Tag Archive: suffolk

This year marks the bicentenary of the birth of Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker, renowned plant hunter, naturalist, botanist and Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. On a recent visit to his home town of Halesworth, Suffolk, I discovered a modern day band of enthusiastic gardeners who are planning a big celebration of their famous ancestor.

Joseph Dalton Hooker as a young man

You may know that one of my voluntary activities is as a judge for the Green Flag Award- the bench mark for good public parks and gardens around the U.K. and beyond. I was honoured to be asked to visit Halesworth Town park recently a small public park in the centre of this old Suffolk Market town, jointly in the care of the local Council and ‘Halesworth in Bloom’, a group of volunteers who have spearheaded many improvements and projects to make the park and wider town a place of horticultural excellence.

During my visit i was shown round the Park and had the chance to learn more about the voluntary effort being put into this very impressive public park, and was also very pleased to see the energy and skills being put into marking Joseph Hooker’s bicentenary; this includes some special plantings in the Park with Hooker associations and a trail around the town and park featuring places, plants and other Hooker associations. The following text is unashamedly lifted from very informative Trail Leaflet produced and which will be launched in the town on 30th June, Hooker’s birthday.

Nepenthes x hookerianum- illustration by Anna Lu to be shown at the forthcoming botanical art exhibition in Halesworth

‘Joseph started attending his father’s botany lectures at Glasgow University at the age of seven! This stood him in good stead when he came to identify and record thousands of both new and known plants. To go on his first voyage of exploration circumnavigating the Antarctic he had to qualify as a medical doctor. He was also an accomplished amateur geologist, a geographer, meteorologist and cartographer, as well as a botanist. He was a skilled writer, artist and botanical illustrator, recording everything in his fascinating journals. He was able to measure and record air pressure, humidity and altitude, and to estimate the heights of mountains so accurately that his mapping of the Himalayas is the basis for all modern maps of the area.

An illustration from Hooker’s ‘Botany of the Antarctic Voyage’

He travelled on foot, sometimes barefoot when it was slippery. In India and Sikkim he travelled by elephant, pony and boat. He endured many biting insects and leeches, and braved man-eating tigers and crocodiles, as well as suffering altitude sickness. As is evident from his Himalayan Journals, he needed to be an intrepid walker and climber.

‘I staid at 13000ft very much on purpose to collect there seeds of the Rhododendrons & with cold fingers it was not very easy…. Botanizing, during the march is difficult. Sometimes the jungle is so dense that you have enough to do to keep hat & spectacles in company, or it is precipitous …. one often progresses spread- eagle fashion against the cliff, for some distance, & crosses narrow planks over profound Abysses, with no hand-hold whatever.’

His collection of thousands of plants, now carefully preserved at Kew, together with his studies of plant distribution linked to altitude, climate and isolation on the many islands he visited, was of significant importance to Darwin, with whom he corresponded regularly.

Rhododendron argenteum

Joseph Hooker, although he was eight years younger, was a close friend of Charles Darwin. They had met fleetingly when Hooker was 21 and was preparing for a long expedition on HMS Erebus as assistant surgeon. When Hooker returned in 1843, Darwin wrote welcoming him back, urging him to compare the flora of the different regions he had visited. Hooker drafted a paper showing the striking similarities in the plants across the whole of the Southern Hemisphere. This was a long time before continental drift had been mooted. Darwin was impressed. So began a close friendship, with Hooker helping Darwin with his botanical collection. As Hooker was preparing for his expedition to the Himalayas in 1847, Darwin wrote:

‘Farewell! What a good thing is community of tastes! I feel as if I had known you for fifty years….’

Hooker knew that Darwin had spent many years collecting material in support of his theory of natural selection, and that Darwin had been devastated when he received a letter from Alfred Russel Wallace in 1858 coming up with the same idea. Hooker and Thomas Henry Huxley persuaded Darwin to publish a paper alongside Wallace’s setting out the theory. That done, Darwin rapidly finished On the Origin of Species, which he had been preparing for so many years. It was printed the following year.  Their friendship ranged from science to domestic matters. In 1862 Hooker wrote to Darwin asking if his wife could recommend a good cook but she must be beyond the ‘the age of flirtation’. Darwin noted what a pity it was that natural selection had not produced ‘neuters’ who would neither flirt nor marry. After Darwin’s death in 1882, Hooker successfully lobbied for Darwin to be buried in Westminster Abbey and was one of the pall bearers at the funeral.

