My mother – in – law is currently on a two week visit to us. A keen gardener (she was until a year ago Chair of the Tavistock Ladies Gardening club), she is not as mobile as she once was (she celebrated her 83rd birthday last week). However, she still enjoys looking at gardens so this is a great excuse (as if I needed one) to get out and about to see some interesting local gardens. The weather has also been kind so we’ve been to a few places that I haven’t been before, or haven’t seen for a good number of  years. Two of them are in Norwich, our local cathedral city, and they are fine examples of gardens developed for very different reasons; the one out of  the passion of a Victorian entrepreneur, the other based on a medieval religious garden.

The Plantation Garden

The Garden in 1897

In 1856, a prosperous upholsterer and cabinet maker living in Norwich, took a long lease on an industrial site just outside the old City walls. His name was Henry Trevor, and for the next forty years, he spent considerable sums of money and much effort transforming a chalk quarry into a magical garden.

Henry Trevor

In many ways, Henry Trevor’s garden was typical of Victorian taste and technology. He built a fountain, terraces with balustrades, rockworks, a Palm House, and a rustic bridge. He planted elaborate carpet beds, woodlands and shrubberies. He designed serpentine paths to conduct the visitor along circular routes, and he built and heated several greenhouses with boilers and hot water pipes.

Henry Trevor, however, was also a man of strong personal tastes. His “Gothic” fountain is unique, and he displayed great enterprise in using the fancy bricks from a local manufacturer to create medieval style walls, ruins and follies. Within less than 3 acres, he established a gentleman’s residence and garden that reflected in miniature the grand country houses of the Victorian period. Visitors were frequently welcomed in the garden by Henry Trevor, for he was always ready to allow his garden to be used for charitable causes.

The Garden in Victorian times- the Palm House no longer exists.

After the 1939-45 war, the garden was virtually abandoned. Fortunately, much of the structure has survived, and is gradually being restored by the The Plantation Garden Preservation Trust. The first task of its members was to clear a forest of sycamores and a blanket of ivy to reveal what had become hidden during the past 40 years. Since then, they have restored the flowerbeds, fountain, balustrading, Italian terrace, rustic bridge and in 2007, the Gothic alcove.

Trevor’s original passion has been matched by this band of volunteers and our visit, on a beautifully sunny afternoon, showed considerable progress in the restoration programme since my last visit some years ago. I was particularly impressed with the enormous amount of work done to stabilise, weed – proof and replant the steeply sloping sides of the garden, which remain topped off with a range of majestic Beech and other trees.

The Bishop’s Garden

Our second visit, on one of it’s open days in aid of local charities, was to the Bishop’s Garden, a four acre green oasis in the centre of Norwich, sitting in the shadow of the Gothic cathedral.

There has been a garden of sorts since around 1100 AD when Bishop de Losinga began to build the cathedral and palace. From the existing garden one can still marvel at the original detailing of Norman stonework on the North Transept of the cathedral which is only visible from the Bishop’s Garden.

In the early 14th century, Bishop John Salmon greatly increased the size of the garden by compulsory purchase of additional land. The general form of the garden was laid down at least 300 years ago. The lower end was cultivated and separated by a wall running straight across the garden. The colossal Old Bishops Palace which still stands was completed in around 1860. In 1959 a major change took place when a new Bishops House built and the Old Palace came to be used by Norwich School. The garden was reduced from 6 and half acres down to the present 4 acres. Records show that in the 1940s up to 15 gardeners were employed reducing to 9 in the 1950’s and today the garden is looked after by 1 fulltime and 1 part time gardener, plus a team of volunteers.

The garden has a range of features typical of many grand gardens developed over the last hundred plus years – large herbaceous borders (which have a persistent ground elder problem and are to be successively dug up and weeds systematically removed in the coming couple of years), a small woodland walk and box – edged rose beds. There is a long shade border with Hostas, Meconopsis and tree ferns, all but the latter looking splendid on our visit. There is also a large wild grass labyrinth, very popular with children (I walked it and contemplated my life as I went…). This is of a size where it can be easily mown using a ride on mower, the gardener told me that he cuts it all down in the autumn and then the path edges are left for the various wild flowers and other species to grow up over the growing season.

There are also extensive shrubberies containing many rare and unusual plants, among these being a Hebe planted from a sprig taken from Queen Victoria’s wedding bouquet in 1840. There is an organic kitchen garden and  ‘bambooserie’. The garden continues to evolve with new plants and features being introduced year by year. The Bishop’s Garden has developed links with Easton College, helping horticulture students gain valuable experience.

Though busy on our visit, including delightful music from a local Youth Orchestra and Choir, one can imagine the garden creating a peaceful mood – one where a succession of Norwich Bishops, stretching back 1000 years, paused to reflect, pray and secure spiritual renewal.

Sources and Links:

The Plantation Garden

The Bishop’s Garden

Old School Gardener

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