Blooming marvellous - the greatest gardens on the Greater Anglia network

Thursday, 14 December 2017
Days Out

As East Anglia’s bucolic beds and borders burst into flower, we asked four local green-fingered experts to recommend their favourite gardens to visit

Interviews by Emine Saner

Chippenham Park Gardens

Ely, Cambridgeshire

Chosen by Sue Wooster, garden designer and nursery owner

Chippenham Park Gardens are special because at every turn there is something to wow you. The garden is vast, about 15 acres, and the architecture is beautiful – there is the house itself, summerhouses and a coach house. There are quiet places to sit and the plants give the garden shape.

There’s a beautiful bridge over the lake that takes you to the walled garden. You can sit quietly and watch the lake, but it’s also a busy garden – there is so much going on, with just about every feature you can imagine.

Chippenham Park has been owned by the same family since the late 18th-century, and the current family members have really brought the garden to life. I like the way there is a bit of informality –
the gardens are designed very well, but they are not necessarily neatly clipped and manicured.

The borders are colour-themed, and there are more formal beds with plants such as alliums coming up in early summer. Roses feature strongly. There is a great balance between the formal and more wild areas. It’s a very special place.

If you only see one thing… The long borders are a feature throughout the year. There is always something to look at, and they have fabulous flowering shrubs that keep the interest going.

  • Don’t miss a statue of a wild boar, which is worth finding.
  • Perfect for: Thanks to the variety of plants, keen horticulturist will find a special shrub or a new form of hellebore to surprise them.
  • If you love this garden, you’ll also like Fullers Mill (fullersmillgarden.org.uk) is not far from here and it’s incredible. It was created by Bernard Tickner, who is now in his nineties.
  • Visit Chippenham Park Gardens is open on dates in June and October, see chippenhamparkgardens.info for details.
  • Nearest station Kennett

Sue Wooster runs Bellflower Nursery from her walled garden in Langham, near Bury St Edmunds (bellflowernursery.co.uk).

Blickling house

Blickling Estate

Aylsham, Norfolk

Chosen by Alan Gray, garden owner, writer and contributor on BBC Radio Norfolk’s The Garden Party

Blickling Hall is a fantastic Jacobean house with a long history. It was once owned by Geoffrey Boleyn, grandfather of Anne, and was requisitioned during the Second World War. It’s now owned by the National Trust and the gardens really are a masterclass in horticulture.

The gardeners are very approachable and I’ve always found them happy to talk about the plants. They grow fruit and vegetables, there are the pleasure gardens, and a lovely lake you can walk around. There are also 950 acres of wood and parkland.

They are famous for their herbaceous planting here. During the Victorian period, there were huge intricate bedding schemes surrounding the main lawn. That went out of fashion, and now they have huge chunks of yew that are topiarised to look like grand pianos.

Whatever season you go, you will see something interesting. From January to March, it’s the hellebores and spring bulbs. From spring to early summer you will see woodland plants and rhododendrons. At high summer, you can see the fairly new rose garden, which is probably coming into its own this year. Later, there is lots of autumn colour and plenty of Michaelmas daisies.”

If you only see one thing… Catch the rose garden in high summer.

  • Don’t miss: Those topiary grand pianos.
  • Perfect for: Traditionalists will enjoy the colourful double borders.
  • If you love this garden, you’ll also like Nearby Stody Lodge Gardens (stodyestate.co.uk) was originally part of the Blickling Estate. Stody is great if you are a rhododendron fan.
  • Visit Blickling Estate is open every day over the summer, see nationaltrust.org.uk/blickling-estate for details.
  • Nearest station Hoveton & Wroxham

Alan Gray is co-creator of the East Ruston Old Vicarage Gardens, Norfolk (e-ruston-oldvicaragegardens.co.uk), which are open March to October.

Wood Farm gardens

Wood Farm

Gipping, Suffolk

Chosen by Barbara Segall, horticulturist and garden writer

The garden at Wood Farm is only open to the public once a year in June – and by appointment for groups between May and July – but it is well worth planning a visit. The old farmhouse is semi-moated and part of the house seems to float on the water, but most magical of all is the eight-acre wildflower meadow behind the house.

The owner has created this incredible meadow over a long period of time, weeding out thistles and planting a wide range of plants including ox-eye daisies, buttercups, and a lot of native grasses that are almost pinky in colour. It buzzes with insects and is a wonderful wildlife corridor – they’ve seen barn owls and swallows. The meadow is cut for hay in June, so it is only there for a short period of time and has this magical, ephemeral quality.

It is in complete contrast to the front, where there is a beautiful cottage garden. It has a formal layout, but the plants just take over and seem to rise and fall. It is rich with armies of poppies, sweet peas, lupins and lavender. This is a very traditional garden, and it is beautifully coloured.

If you only see one thing… Catch the meadow in June.

  • Don’t miss: The purple of the alliums looks stunning against the mustard-coloured house.
  • Perfect for all lovers of the iconic, quintessential English garden.
  • If you love this garden, you’ll also like Columbine Hall (columbinehall.co.uk) is less than an hour away by foot. It’s nearly completely moated and there is a small flowery meadow but the garden. You can also visit around 3,700 other breathtaking private gardens with the National Garden Scheme.
  • Visit Wood Farm is open on 4 June and by appointment for groups between May and July through the National Garden Scheme. For more details visit ngs.org.uk
  • Nearest station Stowmarket

Barbara Segall is author of gardening blog thegardenpost.com; her book Secret Gardens of East Anglia is published in September (Frances Lincoln Publishers).

Flowers in Sheringham Park

Sheringham Park

Upper Sheringham, Norfolk

Chosen by George Carter, garden designer and historian

The actual garden at Sheringham Park belongs to the house, which isn’t open to the public, although you can view bits of it from the park. But the park is really the thing worth seeing. It was created by the great landscape designer, Humphry Repton, who I’m very keen on as a designer.

Repton wrote so much – his first book was published in 1795 – and he was incredibly influential. He was writing about the creation of parks and gardens, and everything was very rational; his ideas are still relevant. He was keen on the relationship between the house and the garden – views from windows, and views when approaching in a vehicle. Sheringham is his masterpiece.

It’s a masterpiece of ‘picturesque planning’, as it was called in the 18th-century, where you frame the views as if they were pictures, but with planting. You come out from delightful, shaded woodland into this sparkling, summery landscape with the sea in the distance. It’s magical.

There is mixed deciduous woodland, but Repton was clever at using imported evergreens such as Quercus ilix, which create a dark frame for views. He was also a very early user of rhododendrons, using them as a way of controlling views. It’s all carried off on a whopping scale.

  • Don’t miss: The temple is a great vantage point.
  • Perfect for: Lovers of garden history. And anyone who enjoys stunning sea views.
  • If you love this garden, you’ll also like Repton worked at Felbrigg Hall (nationaltrust.org.uk/felbrigg-hall-gardens-and-estate), too, another nearby National Trust estate.
  • Visit Sheringham Park is open every day over the summer, see nationaltrust.org.uk/sheringham-park for details.
  • Nearest station Sheringham

George Carter is a garden designer based in North Elmham, Norfolk, and author of a forthcoming book on Humphry Repton (georgecartergardens.co.uk).

Why not spend your summer exploring East Anglia’s enchanting gardens? Visit with friends and you can save with Greater Anglia’s GroupSave ticket offer. Find out more and book at greateranglia.co.uk