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Houghton Hall Part 2 – The Gardens

So here we are with the second part of this visit to Houghton Hall in Norfolk, a post refound!

Although our main reason for visiting the gardens at Houghton Hall was to explore the land art created by Richard Long within its grounds and house, we also planned to enjoy the gardens in their own right.


The gardens featured huge expanses of sweeping lawns broken up by pleached hedges and topiary. As we approached the house we were surprised to see a circle of stumps arranged on the grassed area, like a stump henge. Each individual root stump was beautiful in its own right but the circular arrangement added another dimension, the dimension of mystery.


The pleached lime hedges presented a strong structural element to the lawned areas. The strong sunlight on the day gave patterns of light and shade, cool and warm. Some of the raised hedges were tall enough for us to easily walk beneath them to experience these contrasts, which was most welcome on such a warm day. Looking out from beneath the pleached blocks of lime gave us framed views of the expanse of the gardens. Further surprises appeared periodically mostly in classical style, stone columns and seats and occasional modern pieces.


In complete contrast to the formality of the parkland areas discussed above, roses featured in softer more romantic borders. This planting felt very soft, restful and gentle.


The parkland was separated from the farmland surrounding it by a “ha ha”, the cleverest way to keep livestock out of formal gardens.


We enjoyed a diversion off one of the main paths while searching for more Richard Long installations, and the narrow path was edged with beautifully cloud-pruned box hedging. The pathway led us to a “Skyspace” by James Turrell. We love his work so spent time sitting inside watching the moving weather. So peaceful!

In complete contrast to the open parkland and grassed areas with architectural planting features, we found another area of the garden at Houghton, the Walled Garden such a contrast. This part of the garden will be the subject of the third post concerning Houghton Hall.

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Houghton Hall Part 1 – Richard Long at Houghton

This post, one of two about Houghton Hall in Norfolk wasn’t published at the time so here it is now, found again and ready to be sent out albeit rather late!

Richard Long is one of our favourite land artists and until this year we had only seen a few isolated examples of his work. While travelling towards our holiday venue in Norfolk we noticed, as we drove along, large signs advertising an exhibition of his work at Houghton Hall. We could not believe our luck! We soon set aside a day to visit the garden and exhibition.

The exhibition was called Earth Sky and we had seen a few of the pieces there in the past and thought it a great location for his work.

There were a couple of pieces we particularly wished to study, “A Line in Norfolk” and “North South East West”. We have already seen a similar piece to “A Line in Norfolk” at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park a few times over the last few years. There, the line of sandstone ran like a perfectly straight path into a lake. It looked amazing and magical. The other piece we wished to see had been featured in a magazine article and simply looked so perfect and satisfying sitting dead centre in a room in the house itself.

“A Line in Norfolk”


“North South East West”


As well as the pieces exhibited within the grounds a selection of much smaller pieces were on display along a corridor within the hall itself, delicate prints on driftwood and recycled pieces of wood.


Long experimented with splashes of white paint carefully and very deliberately thrown nto wall recesses previously painted black in readiness. The effects were fascinating and got the creative thinking going in overdrive. We saw simple but beautiful patterns, water falls, landscapes and much more within the lively white paint marks.

“White Water Falls”

I shall put more “White Water Falls” pics in the following gallery along with more photos of Richard Long pieces from his exhibition at Houghton Hall. Enjoy!



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Bressingham Gardens – 2 – Using Grasses.

In this second report of our visit to the gardens at Bressingham I am going to look at the use of grasses throughout the gardens. As the batch of shots below illustrate, grasses here are beautifully integrated into the mixed borders and enhance their partners’ attributes. The grasses add movement, sound and an element of delicacy to the whole garden.

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The Bloms family created the gardens here at Bressingham not only to show the use of perennials and grasses but also coniferous evergreens. It is here they display all the many new cultivars of grasses and perennial herbaceous plants that they have bred over the decades. They also pioneered the use of island beds in garden design where for the first time herbaceous borders were designed to be seen from all around and the island beds of plantings were designed to be islands within seas of lawn.

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Grasses especially varieties and cultivars of Miscanthus are an integral part of the gardens here including the island beds. There is a large collection of Miscanthus which impressed and delighted me as it is a grass family that I love to see and love to use in our garden. It is a great multi-season group of plants.

Here are a few shots of the Miscanthus collection, but it was hard to do justice with the camera to illustrate the subtle variations in colour, height texture and growth habits of these grasses, the colours in all the different flowers and the leaf stripes and variegations.

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Using grasses in clumps, blocks, rivers and ribbons adds drama to the garden, but equally a single specimen partnered with a shrub, tree or herbaceous plant can increase the aesthetic value of both the grass and its partner.

