Tag Archive: cambridgeshire

We took a mother’s Day trip out to this super National Trust Hall and Farm in Cambridgeshire. I loved the parterre with it’s combinations of Box and Euonymous and the Folly tower with some wonderful skeletal trees…


Dahlia flowers at Anglesey Abbey, Cambridgeshire. Picture Madeleine Boldero-Rito

Dahlia flowers at Anglesey Abbey, Cambridgeshire. Picture Madeleine Boldero-Rito

Trees, trees, trees…

WP_20150609_13_44_59_ProI had an interesting trip to a Tree Nursery on Tuesday.

Barcham Trees, near Ely, Cambridgeshire, grow trees on an ‘industrial’ scale. They also have in depth knowledge about development and after care. I was impressed with the scale of trees on offer, and which- because they are container grown- can be big enough to provide instant impact in landscape and garden design schemes.

Big trees require big carriers...

Big trees require big carriers…

I was attending a seminar on ‘Garden Design as Landscape Painting’ (I’ll do a further report on this shortly), and as part of the day we had an informative tour of the nursery with a lively guide, Ellen.

The day was cool, with a brisk north-easterly wind sweeping across this massive site, but we made good progress and were told lots of interesting stuff about the different varieties of tree on offer, saw some fascinating examples of pleaching and surveyed some 120,000 trees (we didn’t get to see a further 100,000 younger examples in the fields down the road).

The visit reminded me of my series of articles on Garden Trees, making use of Barcham’s very useful catalogue and online resources- I must get on with this ‘A-Z’ which has a way to go before It’s finished. So, expect ‘N is for…’ in a week or two…

Further information: Barcham Trees Website

Old School Gardener


IMG_7228There’s been a brewery and garden here since 1795. Perched on the north bank (or ‘brink’) of the River Nene in Wisbech, Cambridgeshire, Elgood’s Brewery remained virtually unaltered until the Second World War.

The established Victorian garden was ripped up and as much land as possible devoted to growing food for the war effort. After being turned over to grass for many years, 1993 saw the discovery of some old photographs of the original garden and it was decided to both restore some of the old spaces and features and to create new areas.

The structure of the garden today owes much to the framework of superb specimen trees which survived over the centuries; Ginkgo, Cedrus, Liriodendron and Salix to name but a few. These were mainly provided by members of Wisbech’s famous banking family, the Peckovers, who themselves established a grand Victorian garden a few paces down river at what is now called Peckover House.

Some important features such as the maze (of Thuja and Laurel and featuring old brewery and garden objects as focal points), walled garden, Japanese garden, rockery, water features, glasshouses and herb garden have been recreated. These are complemented by a modern grass and bamboo garden with contemporary water features. And there are typical Victorian ‘swags’ (ropes) over which climbing roses clamber as well as arbours featuring two varieties of hop (‘Fuggles’ and ‘Challenger’) – both of which feature in Elgood’s beers.

The modern additions have added to what is a typically eclectic mix of curiosities and attractive garden features. Well worth a visit, and can be combined for a full day’s outing with nearby Peckover House and the Georgian town of Wisbech.

Hops- ornamental and useful for brewing too!
Hops- ornamental and useful for brewing too!

Further information:

‘Banker’s Bonus- secret garden gem 

Oranges in the Fens

Elgood’s website

Old School Gardener

IMG_7272I was privileged to be invited to the opening of a ‘new’ glasshouse at Peckover House, Wisbech last week.

You may recall that I spent some time here as a Heritage Gardening Trainee last year, and really learnt a lot from the Gardener in  Charge, Allison and her cheerful accomplices, Jenny and Janet. I wrote a lengthier piece about the garden earlier in the year (see link below), and at that time it wasn’t yet certain that the fast – decaying Orangery in this superb Victorian Garden was going to be saved. But thanks to some local fundraising and additional funds and wisdom of the owners, the National Trust, I’m very pleased to say that this focal point in the garden has been saved. Or rather, recreated, as the original was in such a poor condition, that further repairs weren’t possible. The replacement is a faithful rendition of the old structure, with a few minor amendments to make life easier for the gardeners. The former tiled floor, surrounding walls and walled containers with three ancient Orange trees have been retained, now with a new covering made, as was the original, in timber and glass. It includes sash window ventilation and roller blinds to help with temperature and light control.

During the rebuild the 300 year old orange trees were exposed to the elements and what a stroke of luck that we had one of the best summers in recent years, for they have obviously benefitted from that exposure to fresh air and sunshine!

The overall feeling is of a light, colourful and inviting atmosphere. The old Orangery had a typically Victorian air of ‘gothic gloom’ about it, especially as some of the older specimens accompanying the oranges were mature and shaded the interior. I guess the replacement plantings alongside the outer wall will eventually make their mark, but for now I do like the open, bright interior. The inner, sun – facing side of the Orangery is once more populated with a colourful array of terracotta pots containing a wide variety of tender specimens, all laid out on benches ans shelves in the spirit of the Victorian passion for collecting the unusual and exotic. Here are some pictures of the opening event and the new Orangery.

