Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Helmingham Gardens: Walled-In Heaven

I've been in Suffolk, on the far eastern side of England.
Beautiful Suffolk, with cloudless blue skies full of shrieking swifts, endless fields of ripening, golden corn, stately trees marking horizons and hedgerows, and picture-postcard cottages straight off the lids of chocolate boxes.

Picture postcard houses

It was lovely to be there again - pottering in my parents' garden; listening to the church bells; visiting antique/vintage/junk shops with my sister; and whiling away scorching afternoons beside the open French windows, chatting with my mother over some gentle crochet.

Not to mention being almost entirely off-line.

Now I am back at home - to a rapturous welcome from Model Dog and the TeenQueen, it's true - but to the less enjoyable realities of normal life as well. My dear friend has been in a car smash and is in hospital with two broken ankles, the TeenQueen, in an enthusiastic but misplaced attempt to defend her home from canine intruders, has bitten another friend's lurcher, and the rain it raineth every day.

At lunchtime I rushed out to feed some roses and young blossom trees - a job best done in wet weather - and it was only as I changed into dry clothes afterwards that it dawned on me: a week ago this very afternoon, I was visiting one of the most beautiful gardens I have ever seen - the walled garden at Helmingham Hall.
How I wish I'd had my camera. My phone isn't the same thing at all. Apologies, Helmingham, for not doing you justice.

Side view of Helmingham Hall

It's not very far from my mother's village, but for some reason I've never been there before.
I shall certainly be going there again. In fact, I'm wondering if I might move in without them noticing.
There are several gardeners there, but I'm sure they could use an extra pair of hands, and I'd work very hard.
The Head Gardener, I was told, has been there for 50 years, since he was a boy.
It shows.
And the lady of the house is a garden designer.
That shows too.

I'm sure the walled garden at Helmingham has always been a thing of beauty, but now it has reached the peak of perfection.
You have to walk around the lovely Tudor Hall to get to it - along the side of a moat on which water lilies drift lazily in the afternoon sunshine. At the end, a notice on the gate says something along the lines of 'For the sake of the deer, please keep this gate closed', and there is a half-wild, half-mown path with topiary hedges that entice you ever onwards.

Even then you only catch glimpses of the joys ahead.
Have you ever noticed that about the best gardens? They lure you bit by bit. Never is everything revealed at once, and just when you think you have arrived at the pièce de résistance, a path - or a doorway - or an arch cut into the hedge tells you that there is more - still more - to come.

So it is at Helmingham.
After the moat, the topiary hedges, and the casually thrown out lure of a dappled apple walk, finally you arrive in a walled enclosure, with trees, urns overflowing with white cosmos and lavender-edged flower borders that look  like oil paintings, in which hide covered seats where you can sit out of the sun yet still smell the hot, sweet scent of roses.

The ante-room

But it's only the ante-room.

Huge pillars entwined with roses and topped with winged horses' heads mark the entrance to the actual walled garden. They hold massive wrought iron gates of which I am deeply jealous.
Although to be honest, it wasn't just the gates I lusted after.

Someone once said to me: 'One garden is much like another.'
Gardens are like books. They are all different, although some may fall into the same genre. I have seen gardens that leave you depressed, others that leave you unmoved. There are many that disappoint and many that surprise and delight. But the best of gardens take you to another place entirely, a place that I, for one, never want to come back from.

Inside its high, aged brick walls, Helmingham's rectangular garden is broken up geometrically. A central grass path is edged with wide herbaceous borders backed by fences, railings or obelisks supporting endless roses, clematis and other climbing beauties.

The central path

And at regular intervals there are other paths leading off to the sides.
Some of these are arched allées - covered with runner beans, or wisteria or sweet peas.

Sometimes there are just more grass paths, with more herbaceous borders.

And hidden away in between are long rectangular beds of vegetables, or cutting flowers, or lavender.

Set against the outer walls, in between the planting, are benches and amusing topiary specimens.

The Snowman
The armchair so you can sit and watch your leeks grow

And there are side gates - of which I'm also exceedingly jealous.

Exceedingly jealous.

