An­nie GreenArmy­tage is at Ran­worth

Nestling be­tween field and broad, the gar­den at the Old House in Ran­worth has seen many changes over the years. An­nie Green-Army­tage dis­cov­ers it to­day in all its spring­time glory

EDP Norfolk - - CONTENTS - PHO­TOS: An­nie Green-Army­tage

The shrill call of nest­ing terns and the oc­ca­sional swoop of a heron are the only sounds to break the si­lence.

Bor­der­ing the wa­ter, the gar­den at the Old House re­flects this sense of peace. Dew lays in a thick coat­ing on the grass and ma­ture cherry trees are weighed down with lux­u­ri­ant blos­som. Grass path­ways lead through bor­ders into the ar­bore­tum, which stretches up the hill, silently un­furl­ing young fo­liage.

In neigh­bour­ing fields new shoots are ap­pear­ing. Sud­denly the sun breaks the hori­zon and streams across the wa­ter and into the gar­den, watched by a life­like heron sculp­ture. It is a mag­i­cal mo­ment, sin­gu­larly Nor­folk in its land­scape of broad, field and gar­den.

In the still­ness of the early morn­ing, a mist floats across the wa­ter of Ran­worth Broad.

The Ca­tor fam­ily has been lucky enough to in­habit this idyl­lic spot for gen­er­a­tions. The cur­rent oc­cu­pier, the Hon Jac­quetta Ca­tor, moved here with her hus­band Fran­cis when they mar­ried in 1956, his fam­ily liv­ing just along the road at Wood­bast­wick.

Hav­ing seen use as a wartime re­source of tim­ber and food, and then as a fruit farm and a Christ­mas tree nurs­ery, the gar­den had be­come over­grown and ne­glected by the time Jac­quetta and Fran­cis took pos­ses­sion. “Some of the walls had fallen down, there were chick­ens on the lawn and bram­bles all the way through,” re­mem­bers Jac­quetta. The cou­ple set about restor­ing the struc­ture that they could see ap­par­ent in the out-lines: for­mal lawns, a pond, a sum­mer­house, all these sep­a­rated by the weath­ered and tum­ble-down brick walls.

The cou­ple were forced to take things slowly, be­ing res­i­dent only part of the time while Fran­cis worked in Lon­don. “The gar­den was im­por­tant to us from the very first,” she says. “It just took time be­cause we weren’t al­ways here.” Build­ing walls and fences was par­tic­u­larly im­por­tant as they started their fam­ily. “The very first thing was to shut the chil­dren away from the Broad,” she says with a laugh. “We taught them never to go in the wa­ter – if you walk into it here you could sink with­out trace in the mud.” They were al­lowed to mess about in boats how­ever (with life pre­servers), as along­side the Ca­tors’ love of gar­dens came a pas­sion for sail­ing.

Fran­cis and Jac­quetta have had an en­dur­ing as­so­ci­a­tion with the Ju­bilee Sail­ing Trust – Jac­quetta is cur­rently pres­i­dent – which cham­pi­ons and sup­ports sail­ing ex­pe­ri­ences for dis­abled peo­ple along­side able-bod­ied crew mem­bers.

Back in the gar­den, and the cou­ple learned over the years that the plot was host to an ar­ray of soil types. “Up the hill, in the shrub­bery, there is a row of rhodo­den­drons go­ing across the gar­den,” says Jac­quetta. “It stops sud­denly – they died off just like that. When we in­ves­ti­gated, we dis­cov­ered a seam of clay start­ing at that point.”

Re­search showed that al­lu­vial de­posits from a glacier mov­ing through the val­ley, had cre­ated a spec­trum of soil types: from pure sand, through acidic

loam to al­ka­line clay. The rhodo­den­drons, of course, loved the acid and hated the clay.

Learn­ing by trial and er­ror, they moved trees and shrubs around the gar­den un­til they found spots where each one thrived. Sim­i­larly, they set about re­mov­ing the over-en­thu­si­as­tic Asian plants in­tro­duced by pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tions who were un­aware of the im­pli­ca­tions of their ‘ori­en­tal gar­den’.