The overall project cost over £200,000. I’m sure it will be worth it as the garden- already a jewel in the National Trust’s crown – would have seemed empty without it. If you’re ever near to Wisbech in Cambridgeshire the place is well worth a visit – as you can see from this selection of pictures taken last week.

Congratulations National Trust, the Peckover House Gardening team and all those others who contributed to the project!

Related article- ‘Banker’s bonus:  Secret Garden Gem’

Old School Gardener

PicPost: Eastern Promise

Photo near Yaxley, Cambridgeshire, by David Bradley

The sun looked as though it might break through the low cloud, so we (that’s my wife Deborah and me), put the top down on the car and hoped (we’ve come not to expect any particular weather here in Norfolk, UK). Alas, the temperature hovered around 7 C all day, but it didn’t spoil our outing to Cambridgeshire and north Essex. Just over an hour’s drive away lies Anglesey Abbey, former home of Lord Fairhaven and now a National Trust – run house and garden.

I’ve featured the garden already on this blog under a ‘Picpost’ but didn’t really do it justice. So you can see a few more pics of it in the gallery below. We had a pleasant stroll along the Winter Garden walk with its fiery colours and varied textures, though it was noticeable how many evergreens showed evidence of ‘leaf scorch’ by the recent cold easterly winds – the Garrya elliptica was looking especially sorry for itself. At the end of this walk sits the old Lode Water Mill, where flour is still ground and sold to visitors – fortunately we arrived and ascended the steep wooden staircases just before a coach load of german youngsters (several of the boys must have been 6’6″ plus).

Winding our way along the old mill stream we found the House (as the name suggests some of the older parts were once an Abbey) and donning our paper over – shoes to protect floors and carpets, we meandered around this house full of eclectic decor and collections of this and that – including many things ‘rescued’ from other ancestral homes by Lord Fairhaven during the early 20th century. He certainly had a love of Windsor Castle as there is one and a bit large gallery rooms full of different paintings of the place from a number of centurires and angles. I was particularly impressed with the display of some of Lord Fairhaven’s clothes and especially his shoes which looked as new (and some would probably be back in fashion today). He had so many pairs, for different occasions, that they were hardly ever worn – so much for the idea that it’s just women who hoard footwear!

To be honest, this probably wasn’t the best time to visit Anglesey Abbey for the gardens – the display of Snowdrops is famous but was well over, and the late spring has resulted in only a few bulbs being out, most notably the wonderful purply- blue of Scylla in the woodland end of the Winter Walk as well as some Daffodils. The Dahlia beds of course were looking bare and the Roses will not be out for a good couple of months yet (assuming they catch up). Still, there is a lot of interest here, including the more formal landscape garden with its evergreen hedges and statuary and some lovely areas of woodland. We concluded part one of our day with a wholesome lunch of jacket potatoes and salad in the well-appointed restaurant on site. The sun had not broken through, but we didn’t mind – Saffron Walden and the promise of afternoon tea (and Saffron cakes?) beckoned…. return to read part 2 of our special day tomorrow!

Old School Gardener

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Mepal playful landscapeThis is the second post in a series on projects to create playful landscapes, this one located in Mepal, near Ely, in Cambridgeshire.

This play landscape was created within an existing play area on the edge of the village recreation ground. Adjoining this was an area of overgrown woodland/scrub, with a seasonal pond, used to drain the playing fields next door. I was commissioned by the Parish Council to design and specify the new landscape.

The Parish Council held an extensive consultation process to discuss early ideas and this informed the final design. It was decided to retain elements of the existing play area (2 slides and a couple of climbing frames). The brief was to devise a broadly-based play experience for children of all ages that made use of the woodland and pond if possible, and had some features just for younger children. The budget was c£50,000, funded by the Government Playbuilder Programme and other local fundraising.

The final design features the thinning of the woodland to create greater natural play potential, and includes a new tree house structure with a bridge to a mound as well as restoring the pond to be a shallow, usable play feature.

An informal hedge of native species was also planted to provide greater definition to the play area, as well as increase biodiversity, and additional turfed mounding and bark surfacing was introduced to provide landscape variety.

Some old equipment was removed, and a new basket swing and cableway introduced. There is also a new sand and water play feature for toddlers with logs for climbing or sitting on. The Playful Landscape was completed in June 2010.

Other posts of relevance:

Natural Play- ten tips for parents

Natural play – by design?

Playful Landscape- Wensum Way, Fakenham, Norfolk

‘Free range’ children?-  seven tips for successful garden play

Old School Gardener

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Roses are one of the splendours of the gardens

Roses are one of the splendours of the gardens

The Peckovers – a quaker banking family – left behind them a secret gem of a house and garden in Wisbech, Cambridgeshire. This is one ‘banker’s bonus’ that can be shared by everyone.

