Quirky garden is a Westleton wonder
PUBLISHED: 10:25 25 March 2010 | UPDATED: 16:58 20 February 2013
Richard Bryson visits what may be Suffolk's quirkiest garden
Could this be Suffolk's quirkiest garden?
Containing a cross made from the girders of one of New Yorks twin towers, a piece of the Berlin Wall, parts of a lift and countless masks and objets dart, the garden at the Barn, Westleton, is certainly out of the ordinary.
Wandering around this curious woodland plot can be like stumbling onto the set of a childrens adventure film. Its a garden of compartments so (using a little imagination) you step from what might be an African tribal quarter into a mini gladiatorial arena. For little ones immersed in Harry Potter, it must be a wonderful place to explore and I can see it has some magical allure for grown ups too, particularly early or late on a summers day.
Garden designer Sue Townsend is the guardian of this whimsical floral fancy, looking after it for her father-in-law the QC, and former Conservative Party Member of the European Parliament, Amedee Turner.
Turner used to live in this former Jacobean barn and when he returns to the Heritage Coast with his wife from his base in London, he loves to re-visit his creation and add extra memorabilia collected from his travels around the world.
But it is not sacred ground.
We use the garden for entertaining and relaxing but it is open to the public through the Red Cross Open Gardens too, and Amedee takes people on little tours, explains Sue, while showing me the garden one chilly mid-January morning.
He goes along tapping his stick and giving a running commentary. You can never quite tell whether he is being completely serious, or having some fun with his audience, she smiles.
Her husband Andrew, a political lobbyist, and garden help Friday Harper (who has worked and built structures on the plot on and off since 1945) maintain these sometimes unruly acres. Rabbits and moles are not always welcome visitors as are badgers and Muntjac deer.
Meanwhile, Sue offers Amedee her design expertise and plant knowledge when he asks. I am encouraging Amedee to plant trees and shrubs that will enjoy the conditions of the garden and look fantastic in years to come.
Amedee has monitored the evolution of the garden, noting down the details he is keen to have recorded.
The square of the Astralabe Garden will have some 600 placards along a two kilometre walk (one yard per year from 1AD to 2000AD) noting important historic events, he says. Just a few yards away is the North East Passage, a new path running past a forest of zig-zagging bamboos and through the Bedouin Destination garden, complete with silver olive tree at its centre.
His notes on this part of the garden read: This Bedouin Destination heralds the arrival of the conquering Bedouin Muslim army in the midst of the ancient Roman empire splendour in the verdant land around Tunis in the seventh century AD. This army had only 70 years before been made up from the remote tribes of Bedouin who had lived in tents in the arid Arabian desert for thousands of years.
I try to imagine billowing tents here but think this is very much a work in progress, and may be a vista too far for an obviously English retreat. That said, Amedee has brought the Mycenaean Palace to life, adding two swords on to trees, a shield and Mycenaean helmet. At the south east entrance the (mock) head of a prince has been placed on a railway sleeper.
While all this is fun, Sue has her own garden design business to concentrate on. She has turned to the great outdoors after an early career lobbying in Brussels. It was how she met Andrew and, after initially setting up home in London, they are both delighted to be out of the rat race and nicely settled in the Suffolk countryside, a mile or two from the Heritage Coast. They even celebrated their marriage in The Barn garden.
Their new home is also a pleasant environment for their two daughters, aged 10 and 12, who go to school at nearby Wilby and Framlingham.
That said, Sue has fond memories of London.
Sue worked as the Blue Peter gardener for several years, coming up with gardening ideas for the programme and looking after the infamous TV plot. She was offered a lucky break to re-design the garden to make it more accessible for the TV crews and visually appealing. I couldnt believe my luck! My design was approved and we started filming the preparations for the build. It was so exciting but then the BBC decided they didnt have the budget and the project was shelved what a shame!
In London I was working with pocket-sized gardens and mainly clay soil. I had a close network of clients, whereas here they are more dispersed.
In Suffolk there is more space, more of a chance to really work with landscapes. Then there is the challenge, particularly in the east of the county, of working with the sandy soil and the salt-laden air.
Sue is a registered member of the Society of Garden Designers and has many local clients, including an exciting project for a headmasters garden.
I love working with my clients to create beautiful and atmospheric gardens that reflect their personal style and practical needs. I use clean and simple lines in my designs, with bold planting and plenty of textural interest. Choosing the right materials to use in the garden for paths and seating areas is key. I always select materials that are within my clients budget, will enhance the architecture of the house and fit in well with the surrounding landscape. As for building the gardens, I am fortunate to work with some excellent landscapers.
She recognises more and more people want to become self-sufficient with their gardens. Vegetable and herb gardens can be fun and give you wonderful produce. You can even plant vegetables in your borders for instance, sweetcorn can add a fantastic architectural element and then, when freshly picked, can taste wonderful too!
With fresh fruit and vegetables on the doorstep, the coast just a short bike ride away, family close at hand and an expanding business in a lovely part of Suffolk, it sounds like this lobbyist turned garden expert has found the Good Life. And if she needs inspiration, or light-hearted relief from a challenging garden project, all Sue has to do is look out of her kitchen window into her own mini-garden. For there is a marvellous sculpture that looks mischievously like a cross between Amedee and their garden stalwart Friday!
Sue Townsend Garden Design
Tel: 01728 648 790.
The Gardens of The Barn will be open to the public for The Red Cross on Sunday, June 20, 2010