IMG_8801You may have read previously that one of my latest projects involves designing, and then helping to install a new border alongside a 200-year-old ‘Crinkle Crankle’ Wall, near Fakenham town centre, Norfolk. I’m not sure about the history of the wall, but it seems to have enclosed a substantial garden for an important house next to the Church (possibly the old Vicarage or Rectory?). There’s certainly evidence of lean-to glasshouses on some (straight) parts of the wall, which are all ‘listed’ as being of historic or architectural interest.

Crinkle Crankle walls have an interesting history, as Wikipedia says:

‘A crinkle crankle wall, also known as a crinkum crankum, serpentine, ribbon or wavy wall, is an unusual type of garden wall.

The crinkle crankle wall economizes on bricks, despite its sinuous configuration, because it can be made just one brick thin. If a wall this thin were to be made in a straight line, without buttresses, it would easily topple over. The alternate convex and concave curves in the wall provide stability and help it to resist lateral forces.

Both crinkle and crankle are defined as something with bends and turns (Webster’s), but the term is also thought to come from Old English meaning zig-zag. The earliest reference to this meaning has been cited in 1598, but it was not until the 18th century that the term began to be applied to wavy walls. At that time these garden walls were usually aligned east-west, so that one side faced south (Dictionary of Architecture and Landscape Architecture by James Stevens Curl) to catch the warming sun and were historically used for growing fruit.

Many crinkle crankle walls are found in the East Anglia area of England where the marshes of the fen country were drained by Dutch engineers starting in the mid-1600s. The walls’ construction is attributed to these engineers who called them slange muur, meaning snaking wall……’

The Fakenham wall (which must be one of the oldest surviving examples in the U.K.), now encloses the Town’s Community Centre, Registry Office and other community buildings and the surrounding site is mainly laid to grass, with some areas of mature trees and more formal borders. Next to the wall is an old asphalt tennis court (no longer in use) and the border immediately in front was covered in weeds (mainly Alkanet- it has a pretty blue flower, but also has tough tap roots and is a real ‘spreader’), as well as a large area of Hemerocallis (Day Lily). Perhaps a legacy from the wall’s days as a backdrop for fruit growing, each ‘bay’ created by the wavy wall has a fruit tree- apple, cherry or fig. These old trees are all looking rather uncared for and one of my first jobs was to cut back the fig which was covering one of the old brick and slate seats that once must have been used to watch the tennis. Here’s what the area looked like at the start of the project….

The clients (the Community Centre and the Gardening in Fakenham Town – GiFT project) have ideas for improving this wider area and perhaps encouraging it as a space for wedding photos, outdoor events etc. The brief was to come up with a planting plan for the border in front of the south -facing wall to better show off its features, use plants that require limited maintenance and which can cope with the poor soil and aspect.

My design involved limited pruning of the other fruit trees, thinning out the large area of Day Lilies and using the thinnings to create a continuous ribbon of these around the base of the wall, and introducing a few shrubs and sub shrubs (Buddleja and Lavender) at key points. These, and a range of herbaceous perennials and grasses were positioned to provide contrasting textures and forms within a broadly colour-themed series of ‘waves’ to pick up the shape of the wall, and taking account of the other strong structural features of the seats and fruit trees.

These waves are alternating combinations of mainly blue and red; blue and yellow and with purple (including purple foliage) to tie these together as a more continuous ribbon through the whole scheme. In addition a selection of different grasses (including Stipa gigantea and Miscanthus sinensis) have been used around each seat to provide a taller, contrasting, soft veil effect with both flowers and foliage to catch the sunlight. I also suggested that old bricks, to harmonise with the wall, could be laid as flooring in front of each seat, softened with ad hoc planting of varieties of Thyme. The first of these seating areas has been used to pilot this and it is hoped that further work will be done to complete the other areas as voluntary help and materials become available.

Children from the local Junior School were involved alongside a handful of volunteers to help me clear the border, prepare the soil and then to plant it up. Here’s how it looked after clearing and planting up…

The final scheme involved planting over 200 plants supplied in the main by Howard Nursery of Wortham, Suffolk and Taverham Nursery Centre, Norfolk. The planting has deliberately been placed closer together than would ultimately be necessary, so as to speed up the ground coverage and so reduce the need for weeding. However, not surprisingly, some roots of the Alkanet remain and have started to sprout once more, so the border will need to be carefully managed to ensure the plants survive and the weeds are removed in its early days.

This week, the children from the Junior School returned to carry out the ‘first weed’ since planting and to draw the wall and look out for insects etc. This marked the formal completion of the project. Here are some pictures of that event…

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And here’s one of me together with representatives of the main partners: from left to right Rhoda Hincks (Junior School), Janet Holdom (Community Centre) and Pauline Chamberlain (GiFT).


This has been an interesting and enjoyable project and I look forward to seeing the border in a few months once it has become better established and to seeing progress on the improvements to the wider area. If you’d like to look at pictures and a brief account of the Junior School’s involvement take a look at their blog. 

Old School Gardener