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.
I often publish posts about summer days out in winter to help us warm up so as we are in the middle of an exceptionally hot period of weather I shall do the opposite and publish this post I wrote in the winter in the hope it may cool us down!
There were two main reasons we wanted to visit Ivy Croft Garden and Nursery to look at, firstly their huge collection of snowdrops and secondly their imaginative pruning techniques. Both these elements are highlights of the February garden. We drove down to Herefordshire with gardening friends Pete and Sherlie who had never visited the garden before. We had been once before several years ago, when it was still quite early on in the development stage. We were looking forward to seeing what it was like after so many years.
The garden which was started in 1997, surrounds the cottage which has a formal area close to the house partly enclosed by an ivy hedge. Further afield the garden becomes less formal and a wander around gave us the chance to look at its pond, willow and dogwood collections, a perry pear orchard and a vegetable garden enclosed with trained fruit trees.
The area around the house featured many flowering bulbs and in the spring and summer alpines would take over. A colourful Acer griseum stood with two variegated Hollies in a circular bed surrounded by a gravel pathway.
The pruned features we discovered as we parked up included a pleached limes, box balls and all were neatly presented.
An amazing selection of ivies made up the ivy hedge which surround two sides of the formal garden around the cottage. It was a beautiful, unusual feature to welcome visitors.
The huge work shed had a unique humorous tough, buttresses created by training and pruning yew trees. Close by stood this beautiful white barked birch tree.
As we walked away from the pleached limes and box ball topiary, we wandered through the wide selection of rare and unusual snowdrops. Beyond this border was a trellis-like “fedge”, a living hedge made from willow.
Shrubs with coloured stems and trees with coloured bark are strong features of the winter garden, and Ivycroft had some fine examples of both. Coloured stems were provided by Salix and Cornus, whereas the coloured bark appeared on Betulas and Prunus.
Little details reward those who take a closer look, a catkin, a flower or an old seed pod.
As mentioned earlier Snowdrops were a special feature of the gardens at Ivy Croft, but we also enjoyed cyclamen, miniature daffodils and hellebores. Colours shone from shrubs too, Hamamelis, Daphne mezereum and Hedera helix in its shrubby form.
We certainly had plenty to enjoy at Ivy Croft and it had changed so much since our last visit over 10 years ago. We will certainly be visiting once again when it opens again for a day in the spring.
We took a short one hour drive out into Wales today to visit a National Trust property, Erddig which we hoped would afford us the opportunity of exploring a garden with winter interest, interest found in its formal structure, its topiary and imaginative pruning as well as planting. We knew that it holds the National Collection of Hedera (Ivies), so we had something specific and extra to look for too.
After too many wet weeks the day dawned bright and we were to be treated to a day of bright winter sunshine, which would play with shadows and light throughout our walk. We were surprised to discover that the whole place, buildings and gardens were in a state of disrepair bordering on dereliction in the 1960’s when a new owner decided to rescue it and awaken a real jewel of a property.
Two welcome signs greeted us as we entered, a rustic overhead design and another with a beautiful quote which read, “Where fragrance, peace and beauty reign ….”. We would soon see if this were true.
The garden is Grade 1 listed and is based around the 18th Century design. Amazingly it works well today! Even the car park and courtyards on the way in had points of interest to us gardeners, some of the Ivy cultivars, ancient wall-trained fruit, a beautifully carved wooden seat featuring carved horse heads and a vintage garden watering cart. We soon met our first Hederas (Ivy) in the collection, an unlabelled specimen which grew to frame a window, and one with beautiful foliage, Hedera hiburnicum variegata.
A feature we were looking forward to at Erddig was the huge variety of creatively pruned trees, both fruit trees and conifers. Some of these fruit trees must be decades old but are still skillfully pruned. Really well pruned and trained fruit trees are really beautiful. It felt good to see these age old gardening skills carrying on so professionally.
We discovered this double row of pleached limes after spotting an orange glow as the winter sun caught the new twigs and buds.
Beautifully topiarised conifers were presented in neat rows and as hedges throughout the formal garden area.
Not all the conifers were trimmed and controlled though, some were left to mature and become tall proud specimens.
We loved this tall double row of pollarded Poplar trees towering above our path, their network of silhouettes highlighted against the blue sky. This added to the strong structure of the garden.
We love to see a touch of humour in gardens and points of interest for children and we enjoyed a few here as we wandered around Erddig.
Erddig holds the National collection of Ivies, growing a huge selection of Hedera, but it took us along time to find the organised and well-labelled display of them growing along an old brick-built wall. We were amazed by the sheer variety, from plants with plain green typical leaves to those with the most beautiful and subtle variegation.
Don’t you just love to see what gardeners are up to when you visit a garden? Here hedge cutting and mulching borders with rich well-matured farmyard manure were keeping the gardeners on their toes. We were very impressed with the quality of their work and the evidence of a sense of pride in everything they did.
From the front of the house itself we found some wide views over the surrounding countryside.
I have only briefly mentioned the Ivy collection at Erddig so far but I will change all that by sharing a collection of my pics of the Ivies as a gallery. Please enjoy by clicking on the first photo and using the arrows to navigate.
Hollies feature too with a lovely varied collection sadly with no labels but here are some to enjoy anyway.
Each photo of an Ilex tree is matched with a close up of its foliage.
So you can appreciate just how impressed we were with the gardens at Erddig on our return visit after many years. We will be returning more often in the future!