There is also the Coach House Tea Room serving delicious cakes to revive you for part two - the knot garden, the rose garden, and a newly planted garden with lots of trees...
Or maybe just a second, leisurely tour of the walled garden, where you can sit and watch the bees falling over each other to get at the veronica and the allium and the honeysuckle - and everything else. I've never seen so many bees in one place.

It was so hot last Wednesday that I was glad to slip out of the back gate for a moment in the shade, where a sort of secondary moat - or perhaps it was originally a carp pond - runs around the outside of the walled garden, dividing it from the Apple Walk and the Deer Park. It reflects the magnificent, graceful trees, and does what water always does. It brings heaven into the garden.

As if it wasn't there already.

Behind the walled garden
Between the Apple Walk and the Walled Garden

What else can I say? Except hie thee hence to Helmingham.
It's part garden, part oil painting, and part heaven.

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Paeony Envy

I'm suffering very badly from paeony envy at the moment.
Unjust, I know, as my own paeonies are flowering their little pink hearts out.
Despite the rain.

What you can't see in this picture is the gold at the centre of the flower

Sarah Bernhardt strutting her stuff

But on our recent trip to Salthill Garden in Donegal, the paeonies would have struck lust into the hearts of all but the most saintly.
We nearly wore them out with looking at them.

Elizabeth Temple, their owner, could have told us the name of each and every one. But unfortunately, she wasn't at home that day. She'd been kind enough to warn me, and even suggested we come another day, but it was the only time I was free.
She is extremely knowledgeable and I daresay would have had all their Latin and colloquial names off pat.

Like this one

  And particularly this one

But it wouldn't have done any good. My friend and I have looked - believe me, we have looked in all the garden centres, but there is no Bowl of Beauty to be found locally. Nor any of the other ones we saw (though names would help, I'm sure).

Sadly, I have to confess that it's not just paeony envy that plagues me.

While we were in Paris, we went to see Monet's garden. It was our 900th wedding anniversary and, as I have long wanted to visit Giverny, I couldn't think of a better way to spend it. Happily the In-Charge was agreeable.

Monet's house at Giverny from the lily pond

I had not taken the crowds of other visitors into account, I must say.
In fact, I hadn't really thought about it, but I suppose I imagined us strolling, arm in arm, along the flower-lined paths as if we owned the place.

I am evidently not alone in knowing that late May is garden-visiting-time.
As we set off, de bonne heure on Sunday morning, the In-Charge commented acidly on how full the train was, but I cleverly remembered that it was Mother's Day in France. 'They're all heading home  to their Mamas,' I said brightly. 'Isn't that nice!'
It only dawned on me as the train emptied ontoVernon platform, that all and sundry were bent upon sharing our day out.

There were four full coach loads from the station, and that didn't include people who had arrived under their own steam, so to speak, or on other bus trips.
However, I sternly repudiated the In-Charge's hopeful suggestion that we board the next train back to Paris, and actually, although there were a lot of people, the gardens are big enough to swallow them up and we didn't feel crowded - except on the famous bridge over the lily pond.
It was worth every moment of queueing to get in.

We had, sadly, just missed most of the famed tulips, but the wisteria was in full, hyperbolic bloom.

The famous bridge over the lily pond

Luscious beyond belief

And so were the flags.

Look - there's a paeony in bud beside the flag. I need to go back there - now!

I have wisteria.
It doesn't garland a bridge over a lily pond, admittedly, but even so, I do get my wisteria fix every spring.

But I don't have flags. Not really.
Not rows and rows of glorious, wonderful, beautiful flags.

My friend - with whom I visited Salthill - and I pored over a French catalogue a few years ago, from a nursery that specialises in flags and irises. We drooled, we ooh'd and we aah'd, and I eagerly jotted down the names of all the plants I couldn't possibly live without.
The bill added up to about €187 - before shipping - so with deep regret I threw the catalogue away.
'We don't have enough sunshine, in any case,' I tried to console myself. 'They need hours or sun every day to flower properly.'
But I am not really consoled
Deep down I want a walkway in my garden lined with flags, preferably on either side.
Like Pierre Berge's garden in Deauville.
Like Monet's garden at Giverny.
Like the Tuileries gardens in Paris.

Or failing that, a purple border (with flags in it).

A purple border at Giverny

Is that too much to ask?
It's all I want.
Well - apart from the paeonies.

And I'm rather envious of Monet's pansies too...