Park life

Sir Humphry Rep­ton’s Sher­ing­ham Park

EDP Norfolk - - Inside -

A GEN­TLE stroll through a glo­ri­ous wild gar­den burst­ing with the sen­sa­tional forms and colours of rhodo­den­drons and aza­leas while en­joy­ing a glass or two of Cham­pagne sounds like a fan­tas­tic way to while away a sunny af­ter­noon.

In­deed, the spec­tac­u­lar ar­ray must have of­fered a de­light­ful taste of the ex­otic for the 1950s guests of Thomas Upcher, the last pri­vate owner of Sher­ing­ham Park in North Nor­folk.

The park was designed by the fa­mous land­scape gar­dener Sir Humphry Rep­ton in 1812. His plan in­cluded the build­ing of a folly and house and was said to be his per­sonal favourite cre­ation.

Rep­ton was in­spired by the beauty of the 1,000-acre site which owes its unique land­scape to the ac­tions of the last ice age and reach­ing as far as the coastal path, boasts rolling grass­land and an ex­ten­sive wooded area bor­dered by heath­land.

A breath-tak­ing view of farm­land and sea look­ing out to­wards the nearby vil­lage of Wey­bourne can be taken in from a gazebo which is rather a steep climb, but cer­tainly well worth it!

The first plant­ing of rhodo­den­drons be­gan around 1850, but their num­bers re­ally ex­panded us­ing seeds ob­tained from the plant col­lec­tor Ernest ‘Chi­nese’ Wil­son in 1914. The de­vel­op­ment of the gar­den con­tin­ued un­til the death of Thomas Upcher in 1985, a year be­fore The Na­tional Trust bought the prop­erty.

It is the great va­ri­ety of these and the com­pli­ment­ing aza­leas for which the park is renowned and af­ter a cen­tury and a half of ded­i­cated work, they make a truly mes­meris­ing sight when in bloom. Some of the older plants have grown to such pro­por­tions that it is pos­si­ble to ac­tu­ally walk through tun­nels un­der their tan­gled stems.

New spec­i­mens are reg­u­larly planted to main­tain the health of the gar­den, ex­cept for the com­monly seen rhodo­den­dron pon­ticum which has to be care­fully con­trolled. The main ethos be­hind the man­age­ment of the park fol­lows Rep­ton’s orig­i­nal in­struc­tions to en­hance and main­tain what na­ture had pro­vided by mak­ing min­i­mal al­ter­ations to the site, apart from the plant­ing of trees to thicken and add va­ri­ety and colour to the beau­ti­ful ex­ist­ing wood­land.

Over 200 years later the feel of the place is that of a gar­den al­most with a mind of its own, which marries with the nat­u­ral fea­tures of the land, rather than dom­i­nat­ing it.

Soon af­ter ar­riv­ing at the park it is easy to find the or­na­men­tal pond in the Bower near the main en­trance, which is the per­fect place for chil­dren to learn about aquatic life. From this area, which in­cludes a tea room and in­for­ma­tion cen­tre, a wide, un­du­lat­ing car­riage­way (suit­able for wheel­chairs) winds its way down through the gar­den, blend­ing seam­lessly with the stun­ning ma­ture wood­land.

From this main drive a mul­ti­tude of path­ways spread out and criss-cross through de­cid­u­ous and pine plant­ings that seem un­tamed, but are in fact sub­tly man­aged; ev­ery fallen bough you see has been de­lib­er­ately left in place to pro­vide a haven for in­sects and fungi.

In the open grass­land that makes up the bot­tom part of the park, visi­tors can find the orig­i­nal folly stand­ing proud atop a small hill and the house tucked neatly into the trees. The build­ing can also be ob­served from a part of the car­riage­way known as ‘The Turn;’ Rep­ton’s only ma­jor man­made in­ter­ven­tion which in­volved cut­ting into a steep ridge.

When com­mis­sioned by Ab­bott Upcher, Rep­ton went to great lengths to con­struct the house in the best pos­si­ble location for his master stroke, which de­ter­mined that guests travers­ing the newly dark­ened wood­land would be shielded from the dra­matic sight of the rest of the park­land and ‘turn’ the cor­ner to be­hold a ‘fairy-tale’ view.

Main­tain­ing the bal­ance be­tween the dec­o­ra­tive and the nat­u­ral is an on­go­ing chal­lenge. Not only must the wild gar­den be sym­pa­thet­i­cally tended to pro­vide the amaz­ing dis­play of rhodo­den­drons and aza­leas which flower from April to July each year (with some hardier va­ri­eties adding an un­ex­pected de­light in late au­tumn), but the work of the gar­den­ers and many vol­un­teers in­cludes the vi­tal con­ser­va­tion role of pro­tect­ing and im­prov­ing the park en­vi­ron­ment, upon which a great range of plant, bird, an­i­mal and am­phibi­ous life de­pends.

Ferns find shel­ter be­neath an­cient trees - some es­ti­mated to be over 700 years old; drag­on­flies, moorhen, lit­tle grebe and yel­low iris take ad­van­tage of the hid­den nat­u­ral ponds and cowslips flour­ish in the grazed mead­ow­land, while blue­bells car­pet the woods. Rare species such as firecrests, great crested newts and night­jars are sup­ported by the re­mark­able range of in­ter­con­nected habi­tats.

The ‘rides,’ (or wood­land paths) have re­cently been opened up to en­cour­age hon­ey­suckle to grow and in turn at­tract white ad­miral but­ter­flies and bat boxes have been in­stalled by Jane Har­ris, a li­censed bat worker, to as­sist the Nor­folk Bar­bastelle Study Group in mon­i­tor­ing their suc­cess.

To sum up, it is both the le­gacy of the great Humphry Rep­ton and the land­scape which truly in­spired him, along with the re­spect­ful and ex­ten­sive work of The Na­tional Trust which come to­gether to form the uniquely charm­ing place that is Sher­ing­ham Park.

Left Top: Hon­ey­suckle berries; Beef­steak fun­gus; The Folly Left: Car­riage­way and seat­ing shel­ter Above: Along the car­riage­way Right: Firecrest

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