A sea change brings un­ex­pected trea­sures

Ge­orge Plumptre ad­mires the plants­man­ship and style that have kept the gar­den at Ket­tle Hill in Nor­folk fresh

Country Life Every Week - - Contents - Ket­tle Hill, Blak­eney, Nor­folk

BACK in the 1980s, there emerged a fash­ion in Bri­tish gar­den­ing for all things small-scale, clipped and for­mal. Rosemary Verey was de­sign­ing knot gar­dens, Lady Sal­is­bury had re-cre­ated the El­iz­a­bethan gar­den at Hat­field House and the Na­tional Trust de­cided to re­store the parterre at Han­bury Hall: all ex­am­ples of small-scale for­mal de­tail.

It was the per­fect time for The Ro­man­tic Gar­den Nurs­ery, founded in Nor­folk by Frances Winch and her late hus­band, Richard, which cel­e­brated the struc­tural qual­i­ties of clipped box and yew and the imag­i­na­tive use of plants in con­tain­ers. For suc­ces­sive years, their el­e­gant dis­plays at the Chelsea Flower Show in­tro­duced the cool sym­me­try of shades of green into the kalei­do­scope of colour in the great mar­quee.

Some of this spirit lives on in Frances’s gar­den at her Blak­eney home on the north Nor­folk coast. In a county im­mor­talised by Noël Coward for its flat­ness, any small em­i­nence has ex­ag­ger­ated ef­fect and the ket­tle Hill gar­den is set up on one side of the vil­lage so as to com­mand mem­o­rable views of the fa­mous shore­line and sea beyond.

How­ever, the views are only one el­e­ment in this el­e­gantly de­signed gar­den, their im­pact height­ened by the fact that their ex­pan­sive­ness con­trasts with the en­closed in­ti­macy of many ar­eas in which the style of The Ro­man­tic Gar­den Nurs­ery can be de­tected: the sub­tle jux­ta­po­si­tion of dif­fer­ent ev­er­greens, the bal­ance of top­i­ary and shap­ing of clipped flow­er­ing plants, smart or­na­men­tal flour­ishes such as benches and gates or trel­lis piers sur­mounted by ea­gles, de­signed by Ge­orge Carter and the care­ful de­tail­ing of hard land­scape, whether a cir­cu­lar pat­tern of flag­stones, brick and flint cob­bles or stone acorns adorn­ing brick piers.

The Winches moved here 25 years ago from their larger home at Swan­ning­ton and were helped in the orig­i­nal de­sign of the ket­tle Hill gar­den by Mark Ru­mary, but in the past three years, the plant­ing has been largely over­hauled with the help of Ta­mara Bridge, in­ject­ing fresh­ness and change into bor­ders and beds.

As Miss Bridge ex­plains, this kind of re­ju­ve­na­tion—which so many gar­den­ers find them­selves want­ing to do—is en­tirely posi-

The whole is a masterclass in the ar­range­ment of shades of green’

tive in the long term, but just needs thought­ful in­tro­duc­tion. ‘You want to pare back to the gar­den’s frame­work so that you re­tain the es­tab­lished char­ac­ter, but re­fresh and up­date the em­bel­lish­ments.’ She also ex­plains that, in some ar­eas, the changes were made nec­es­sary by the gar­den’s grow­ing ma­tu­rity; for in­stance, the ex­ten­sive shade cast by the wood­land on one side, where, orig­i­nally, the trees has been small saplings.

Both Ta­mara and Frances are knowl­edge­able plantswomen and, to­gether, they planned new plant­ing schemes in the gar­den’s ex­ist­ing bor­ders. At the same time, the ar­eas of the gar­den in which the views out to­wards the coast open up have been sub­tly en­hanced to add a con­tem­po­rary feel.

A low picket fence di­vides the sweep­ing open lawn from the pad­docks beyond, with a path flanked by wild­flower bor­ders lead­ing from the lawn through the pad­docks. In this part of the gar­den, noth­ing de­tracts from the views and the sense of big-sky open­ness that con­trasts so well with the for­mal ar­eas be­side the house and the walled en­clo­sures that wait to be dis­cov­ered.

Im­me­di­ately in front of two sides of the house, the sym­met­ri­cal rose gar­den and parterre per­fectly com­ple­ment the ar­chi­tec­ture. Hardly sur­pris­ingly for some­one who founded the Ro­man­tic Gar­den Nurs­ery, the roses are pre­dom­i­nantly old-fash­ioned shrub va­ri­eties cho­sen for their scent, as well as two of Frances Winch’s par­tic­u­lar favourites: Monet and Con­stance Spry.

The roses were al­ways there, but Ta­mara in­tro­duced new un­der­plant­ing com­bin­ing salvia, al­chemilla and san­tolina, as well as a new nar­row bor­der of tall ere­mu­rus or fox­tail lilies so beloved of Ed­war­dian gar­den­ers. Be­tween the rose gar­den and main lawn, a low wall and laven­der hedge make a neat bound­ary with­out ob­scur­ing the views in ei­ther direc­tion.