Joseph Dalton Hooker in later years

William and Joseph Hooker (father and son) were Directors of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew – William from 1840 to 1865 and Joseph from 1865 to 1885, nearly half a century between them. They were both keen plant collectors and highly accomplished artists. From 1806 to 1820 the family lived in Halesworth, where Joseph was born in 1817.

Sir William Jackson Hooker was originally from Norwich and came to Halesworth in 1806 when he had invested in a Halesworth brewing business. He was given a house here and a management position. There are still imposing maltings in the town such as those that now house The Cut and Kings Motors. The Cut Arts Centre retains the barley hopper in the Malt Room Art Gallery. William’s maltings remained in operation until the 1960s. However, he never had his heart in this enterprise and preferred to roam the countryside in search of wild flowers or, nearer to home, to cultivate orchids in his own hot-house. It was the age of the amateur naturalist and collector, and William and later his son Joseph were among the greatest in this country.

Sir William was able to become Professor of Botany in the University of Glasgow without any scientific qualifications because of his specialist knowledge picked up in the field and his published work.

At the University he was paid to give lectures to those studying medicine because most remedies were plant based. He built up a high reputation, producing many important illustrated reference books. As a result he was made the first Director of the Botanic Gardens at Kew. As Director, William increased the size of the Gardens to 300 acres and set up a library, a Museum of Economic Botany and a herbarium, as well as the remarkable Palm and Temperate Houses.

The Palm House, Kew

He used his links with the royal family to good effect and raised significant funding to develop the Botanic Gardens at Kew. Both he and Joseph were outstanding networkers who knew everyone important and used these contacts effectively to leverage what they wanted in the interests of botany and the Botanic Gardens. They also encouraged many other important plant collectors and William, with wealthy patronage, established a superb Arboretum. William’s only regret was probably not being able to travel more. His early expedition to Iceland was his only major scientific journey. He encouraged his son, Joseph Dalton Hooker, who went as assistant surgeon and botanist on a four-year expedition circumnavigating the South Pole and visiting New Zealand and Tasmania. To be accepted for the voyage Joseph had to get a medical degree.

Later, he collected in India, the Himalayas of Nepal and Tibet, Morocco, the Atlas Mountains, Palestine and Syria, as well as undertaking an 8,000 mile journey across the USA. In the Himalayas he climbed Donkia mountain, which at 19,300 ft was the highest that anyone had ever reached at that time. On his travels he collected 25 new species of rhododendron, many magnolias, including Magnolia campbellii, and thousands of other specimens.

Rhododendrons at Heligan, Cornwall, grown from seed provided from Hooker’s travels

Joseph’s 150-year-old plant collection is currently helping in the reintroduction of original species to the Falkland Islands. The Hookers’ collections (Herbaria) consist of many thousands of plants at Kew and are highly prized.

As well as succeeding his father as Director of Kew Gardens, Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker was awarded the Order of Merit, Knight Grand Commander of the Order of the Star of India, Companion of the Order of the Bath and the Presidency of the Royal Society. In 1858 George Bentham published his Handbook of the British Flora while working with Hooker at Kew. When Bentham died he left the Flora to Hooker, who edited the later editions. These, known as ‘Bentham and Hooker’, were used by university students for the next hundred years.’

2011 stamp issue to mark the 100th anniversary of Hooker’s death

Plants in Halesworth associated with Hooker:

  • Allium hookeri – small white allium

  • Crinodendron hookerianum – Chile lantern tree, evergreen climbing shrub

  • Deutzia hookeriana – scented shrub with white and pink flowers

  • Himalayacalamus hookerianus – blue bamboo

  • Inula hookeri – yellow daisy-like perennial

  • Iris hookeri – small blue iris

  • Polygonatum hookeri – creeping alpine with pink flowers

  • Rhododendrons (Sikkim) – Hooker was influential in starting the Victorians’ rhododendron mania by bringing back over 25 species

  • Salix hookeri – dune willow

  • Sarcococca hookeriana – sweet scented winter box

If you’re able to visit Halesworth on 30th June you are in for a horticultural treat as the Hooker Trail is launched. There’s also going to be a special exhibition of botanical art (from 1st July). For that matter, I’d recommend visiting the town at any time as it’s a wonderful example of local people playing a hands on role in creating a vibrant and beautiful community.

Hooker’s grave in the churchyard of St. Anne’s, Kew

Further information:

Joseph Dalton Hooker

Halesworth Exhibition of Botanical Art

The Hooker bicentenery in Halesworth

Halesworth in Bloom- the Hooker Trail

Old School Gardener


Sutton Hoo?

sutton hoo via national trust‘An Anglo-Saxon king and his treasured possessions were unearthed here. Sutton Hoo is a hauntingly beautiful estate with far-reaching views, where you can explore ancient burial mounds, and see replica treasure as well as original finds. A reconstruction of the king’s burial chamber adds some adventure to the story. Inspired? Read on here ‘

Via The National Trust

IMG_9860I mentioned my trip to Bury St. Edmunds a couple of days ago. On the afternoon of that trip we visited a new garden to us, Wyken Hall, just a few miles north east of the town. This is my sort of garden.

