Yesterday it was my husband’s birthday.
It was crisp and sunny and the sky was an almost mediterranean blue so we decided to take a promenade around a local estate that we hadn’t visited before.
Ickworth House is a rather grand Georgian Italianate folly, neatly bordered by formal gardens yet nestled in the Suffolk countryside. Snowdrops, narcissi and bouncing, new born lambs rub shoulders with clipped hedges sweeping paths and sunken lawns.
We were mostly in the company of a few eighty year old daughters taking out their hundred year old mothers... so it was a serene and unhurried morning. Only when a troupe of purposeful Nordic walkers breezed past, poles swishing in the spring sunshine, did we have to watch our ankles.
It’s always good to visit other people's gardens, it makes you look at your own from a new perspective. While I wouldn’t aim for quite such a manicured look in our own garden, (and certainly have no chance of achieving it), I did come home resolved to coppice our unruly hazel and tame a couple of Phyllirea angustifolia… the big round blobs in the photo above.
Below the house stands the immaculate St Mary’s church and beyond that, completely hidden on a south facing slope the jewel in the crown as far as I’m concerned. Like all competitive gardeners I felt a rush of blood as I went through the door into the walled kitchen garden.
"There was a big population up at the house, 14 kitchen maids, 14 scullery maids, scores of girls up there. We used to feed all them, West Suffolk Hospital, the chauffeur, the keepers, head keeper… we used to feed all them from that garden." Ken Saddler, Head Gardener, 1930
Standing in the lea of the ten foot high, red brick perimeter wall I longed to see that garden as it would have been three hundred years ago. It pre-dates the main house by a hundred years and was thought to have served a manor house, now destroyed, that stood behind the church.
Sadly, it’s now largely given over to a wild flower meadow which is obviously at its shaggy worst at this time of year. The sunken heated pineapple house is dilapidated and the glasshouses that remain from an original eight are crumbling. Happily a group of volunteers and the local school do keep a couple of traditional veg plots going though.
Hmm, very neatly tilled soil... some winter brassicas and signs of garlic and beans. I can’t even compete on account of all the perennial weeds criss-crossing my patch. Although despite the weeds I too have new garlic shoots, handsome broad beans, broccoli, leeks, cabbage... so maybe we have a draw!
What really enchanted me was this little ‘bothy’ built into the wall at the top corner of the garden. The head gardener would have lived in a larger cottage at the opposite corner, so I like to imagine this might have been for the guy who had to rise at dawn to keep the boiler stoked to heat the pineapple house.
Alas, these days, where’s the poetry in slinging a pineapple in the trolley at the supermarket!