Frythe Barn: Renovating a country home

PUBLISHED: 13:46 12 September 2016 | UPDATED: 13:46 12 September 2016

The garden at Frythe Barn. Photo by Jenny Reeve.

The garden at Frythe Barn. Photo by Jenny Reeve.


Carol and Don Darling will open their Stradbroke garden for the National Garden Scheme in September. Amy Gallivan found out about its nine-year transformation, from concrete canvas to glorious green haven

Grasses and Dierama at Frythe Barn. Photo by Jenny Reeve.Grasses and Dierama at Frythe Barn. Photo by Jenny Reeve.

After enjoying a culturally rich life in Italy for a number of years, Carol and Don Darling were looking to enjoy a more rural life in Suffolk.

So when a barn with two acres of land came up for sale in Stradbroke, near Eye, the pair bought the property in 2004, and soon after, began a large scale renovation project.

Long Border Grasses and Dierama at Frythe Barn. Photo by Jenny Reeve.Long Border Grasses and Dierama at Frythe Barn. Photo by Jenny Reeve.

“We bought Frythe Barn as part of a small holding and a place to retire. We were living in Italy at the time, and the ‘garden’ was just a field with a collection of outbuildings,” Carol says.

The work on the barn started in 2005 and while the digger was on site, the demolition of the outbuildings and landscaping began, meaning the Darlings temporarily moved into the farmhouse next door to the barn.

The garden at Frythe Barn. Photo by Jenny Reeve.The garden at Frythe Barn. Photo by Jenny Reeve.

“By 2006 the pond had been dug, and most of the clearing of buildings and about an acre of concrete had been carried out,” Carol says. “The only useful features that we inherited were a small overgrown pond, an ash coppice and a few mature trees around the boundary.

“We started planting trees as large as we could source them, and started seeding grass over most of the garden during the following year.”

The pond bed at Frythe Barn. Photo by Jenny Reeve.The pond bed at Frythe Barn. Photo by Jenny Reeve.

The next stage of the garden’s development included the design and build of an Italian style patio area, plus beds were cut out and planted. During the last nine years, the maze of concrete and brick outbuildings have been transformed, and the garden has since matured.

The ash coppice is now a small spinney, and some of the original ash has since been replaced with nut, birch, crab apple and bird cherries. The trees have been under-planted with spring bulbs, hellebores and ferns, creating a wonderfully wild feel. A pond has also since been cleared to make way for a fledgling bog garden, which is home to a mix of wildlife and plants.

The bog garden at Frythe Barn. Photo by Jenny ReeveThe bog garden at Frythe Barn. Photo by Jenny Reeve

The planning and planting of the garden has very much been made with wildlife in mind.

“We keep bees,” says Carol, “ have various bird feeding areas, nesting boxes and avoid using chemicals such as slug pellets and insecticide. We have planted two wild flower meadows, one quite small that we started eight years ago, and a larger area that is in its first year.

“As a result we have a wide diversity of birds, amphibians and insects visiting the garden, also several hedgehogs regularly passing through. Sadly also plenty of slugs and snails!”

With so many different areas within the garden to enjoy, Carol says she finds it difficult to choose a favourite part, but at this time of year, a quiet shady spot piques her interest.

“It’s probably the deck chair under a small group of birch which overlooks the pond and wild flower meadow,” she says. Both Carol and Don grow a wide variety of plants, but the ones which give Carol the greatest pleasure, are those that have self-seeded and found their own space in the garden, such as foxgloves, hellebores, campanulas and poppies.

“Inspiration for the garden comes mainly for me visiting other gardens, particularly Beth Chatto’s at Elmstead Market,” she says.

“Also local nurseries, such as The Place for Plants at East Bergholt and Blacksmith’s Cottage, Dickleburgh. We’re very fortunate in Suffolk to have many excellent nurseries.”

It isn’t all about flowers in the Darlings’ garden, but also seasonal produce and fruit.

“We have a small area with raised beds for vegetables, also a few fruit trees and soft fruit beds,” says Carol. With such a large garden to look after, while Don and Carol say they do most of the work themselves, they enlist the help of their friend, Gail, who manages all of those finishing touches such as a willow tunnel weaving, and the lawn edges, which has helped the pair to show the garden off at its best.

“The basic planning was our own, with some excellent ideas from local garden designer Luke Heydon, and the garden has evolved over the last eight years, with the most recent planting being a small area by the entrance which, until two-years-ago, provided storage for wood and various bits and pieces outside an old barn used for hay,” Carol says.

“The barn has also now been rebuilt, and the storage area planted with hydrangeas, rhododendrons, hellebores and a few trees. We hope this will be a very low maintenance addition to the garden.”

And an interesting feature within the garden which is unusual, if not unique, Carol says, is a stream feeding into the pond using a solar powered pump.

“The water supply for this is a bank of storage containers which collect rain water from the barn and stable block.”

Since moving to Suffolk, both Carol and Don have transformed their two-acre garden into a relaxing haven, which is filled with interesting aspects to explore, such as the willow tunnel spinney with bee hives and the bog garden which reaches through into the orchard to a leafy arbour.

And despite the couple not originally being from Suffolk – Carol is from Surrey and Don is from Hertfordshire – the pair have taken to their rural life. They very much enjoy gardening and spending time with their eldest daughter, who lives with them, and their youngest daughter, who lives in the village and runs a dressage business from the Darlings’ stables and paddocks.

This is the sixth year that the Darlings have opened their garden as part of the National Garden Scheme (NGS) and, since its first opening in May, they have received six group visits.

Carol and Don will next open their garden on Sunday, September 4 from 11am-5pm. They are hopeful of late flowering blooms and early autumnal sun as part of the day.

Homemade teas and refreshments will be available. Admission is £4 and children go free.

The garden, with the exception of the spinney, is suitable for wheelchair users.

Visit Carol and Don Darling at Frythe Barn, Wilby Road, Stradbroke, Eye, Suffolk IP21 5JP. Or call: 01379 388098.

The Darling’s favourite places...

Hidden gem: Fuller’s Mill garden, West Stow.

Favourite garden in Suffolk: Place for Plants, East Bergholt.

Favourite place for plants: Blacksmiths Cottage Nursery: Dickleburgh

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