On the map
Wyken Hall in Suffolk seems immune to the buffeting of passing years, but as its current custodian, Sir Kenneth Carlisle, explains part of the trick is blending the gardens with the ancient landscape
Carlisle and his Sir wife Kenneth Carla have created a stunning, timeless garden around their home at Wyken Hall deep in the heart of the Suffolk countryside
Deep in the heart of Suffolk, wrapped in a patchwork of fields, hedgerows and winding lanes, Wyken Hall has an air of timelessness.
This ancient estate was recorded in the Domesday Book and there is evidence of settlement on the land for over 6,000 years, but for the past 40 years or so it has been home to Sir Kenneth Carlisle and his wife Carla. Together they have enhanced the gardens around their manor house, transformed a disused barn into an award-winning restaurant and shop, and planted a highly regarded vineyard.
What or who has inspired you to garden? My grandfather [Lord Aberconway] was President of the RHS in the 1940s and created the gardens at Bodnant in Wales, where I was born, so I grew up surrounded by excellent horticulture. How did you begin the garden here, and who inspired the way the garden has evolved? My grandfather inherited the Wyken estate and I began farming here in 1973. We are surrounded by lovely woods, and I was very interested in wildf lowers, but didn’t start gardening until 1979. I was persuaded by a friend that I should have lots of old rose cultivars, so I bought them all, and that is how the Rose Garden took shape. I also began the Winter Garden at the front of the house around that time.
[The landscape designer] Arabella Lennox-Boyd is a family friend and during a weekend visit in 1983 she drew up plans for the Herb Garden, Knot Garden and Rose Garden improvements, running along the back of the house. I followed all her recommendations, and so it is her designs that form the foundation of these gardens today.
Carla has an artistic eye for colour and she has great inf luence on the evolving design. How much help do you have in the garden? When I took over the estate, we already had a gardener called John Mann, who had been working here since 1956. Now, 62 years later, he still comes in one day a week. Our head gardener is Rob Kett, who runs the gardens with one other full-time gardener and another who comes in for five hours a week. We owe a lot to this amazing team. What challenges have you faced? Early on I planted a leylandii hedge that was removed very quickly when I realised what I had done. The important thing is to learn when things go wrong. And we had the great privilege of knowing that we were going to be here for years and years so there was no great rush, which is often when mistakes occur. If you do one or two projects a year, the impact becomes quite significant after 20 years. Although taking the long view can also be an issue. I planted a coastal redwood in 1970, which is now really quite large. Thankfully, I won’t be around when it gets so big that it becomes a problem. How straightforward was it to garden sympathetically with an historic property? The basic structure of the garden is built around the f lint walls and fine old trees, which were here when I moved in. And, of course, there are the views from inside the house. A case in point is the pleached stilt hedge on the front terrace, which is unusually high to avoid blocking the view through the ground-f loor windows.
But with a site like this, the trick is to manage the transition from formal areas near the house out into the ancient landscape. The garden must relate to the architecture but also to the surrounding fields and woodlands. Many of our garden areas are designed to frame a vista. To keep the wider views open, we put in a ha-ha. Essentially, this is a deep ditch with a fence at the bottom. It was done with a digger in less than a day, keeping the costs down, and means we can enjoy looking at the sheep grazing in the field beyond without them wandering into the garden. What are the garden’s seasonal highlights? A long season of interest is important for our own enjoyment, but also because we open the gardens to the public from the beginning of April until the end of September. We start early, with a wonderful display of snake’s head fritillaries in the wildf lower meadow. Then the orchard is full of blossom. By late May, the Rose Garden is really coming into its own, and we put in the Red Hot Border, full of dahlias, kniphofias, and all sorts of strong colours, to keep the interest going through August and on into September. Has opening your garden to the public influenced the way you have developed it? We have always grown vegetables here, but they were rather scattered about, so we decided to make a dedicated Kitchen Garden because it is very attractive and popular with the visitors. As well as the timber raised beds, we have 20 different types of espaliered apples, all traditional varieties.
THE GARDEN MUST RELATE TO THE SURROUNDINGS. MANY AREAS ARE DESIGNED TO FRAME A VISTA
IN BRIEF Name Wyken Hall. What Series of themed gardens wrapping around the house. Where Suffolk. Size Four-acre garden in 1,000-acre farm. Soil Suffolk boulder clay (clay with nuggets of chalk). Climate Temperate. Hardiness zone USDA 8.