From the rose gar­den, steps lead up be­side the house to a broad ter­race that pro­vides the ideal link be­tween house and open gar­den in front. In sum­mer, the ter­race is warm and shel­tered as con­firmed by the lux­u­ri­antly large lemon verbena and jas­mine against the house, which face out to the neat parterre in which four box-edged hearts filled with a low thyme

are di­vided by stone paths and en­closed by a square box hedge.

The Ket­tle Hill house doesn’t present a sym­met­ri­cal façade to the gar­den and the de­sign of the ter­race to flow around the house with var­ied plant­ing clev­erly ac­com­mo­dates this. The York­stone paving, with domes and spi­rals of clipped evergreen, pro­vides con­ti­nu­ity and sea­sonal plant­ing pro­vides va­ri­ety.

Frances’s sit­ting room opens onto the house-beds area of the ter­race and looks along the York­stone path that leads away be­tween the main lawn and the yel­low-and­blue bor­der against a brick wall. In early sum­mer, the bor­der is a won­der­ful com­po­si­tion of domes and spires, no­tably Gera­nium Blue Cloud and Salvia Caradonna.

Later in the sum­mer, there are clumps of agapanthus and bright-yel­low rud­beck­ias as well as sprays of sun-catch­ing Stipa

gi­gan­tea beck­on­ing from the far end. Here, you move once again from neat or­der­li­ness to the more nat­u­ral wild­flower gar­den that comes up and dies down, its sea­sons be­gun and ended by car­pets of spring-flow­er­ing cy­cla­men on one side and au­tumn-flow­er­ing va­ri­eties on the other.

Be­tween the sti­pas, a path leads to one of the two en­trances into the walled se­cret gar­den, with sets of wooden gates de­signed by Mr Carter. En­closed by brick walls, the se­cret gar­den is a se­cluded haven over­looked from one side by a de­light­ful Clas­si­cal sum­mer house. As in other parts of the gar­den, suc­ces­sion plant­ing is im­por­tant, a good ex­am­ple in one large bed be­ing massed tierel­las and chion­o­doxas in spring, fol­lowed by a com­bi­na­tion of massed lupins.

In the ad­join­ing fruit gar­den are many ap­ples and apri­cots, but the small en­clo­sure is also where the spirit of The Ro­man­tic Gar­den Nurs­ery is most faith­fully pre­served. The com­bi­na­tion of fine gravel on the ground, pat­terned by curves of paving bricks, and ar­chi­tec­tural evergreen plants gives the at­mos­phere of a mod­ern, chic city gar­den that is in­ten­si­fied on a hot sum­mer’s day.

Against one side is an oval wood-framed win­dow de­signed by Mr Carter and the cen­tre­piece is a large grey-green agave in a ter­ra­cotta pot sur­rounded by French laven­der and four colum­nar olive trees. There are other, var­ie­gated agaves in pots and a se­ries

of dra­matic flour­ishes, such as three ad­join­ing arches of clipped tra­ch­e­losper­mum; a hon­ey­suckle arch be­tween two Mag­no­lia gran­di­flora; ex­quis­ite bright-pink-flow­ered Ja­panese apri­cot Prunus mume Beni-chi­dori in a pot; and, equally strik­ing, pleached au­tumn-flow­er­ing stan­dard sasan­qua camel­lias in grey wooden planters against the walls on two sides.

The whole space is a masterclass in the ar­range­ment of dif­fer­ent plant shapes and tex­tures, of dif­fer­ent shades of green il­lu­mi­nated by oc­ca­sional daz­zling colour and a com­po­si­tion of dif­fer­ent plant con­tain­ers. They are things that The Ro­man­tic Gar­den Nurs­ery pi­o­neered nearly 40 years ago and which, to­day, Frances Winch has skil­fully used to en­hance her gar­den, which em­bod­ies the char­ac­ter of the Nor­folk sea­side.

Ket­tle Hill, Blak­eney, Nor­folk, will be open in aid of the NGS on Sun­day, June 4. For full de­tails, visit www.ngs.org.uk Ge­orge Plumptre is Chief Ex­ec­u­tive of the NGS

Pho­to­graphs by Anne Green-army­tage

A bird’s-eye view: old-fash­ioned shrub roses have been cho­sen for their scent

The walled gar­den’s clas­si­cal sum­mer house pro­vides a se­cret haven

Low hedges and fences di­vide the gar­den’s ar­eas with­out in­terefer­ing with the view and the sense of big-sky open­ness

A wild­flower bor­der flanks the path that leads from the house to the pad­docks

Top­i­ary and clipped flow­er­ing plants cre­ate a ro­man­tic but con­tem­po­rary look

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