After a very good lunch in the on site restaurant, we had a stroll in the sun. An Elisabethan Farmhouse forms the centre point of the range of gardens which include a number of small, but beautifully designed ‘outdoor rooms’ (the veranda,  pictured above, is furnished with 5 original mississippi rocking chairs), as well as a large, well stocked kitchen garden and several herbaceous borders, some cleverly colour-  themed. I particualrly enjoyed the pond with its elevated deck, a beech maze and the Silver Birch glade. The site is also home  to a working vineyard and  is well worth a visit (RHS members free, others £4, open from 2pm most days).

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Old School Gardener

IMG_9810I’ve mentioned Abbey Gardens before, in the context of my role as a Green Flag Award judge. That time- spring last year- the place was looking great in its colourful bedding of bulbs and other spring flowers. I visited it again recently and the formal beds were once again looking superb; bright, clever combinations of flowers provided the sort of formal scheme once extensively used in public gardens and parks around the U.K. However, it’s very labour and resource intensive and has therefore been replaced by lower cost alternatives in many places, but it’s still good to see it done well. And here it IS done very well.

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Apart from the borders there are other interesting attractions in the gardens, which also house the ruins of the abbey, and it has great views to the Cathedral with its ‘millenium tower’. And while we were there we had a wider walk around this lovely town with its extensive floral displays.

Old School Gardener

IMG_9516‘Awe-inspiring Anglo-Saxon royal burial site’ is how the National Trust describes Sutton Hoo. I can’t argue with that. I think this must have been my third visit to the site of one of the most important archaeological excavations in Britain. The visit began with the beautifully laid out and richly furnished exhibition building, complete with exquisite reproduction Anglo-Saxon jewelry and a concise, but gripping story of Anglo-Saxon Britain and the discovery of the site in the 1930’s. We went from there (following a light lunch) to explore the mounds which covered burial ships and other graves…..

As the National Trust continues….

‘This hauntingly beautiful 255 acre estate, with far-reaching views over the river Deben, is home to one of the greatest archaeological discoveries of all time.

Walk around the ancient burial mounds and discover the incredible story of the ship burial of an Anglo-Saxon king and his treasured possessions.

Come face to face with your ancestors and explore our award-winning exhibition, the full-size reconstruction of the burial chamber, stunning replica treasures and original finds from one of the mounds, including a prince’s sword.

Look inside the Edwardian house or enjoy the beautiful seasonal colours on our estate walks.’

We did look inside the reopened house of the land owner (Mrs. Pretty) who commissioned the 1930’s ‘dig’ – a welcome addition to the route and which provided another dimension to the visit; complete with live 1930’s piano music being played  (and requests too).

Further information;

National Trust website


Old School Gardener

Lukeswood- Chair Mary Feeney and Vice Chair John Ibbetson

Lukeswood- Chair Mary Feeney and Vice Chair John Ibbetson

I’ve been a judge on the UK ‘Green Flag’ scheme for about 5 years now. Over the last week I’ve visited two open spaces to assess their applications so I thought I’d share something about the scheme and the sites I’ve visited, which are interesting examples of the sorts of place that are hoping to secure a ‘Green Flag’.

The Green Flag Award® scheme is the benchmark national standard for parks and green spaces in the UK. Currently run by the ‘Keep Britain Tidy’ organisation, it was first launched in 1996 to recognise and reward the best green spaces in the country. The first awards were given in 1997 and, 16 years later, it continues to provide the benchmark against which UK parks and green spaces are measured. It is also seen as a way of encouraging others to achieve high environmental standards, setting a standard of excellence in recreational green areas. Entries for the Green Flag Award® are open to parks or green spaces located in the UK, though the scheme is also being piloted in The Netherlands and Germany.

Green Flag Award® applications are judged against eight key criteria:

1. A welcoming place – when approaching or entering the park/green space, the overall impression for any member of the community – regardless of the purpose of their visit – should be positive and inviting.

2. Healthy, safe and secure – the park/green space must be a healthy, safe and secure place for all members of the community to use. Any issues that have come to light must be addressed in the management plan and implemented on the ground. New issues that arise must be addressed promptly and appropriately.

