I was at Helmingham Hall Gardens, near Stowmarket in Suffolk, on Sunday. My mum and I went to their annual plant fair in May, but it’s such a magical place that I had to bring more of my family back to see it too. The day was gloriously hot and sunny, so we licked delicious ice creams, bought from the shop in the converted stable block, as we pottered around the gardens. The 500 year old hall was a constant and stunning backdrop.
As you leave the stables and come around the hall, there is a wonderful view of the deer park. Past that, you come to a small orchard walk of pear and apple trees. The cracked bark on one of the old pear trees is quite remarkable and has to be touched. The grass has been allowed to grow long and wild around the base of the trees, and along the banks of the moat, which surrounds the hall and leads off at right angles into different areas of the garden. The moat reflects the light, and frames the hall beautifully. Its clear water is filled with weed and water lilies, and pretty red-finned fish sunbathe near the surface.
Straight-edged, mown stretches of lawn form a path that leads you along the side of the moat to a series of formal parterres and long borders. The lawns are so perfect and springy. I couldn’t resist lying down on the grass and looking up at the clouds for a few minutes. My son took great pleasure in deliberately falling over as he ran about, repeatedly throwing himself on the grass and giggling.
Beyond the parterres are the impressive gates of the walled kitchen garden, flanked by winged horse heads and stone urns. The plants in the walled garden clearly benefit from the protection of the ancient, red brick walls. Everything growing in its herbaceous borders and vegetable beds was bigger, stronger and more lush than in a normal garden. And it actually did feel warmer inside the walls than outside.
Wonderfully weird, complicated topiary pops up here and there in the borders. We saw a frog prince, a snail, a bee, a snowman, rabbits, a throne and, according to my children, egg cups (or, more likely, acorns).
Heady scents of musk roses and honeysuckle greet you as you walk around corners in the symmetrically arranged space. A long tunnel of arches swathed in runner beans is mirrored opposite by a tunnel of sweet peas. I suggested taking long sniffs as we walked through it. My son, relishing the moment, farted.
One section of the walled garden is given over to a spiral-shaped meadow of annual wildflowers. The kids raced into the centre and back out again, over and over, laughing and giggling the whole time. It’s such a lovely way to grow wildflowers, in a kind of mini maze, and wouldn’t require much effort to replicate on a smaller scale at home.
On the opposite side of the hall to the kitchen garden is a sunken knot garden, with neatly clipped box hedges, interplanted with herbs. It leads on to a pretty rose garden, also filled with lavender and purple salvias. We had the space to ourselves, so the kids played hide and seek, and roared as they chased each other and their grandad around the formal borders.
We ended the day with scones and tea, sitting at a table in the stable courtyard. It was such a lovely way to spend a summer’s day, and has provided some fantastic inspiration for a design I’m working on at the moment. I took tonnes of photos, on this visit and in May, and I’ve shared a few of my favourites below. I will post a few more on Facebook and Instagram.