This is an on­go­ing task: bam­boo is cut down reg­u­larly to keep it in bounds and gi­ant hog­weed (Her­a­cleum man­tegazz­ianum), and the per­ni­cious Ja­panese knotweed (Fal­lopia japon­ica) are sprayed off. This is done not only to keep them at bay in the gar­den but also to pre­vent them from stray­ing into the broad, which was gifted to the Nor­folk Wildlife Trust by the fam­ily, and is now man­aged for wildlife.

‘To­day, the gar­den is in perfect har­mony with its wild sur­round­ings’

To­day, the gar­den is in perfect har­mony with its wild sur­round­ings, with a mix of nat­u­ral­is­tic ar­eas at its edges, and de­signed spaces closer to the house. These in­clude a long box-edged av­enue, a herb gar­den and a potager.

The lat­ter was in­spired by a visit to the fa­mous French potager at Vil­landry, which fea­tures dif­fer­ent pat­terns in each quad­rant of a square. Jac­quetta has used this idea to model dif­fer­ent mo­tifs found in the ceil­ing and floor of Cordoba Cathe­dral.

“Cordoba is a com­ing to­gether of in­flu­ences,” she ex­plains. “Jewish, Chris­tian and Moroc­can – it’s ab­so­lutely fas­ci­nat­ing to see the dif­fer­ent styles.”

Sadly Fran­cis died in 2007 and Jac­quetta is now in sole con­trol of the gar­den. She is work­ing to­wards sim­pli­fy­ing some of the bor­ders in readi­ness for the hand-over to the next gen­er­a­tion.

This in­volves re­plac­ing high­main­te­nance peren­ni­als with eas­ier shrubs, and tak­ing out trees which have out­grown their space.

At the age of nearly 89 she re­lies on her ‘won­der­ful helpers’ but can still be found reg­u­larly in the gar­den notic­ing prob­lems and cut­ting out the dan­de­lion plants. “If I make a mess of those it doesn’t re­ally mat­ter,” she says drily.

Her love of her gar­den is ev­i­dent, but what does she en­joy most? “Be­ing in it,” she an­swers sim­ply. “I can sit on the chair by the vine and just gaze. And I can en­joy mem­o­ries of sit­ting in the sun with my mother.” She pauses. “Dis­as­trous for one’s skin, of course,” she says smil­ing. “But lovely mem­o­ries.”

The Old House at Ran­worth, NR13 6HS, is open for the Na­tional Gar­den Scheme on Sun­day April 28, 11am - 4pm.

‘For­mal lawns, a pond, a sum­mer­house, all these are sep­a­rated by the weath­ered and tum­ble-down brick walls’

LEFT: A place for con­tem­pla­tion in the Old House gar­dens

ABOVE: De­tail of the Spi­der Gate, with fly-catch, made by in­mates of Nor­wich Prison. Look­ing out of the gar­den into the wild area and out to the Broad in the early morn­ing sun­shine

ABOVE: The pond gar­den in early sun­light with the sum­mer­house be­hind. Hebes and anemones grow in the bor­ders and Clema­tis mon­tana scram­bles over the thatched roof

LEFT: The Herb Gar­den with its huge ter­ra­cotta pot as cen­tral fo­cus. In­clud­ing sage, artemisia, rue, cot­ton laven­der, laven­der and thrift in the cen­tre. It is sur­rounded by grassy paths and trees in blos­som, in­clud­ing flow­er­ing cherry, Prunus 'Shi­rofu­gen Sher­a­ton'

ABOVE: Da­vidia in­volu­crata, the hand­ker­chief tree, in flower

ABOVE (FROM LEFT): Look­ing across the gar­den past a phormium to Ja­panese maples; Grassy path­way lead­ing up to the wood­land area and ar­bore­tum, flanked by ma­ture bird cherries and cow pars­ley

LEFT: Look­ing down on the wild part of the gar­den edg­ing Ran­worth Broad, with the tern rafts in the dis­tance

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