3. Clean and well maintained – for aesthetic as well as health and safety reasons, issues of cleanliness and maintenance must be adequately addressed.

4. Sustainability – methods used in maintaining the park/green space and its facilities should be environmentally sound, relying on best practices available according to current knowledge. Management should be aware of the range of techniques available to them, and demonstrate that informed choices have been made and are regularly reviewed. 

5. Conservation and heritage – particular attention should be paid to conservation and appropriate management.

6. Community involvement – the park/green space management should actively pursue the involvement of members of the community who represent as many park/green space user groups as possible.

7. Marketing –  a marketing strategy should be in place, which is being implemented and regularly reviewed; there should be good provision of information to users (e.g. about management strategies, activities, features, ways to get involved),  and the space should be promoted as a community resource.

 8. Management – there needs to be a management plan or strategy which is clear, being actively implemented and reviewed and the park should be financially sound.

There is a main scheme and also schemes for Community run and Heritage Green spaces, which have slightly different sets of assessment criteria. The main scheme usually involves two judges making the assessment, whilst at community spaces a lone judge does this.  In the main scheme a ‘desk assessment’ of the Management Plan for the site is carried out and this is followed up with a ‘field assessment’ which gives the chance to check out questions arising from the desk assessment and to examine other issues on the ground. Applicants have to pass both the desk and field assessments and achieve a minimum score to be awarded a ‘Green Flag’. Judges don’t only give scores to the space but also look at the strengths it has against the different criteria and include recommendations designed to help the site improve, where appropriate. This full feedback is, I think, one of the best features of the scheme.

Yesterday I travelled to Suffolk to judge a community – run green space in the village of Elmswell, called ‘Lukeswood’. I was met by the Chair and Vice Chair of ‘Elmswild’ (the group that runs the wood) and given a tour of their site. Here, a group of volunteers aim to improve existing habitats and create new ones, so as to establish a mosaic of woodland, open grassy rides, hedgerows, pond and a wildflower area. The project is focused on involving and benefiting the local community as well as raising awareness of the rarest habitats and species on the site and educating about how these can be protected. Formerly an area of agricultural ‘set aside’ this space of about 9 acres is at the centre of the village next to allotments and cemeteries. Tree planting began in 2010. Early in 2011, with the help of children from Elmswell Primary School, the 1683rd tree was planted – fulfilling a pledge to plant one tree for every house in the village! Over the years the Group plan to plant many more. Lukeswood was named after the Reverend Luke, Rector of Elmswell in the 1860s – described as a ‘Victorian whizzkid’ who introduced many changes, including building the village school. The group like to think that, were he still here today, he would approve of their plans and would enjoy seeing this new addition to the village develop over the coming years. And thanks to continuing fund raising efforts Elmswild have finally succeeded in securing the remaining few acres of land where they plan to establish an orchard (featuring Suffolk varieties of apple).

Whilst I was in the area I popped over to Bury St. Edmunds, where another long-established Green flag site – the Abbey Gardens in the centre of town- is in it’s spring glory (though I wasn’t there to judge it for the Green Flag). It has a long established tradition of seasonal planting in many formal beds. At this time of year – especially as the spring flowers are blooming rather late – it is a fantastic sight. First laid out as a Botanic Garden in 1831, in addition to the formal layout of the central area, there is are open grass areas surrounding the Abbey ruins and an aviary, bowling green, bird feeding area, water, herb and sensory gardens, and a children’s play area.



Last week, with my co – judge, I visited and judged the woodland area known as ‘Pretty Corner Wood’ in north Norfolk. This is a site managed in two parts, one by the District Council (which was the focus of the green flag assessment) and the other part by the Woodland Trust. The wood sits adjacent to the town of Sheringham and provides a wonderful scene of mixed woodland and some glades and other areas, visited in the main by local residents. Recently the Council has been successful in securing funding to bring about a range of improvements to the wood which included putting in a new pathway suitable for wheelchair users that leads to a splendid view of the sea and wind farms on the horizon, as well as a wooden sculpture trail. The woodland is carefully managed to ensure the right mix and density of species and the Council has also sown a wild flower area close to the open glade that makes a great picnic spot. A privately run Tea Rooms also provides a convenient refreshment stop.

Of course I can’t give away any information about how these two sites have faired in this year’s judging, but suffice it to say that they both provide wonderful natural resources to their local communities and are clearly loved by those involved in running and improving them. Its this sort of commitment that not only creates great open spaces for everyone to enjoy today and into the future, but can generate fantastic community spirit.

Green Flag Award home page


Green Flag Award Website

Elmswild website

Pretty Corner Wood information

Abbey Gardens

Old School Gardener

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