Gardens: Moat House, Little Saxham
PUBLISHED: 12:58 15 July 2014 | UPDATED: 12:58 15 July 2014
Suzanne and Richard Mason's garden has been decades in the making. They showed Sally Hepher how it's grown
Moat House and its two-acre garden occupy the site of what were the stables of Little Saxham Hall, itself long demolished.
The advantages, as owner Suzanne Mason remarks, were that she and her husband Richard inherited several fine old brick walls, and a fascinating detailed history. The drawback was that they hit rubble with almost every spade of earth.
There were some fine mature trees when the Masons moved in, but not much in the way of a garden beyond one flowerbed and an oversized swimming pool. Suzanne began by tending the single border, got bitten by the gardening bug, and so the journey began. Thirty years on, a generous sweep of paving behind the house, and the pool, now reduced to a more manageable size, are surrounded by a formal garden with box-edged beds, topiary, and borders brimming with flowers. A series of metal arches, custom-made by a local blacksmith, march across the lawn, planted with climbing roses and clematis, and more rose arches top a low dividing wall, enclosing the area by the house.
A flight of steps between yew hedges leads to a secret, sunken garden, with geometric beds edged in box. Hebes, ornamental grasses and lavender make the most of this sheltered suntrap, while the shed in one corner is home not only to the lawn mower, but a wren’s nest. A mirror set beneath a substantial lintel in the wall creates the convincing illusion that the garden goes on still further.
The rest of the garden is less formal. Large, curving beds around the bases of the trees are planted with a rich mixture of shade loving plants. A grove of white-stemmed birches rises above grass that in spring is crammed with bulbs, and by early summer is a froth of cow parsley. There really is a moat at Moat House, fed naturally by ground water, with a wonderful view beyond stretching across pasture to Ickworth park.
More birches growing along one boundary break up the heavy line of the laurel hedge, their trunks standing out against the dark foliage. At the opposite end of the house a miniature arboretum holds something for all seasons, from the peppermint pale mint green of the new leaves of Sorbus aria ‘Lutescens’, to the autumn tints of Liquidambar, and a special, pink-tinged copper beech bought after admiring one at Highgrove.
What is not immediately obvious is that all this has been achieved despite part of the garden being seriously infected with honey fungus, perhaps the gardener’s most feared plant disease. The Masons have experimented with barriers buried in the soil to curb its underground spread, and with planting roses in deep bottomless containers. Still, they have lost shrubs, but Suzanne refuses to be deterred, instead experimenting to see what will survive, and using more resistant, herbaceous plants. She remains equally undaunted by attacks of box blight.
The soil, while too limey for camellias, is a good stiff loam, tending to heavy clay in places. Everything is generously fed and mulched, partly in the belief that plants that are growing well will be more resistant to disease
An additional layer of interest comes from the use of ornament, from pans of succulents to outsized pots, though Suzanne has a realistic view of the difficulties of keeping shrubs happy in containers long term. She is a great collector of weathered timber for its intriguing shapes, and the sharp-eyed visitor will spot all sorts of interesting details as they tour the garden. Indeed, it is this attention to detail, and the final tidying and preparation, that she finds the most rewarding aspect of opening the garden. Richard, as well as being in charge of mowing and hedge cutting, likewise has a good eye for these finishing touches.
Moat House, Little Saxham,
Bury St Edmunds IP29 5LE