesterday was a special fundraising day for RSPB Strumpshaw Fen, a nature reserve in the broads, where you can listen to woodpeckers and watch nuthatches. It’s a very special, peaceful place.
The kids had lots of fun exploring the Bishop’s Garden and trying out the wildlife-themed activities on the RSPB nature trail. The trail led us around the edge of a large lawn to an amazing tall tree swing, which my two raced towards as soon as they saw it. After a brief negotiation they decided who would have the first turn (the oldest because she saw it first). I found it thrilling watching my daughter swing so high and throw her head back to watch the branches above. I remember that giddy feeling. She used to be quite nervous of heights so I was happy to see her really throw herself into it. Nearby were some mature trees with low branches that were perfect for climbing, so of course that’s what they did next.
The second stop on our trail was ‘Creepy Crawly Corner’. When we reached the entrance to the woodland paths, my son said “It’s like a magic garden!” He’s right, it was quite magical in there, with huge leaved plants above and soft leaf mould underfoot. The kids helped to build the Bishop’s new bug hotel by collecting twigs, bundles of reeds, pine cones and all sorts of bits and bobs, and stuffing them into spaces in a wooden structure. We saw a few cool bugs on our way round the garden, including a woodlouse, a centipede and a black beetle we think was devil’s coach horse.
Our next stop was at a formal parterre formed of low, symmetrical box hedges, with roses planted in the spaces between, and a fountain at the centre. The box was incredibly tactile and bouncy. I couldn’t resist patting and stroking it as I walked through the narrow paths between the hedges. The theme of this stop on the nature trail was water, and the kids pretend fished for pond creatures and made cute pipe cleaner dragonflies.
After a brief break for tea and cakes, we rejoined the trail. We made our way to a bamboo forest, which I have now learned is called a ‘bambooserie’. I cannot express how much I love this word and the fact that it exists! The bambooserie 🙂 was a good place to shelter from the rain, and the kids found places to hide and jump out at us. My son even surprised me by pointing out a variety of golden bamboo that we have at home. I love that he noticed it and wanted to show it to me.
The trail then led us past a fernery with some impressive specimen tree ferns, and on to a wildflower meadow that must have been very pretty in midsummer when all the flowers were out. Even on a drizzly September afternoon, when all that was left were the brown seedheads, it was rather wonderful. I thought some of the flowers might have been knapweed (centaurea), which is a bit like a cornflower. We enjoyed running through the circular maze that has been cleverly mowed into the meadow. I lacked the patience to go the whole way round and confess that I hopped a few patches of long grass, but the kids persisted and seemed very satisfied with themselves when they made it to the middle.
After the maze, we walked along a springy lawn between a pair of long herbaceous borders. These were chock full of new and gone-over flowers. The cardoons (artichoke thistle) looked incredible, triffid-like, towering over the borders. This late in the season they are just dry, brown husks, with massive open seedheads the size of sunflowers. The asters, verbena bonariensis, tall rudbekia and ice plant sedums made a colourful spectacle. But the stand-out plants were the banana trees, which looked gorgeously shiny in the rain with huge red and green tinged leaves. It gave me plenty of inspiration, and I’m feeling excited to research a hardy banana for my garden.
Our fifth stop on the nature trail was all about honey bees. The kids spent quite a bit of time patiently searching for the queen bee in the middle of a real hive inside a special viewer, while I chatted with one of the beekeepers about ‘hive scrapings’ and ‘slum gum’ (more good words!) I bought some local honey mustard and a beautiful block of beeswax. Sadly, we had no luck spotting bees buzzing around the herbaceous border as bees don’t fly when it’s raining.
The final stop was back at the lawn, where we carefully threaded bits of apple, cheese, raisins and cheerios onto a wire loop to make bird feeders. And we watched the peregrine falcons on the cathedral spire through a telescope. What a treat! Although this was not easy for the youngest one who hasn’t quite mastered to art of looking through one eye, but he had a good go at it.
All in all, it was a super afternoon, not marred much by the rubbish weather. I do hope they raised lots of money. And I’ve got my fingers crossed that I’ve won a raffle prize!