The Master's Garden as it looked in the 1970's

The Master’s Garden as it looked in the 1970’s- evidence of food growing when ‘Beech House’ old people’s home occupied the buildings.

In the second of a series about the gardens at Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse Museum, Norfolk, I explain how the former Workhouse Master’s garden has been turned into a wildlife oasis.

During the 19th and early 20th centuries the Master of the workhouse looked down on the walled garden from his family accommodation. There is no evidence of what it looked like or what was grown here then, but during more modern times, when the Workhouse became an Old People’s home, it seems that the area was used to grow food (see photograph).

Today the area is used mainly as a wildlife garden and was the subject of a major overhaul a couple of years ago with financial support from the Big Lottery and Friends of the Museum (totalling £13,000) as well as donations from local nurseries and others. Originally created in the mid 1980’s the Wildlife Garden has been the subject of several awards, but as time passed, with fewer volunteers  able to maintain it, the garden was less attractive and the thugs of the plant world rather took over. The pond liner was punctured and the plastic safety cover and overgrown water plants were throttling what life did exist!

The Wildlife Garden before it's recent makeover

The Wildlife Garden before it’s recent makeover

All in all the garden was looking very sad!

After a review it was decided to improve access to the garden by:

  • widening one entrance and adding another and a new path
  • renovating and re-laying the existing circular path with new infill material between the slabs
  • relocating and enlarging the pond to make it a central feature of the garden
  • strengthening the different types of habitat for wildlife
  • providing some seating and a wheelchair bay
  • improving interpretation for visitors so that they can appreciate what is in the garden and why.
Cleaning the slabs that were later re-used

Cleaning the slabs that were later re-used

There is now a central pond (with shelved edges, a pebble beach and shallow water to act as portals for insects), and surrounding bog areas. Other habitats  are ranged on each side – a hot and dry gravel garden on the south facing side, a darker and damper shade garden towards the north-facing side. There are some other wildlife friendly features here such as bug hotels and bat and bird boxes which were originally installed in the 1980’s. There is a new attractive interpretation board encouraging visitors to look out for different types of wildlife, including the resident Newts (named either Nigel or Nigella- no one has got close enough to tell their gender!). I find it amazing how quickly amphibians, insects etc. have been attracted to the pond and surrounding areas, so that today a wide range of wildlife can be seen (if you’re patient and quiet).

Excavating the new pond

Excavating the new pond

The new garden under construction

The new garden under construction

The new Wildlife Garden

The new Wildlife Garden

I designed and managed the project and with other volunteers put in the new plants and did some of the other renovation work. The main contractor for the new pond, borders and paths was Ian Chatten Ltd. and Kontorted Iron created the wonderful ‘organic’ fence around the pond, together with metal pergolas and an arbour– all in black wrought iron to link with other items in the Museum including the nearby old cattle- weighing machine, originally from Fakenham Market. The Gardening Team’s tool store and sheds are also ranged along one side. The arbour has taken advantage of an old ‘Rambling Rector’ rose growing in the corner of the garden – this has been pruned and tied around the frame of the arbour and provides both a wonderful sight and a romantic spot from where to view the garden in summer.

There’s also a  ‘Really Useful Patch’  of flowers, herbs and shrubs. Until very recently households had to be self-sufficient in flavourings, medicines, insecticides, cleaning products and so on. The plants in this garden were all used in the past by the housewife to keep her family healthy. The only other criterion for this area was that it was to cost nothing so all the plants have been grown from cuttings or division, or have been donated or ‘recycled’.

Installing the new wrought iron fence

Installing the new wrought iron fence

The new Wildlife Garden from the new entrance

The new Wildlife Garden from the new entrance

The coming season promises to see the planting and features mature further and hopefully the ‘critters’ will enjoy it too!

Quizzicals (courtesy of Les Palmer):

two more cryptic clues to the names of plants, fruit or veg…
  • The noise of a bird imitating a cat
  • How Australians describe English rock  

Old School Gardener (with thanks to Christine Walters for some of the photographs)

If you’ve enjoyed reading this post and others on this blog, why not comment and also join some other people and sign up for automatic updates via email (see side bar, above right ) or through an RSS feed (see top of page)?
Advertisements