Here are a couple of ideas seen at Bressingham using grasses in ribbons and rivers.

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We enjoyed finding effective planting partnerships involving grasses with other classes of plant.

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We came away full of new ideas and a list of Miscanthus we look forward to adding to our Avocet patch.




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The Wonders of Wicken

I am not a fan of flat land, I love hills and mountains and views. The fens are just too flat for me. But we discovered a wonderful wildlife reserve a few years ago run by the National Trust, Wicken Fen. We were in the area again this September so we couldn’t resist a return visit. Last time we were there it was warm but wet. This time it was cold and wet.

We followed the boardwalk out into the fen and were amazed by the variety of wildflowers we could spot from the walkway.

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We enjoyed a few moments watching this spider attempting to build its web in the wet weather. He was most persistent and crafted a fine web.

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Stopping off for a coffee in a hide overlooking a pool with a bird feeding station close to the viewing windows gave us opportunities to watch common and less common birds busily feeding. Tree Sparrows were a delight to spot as they are becoming very scarce now due to habitat degradation and loss, as were a pair of Turtle Doves which are real rarities now. The biggest surprise here though was the Muntjac Deer which crept through the shrubbery knocked the feeders with its head and then ate the spilled food off the ground. It then disappeared just as quickly and quietly as it has arrived. It skulked away very quietly.

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We moved on through the fens along damp pathways and boardwalks where the ground was even wetter. We enjoyed the variety of flora that need these unusual conditions to thrive. This little plant, possibly a Water Mint, crept across the boards themselves so we had to watch where we put our boots.

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The water levels in the fens here are carefully controlled to create and maintain the different habitat types. This increases the variety of plants, insects, invertebates, mammals, fish and birds that set up home here. Windmills power the pumps. They stand tall and rigid above the low level of the herbage below.

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To help manage some areas some unusual lawnmowers are being used, these handsome Highland Cattle.

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The two critters below, later identified as a Greenbench and a Mrs Greenbench, tried many ways of hiding from the photography!

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A Wader Spectacular

This was a special day. A spectacular day full of waders, which could only be billed as “A Wader Spectacular”. The action takes place at the RSPB reserve, Snettisham in Norfolk. The RSPB keep members informed of when the spectacular is at its best so we knew we could expect something special.

We made an early start as the success of our day was reliant on firstly the tides and secondly the weather. Tide tables told us we had the day right where the behaviour of the sea was concerned and as the darkness of night gave way to day we realised we were going to be in luck with the weather. But we were well prepared with flasks of hot coffee, for the coast of north Norfolk is always a cold place.

We walked along the shoreline past this old landing stage and found a comfortable place to settle down to wait with fold away chairs and flasks of warm coffee. As we waited for the tide to start to come in and the sandbanks to become engulfed in salty water we readied our binoculars and fixed the telescopes on their tripods. We didn’t have long to wait before the first flocks of waders surged over our heads making for the lagoons behind the sand dunes.

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The vast flocks mostly continued to feed greedily on the bugs and invertebrates hiding in the sand. Every second counts when your feeding is controlled by the turning of the tides. The waders were mainly Knots and Oyster Catchers but surprises appeared amongst them such as small groups of Avocet and the lone flock of just half a dozen Common Scoter which passed low over our heads like black overweight ducks.

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As each minute ticked away, the flocks fleeing the tides flew more frequently over our heads and each flock appeared to be larger than the last. We could feel and hear the air moving above us, stirred by the combined power of thousands of beating wings.

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As the flocks flew behind us they settled quickly into the reeds surrounding the lagoons, dropping from the sky as one. As the tide sped in covering their feeding grounds the sand banks at sea become emptied as the lagoons filled up.

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Enjoy the spectacle by following the photos in the gallery and watch the drama unfold.

When the flocks had moved from sea to lagoon, everything felt and sounded calm around us and we were engulfed by a strangely hollow feeling. We had been surrounded by hundreds of thousands of waders in flight and then suddenly it stopped as the last stragglers made their move.

We then found time to appreciate the beauty of nature on the beach. When finding our spot to watch the wader show the light was still too poor to see what was at our feet. Wild flowers, butterflies, moths and small birds were all there for us to enjoy.

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After enjoying the life of the shoreline we returned to the car via a hide that overlooked one end of one of the lagoons to see if we could spot any of the birds who had entertained us with their spectacular fly past. As you can see from the two photos they were pretty well hidden. I suppose once away from the safety of the sand banks and the surrounding sea they are more vulnerable to predator attack.

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As we left the hide my camera was attracted to this old landing stage once again.

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If you ever get a chance to experience a wader spectacular take it – it is an amazing natural phenomenon. To see more of my wader spectacular photos just click on the first photo and then follow the arrows.