Peckover House is said to be one of the finest Georgian town houses in the country. It stands proudly fronting the River Nene in this Fenland market town of 20,000 people. Originally built in 1722, the house was initially rented by the Peckovers in 1794, and purchased soon after. Jonathan Peckover had a grocery business and then moved into banking, setting up the first bank in Wisbech in partnership with the Gurney family- who later founded Barclays Bank. Peckover established a good reputation – it was said that during times of financial crisis the Peckover Bank was safer than the Bank of England!

Peckover House was initially called Bank House, reflecting the role of the house and it’s newly built banking wing. The property remained in the family for over 150 years, eventually passing over to the National Trust from its last owner, Alexandrina Peckover, in 1948.

The gardens – of around 2 acres – extend to the rear of the house and grew over the years as the family purchased ground from adjacent landowners. They also included a much larger estate extending to 48 acres, much of which today is used as playing fields and has some character-ful old trees. The Peckovers were also  keen collectors, and introduced a number of foreign plants into the garden. The gardens today maintain the basic layout from Victorian times –  including the old walls that used to mark the boundaries of adjacent properties.

The rear of the hous with the Croquet lawn in front- surrounded by some glorious trees such as the Tulip Tree (Liriodendron tulipifera)

The rear of the house with the Croquet lawn in front- surrounded by some glorious trees such as the Tulip Tree (Liriodendron tulipifera)

Step out into the garden and you feel as though you are back in Victorian times, as you move from one delightful space to another.

Once needing a team of 17 gardeners, todays gardening team of three is headed up by Allison Napier. She finds it difficult to single out her favourite part of the garden –  ‘It depends on the time of year’, she says. ‘In late winter and early spring the Wilderness Walk is full of the colours and scents from bulbs, Hellebores, Winter Honeysuckle, Christmas Box and an impressive Cornus mas. There is also the  fantastic trunk of an old Ginkgo which stands out and this with surrounding evergreens, deciduous shrubs and trees creates a strong framework.’

‘In spring the Orangery is a riot of colour and fragrance from the various bulbs and other spring plants all arranged in terracotta pots on the staging and if the flowering of the Wisteria on the front of the house coincides with the wall flowers in the various formal beds at their peak, then that is a wonderful spot.’

Inside the orangery- a heady mix of seasonal colour and fragrance

Inside the Orangery- a heady mix of seasonal colour and fragrance

And what about the summer The various rose gardens come into their own. There are over 60 species of rose here, many lovingly pruned and tied in every year over several metal pergolas and against walls. The area christened ‘Alexandrina’s Rose Garden‘ is a particular focal point.

But the show isn’t over yet. In late summer and autumn a ‘Red Border’ provides an array of warm colours and varied textures which are set off brilliantly against a golden privet hedge. This and an Autumn Border provide a glorious conclusion to the year. Jenny Windsor, one of the gardening team, loves these herbaceous borders and especially the contrast that they offer to other, more formal areas of the garden. ‘I love nothing more than to ‘have a play’ in the borders,’ she says –  ‘weeding, dead heading, tying in etc.’

Herbaceous borders

Herbaceous borders surrounding the Orchard Lawn with a fine old Quince tree

Many first-time visitors are surprised at the size and variety of plants in the garden. And, not surprisingly, they also commend the high standards of care maintained by the team.

Very few chemicals are used in the gardens and Allison finds that biological controls are effective in the glasshouses. As she says,

‘The healthy populations of beneficial insects, frogs and birds in the garden are testament to the ‘greener gardening’ policies we like to follow.’

The orangery (left) has rotten timbers and is due for a major renovation this year

The orangery (left) has rotten timbers and is due for a major renovation this year

The gardening team is well supported by local volunteers and a small number of trainees who come to gain practical horticultural experience (as I know, because I had the pleasure of being one last year!). Allison also thinks it important to encourage future generations of potential gardeners, so the team actively seeks school visits and has a Garden Club with students from the local grammar school.

Gardeners Jenny and Janet digging over and mulching the 'Red Border'

Gardeners Jenny and Janet digging over and mulching the ‘Red Border’

What of the future? Well,the forthcoming restoration of the Orangery – with its 300 year old orange trees – is a major project due to get under way this year. Allison plans to complete work on the Conservation Plan for the garden this year, but it will be a major challenge working out the priorities and policies for the future, especially as the climate appears to be entering a very unpredictable phase affecting decisions about the range of plants to be used.

Still, the team seem to be a pretty content bunch, even though on occasions paperwork and ‘office stuff’ may get in the way of being outside and doing what they love. As Allison says, even the laborious turning of the compost heaps can sometimes be rewarding:

  ‘.. it gives you a good workout and you can find a surprising  number of lost hand tools!’

Gardener in charge Allison Napier- normally not sitting on the compost, but turnning it!

Gardener in charge Allison Napier- normally not sitting on the compost, but turning it!

Acknowledgement: thanks to Allison, Jenny and Janet, the Peckover Gardening Team for their contributions.


answers to the two on the post ‘Lock down- pros and cons of garden ties’

  • Hello Miss Black – Hyacinth
  • A punch up in the water – hydrophyte

Old School Gardener

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