Within these walls at Langham Hall
PUBLISHED: 13:20 27 April 2010 | UPDATED: 17:06 20 February 2013
A beautiful walled garden dating back to the early 18th century is being recreated and restored at Langham Hall, near Bury St Edmunds. Allan Scott-Davies finds out more
The walled garden of Langham Hall, just south of Bury St Edmunds, is a hidden gem, waking to the gentle massage of organic gardener, Phil Mizen, his assistant Ray Stebbing, and Sue Wooster, a specialist in campanulas. An army of volunteers from the Suffolk Organic Gardeners Club regularly work at this lovely plot weeding, pruning and root pulling. Join them in this labour of love.
Langham walled garden once boasted 15 gardeners, under-gardeners and boys who provided fruit and vegetables for the hall, the market in London and a family home in Bury St Edmunds. By the 1960s there were five in all, working to keep the acres around the hall and flower beds beyond in good shape.
As time passed, they retired with no replacement, leaving the walled garden to go into a deep sleep blanketed by weeds. It is from this long sleep that she is now slowly awaking, already revealing hidden secrets of her past and true beauty.
The walled garden dates back to 1705 when the first section of approximately two and a half acres was walled off. This was followed by the addition of a smaller inner garden to the rear of the formal garden, built in 1832. Because it is rare and was once possibly home to pineapple houses, the inner wall at Langham is the pride of all at the gardens the owners and the team who are bringing the garden back to life.
Approaching from the hall the locally made wrought iron gates provide a grand entrance to the formal garden where Deborah Blackwell and Sue Wooster are recreating the borders. Formal beds offer bold scents to greet the visitor entering the garden. One bed has a tapestry of alpines under the watchful eye of Sue who holds the national collection of Alpine Campanulas and is about to open the bell flower nursery at the garden with display tables full of potted delights. A must for any plant hunter.
The old columned summerhouse with its two siderooms whichprovide escape from the occasional downpour, overlooks the formal garden and tennis courts. Snuggled into the dividing wall it creates a fabulous backdrop to the garden and may become a venue for weddings once it is restored. The dividing wall to either side has four doorways offering a glimpse to the productive side of the garden.
Entering this section when blossom is on the many fruit trees is quite literally breathtaking as the mix of scents wafts into nostrils, bringing back memories of childhood for many.
A large number of gnarled fruit trees form an avenue of sentinels guarding the entrance to the heart of the vegetable area. Phil is busy planting heritage varieties of fruit trees replacing the old trees that have died through age. The trees have been pruned, some for the first time in many years, gently so as not to shock and kill them. Mr Tom Blackwell planted some of the trees in the 1960s to match the varieties established here by previous generations, varieties such a Peasgood Nonsuch, St Edmunds Russet and Allington Pippin and now Phil is continuing that tradition.
Gradually Phil and his team are working hard to re-establish the structure of the growing beds based on the evidence on the ground, local knowledge and an aerial photograph showing the way the garden looked in the 1960s. The aim is to return the garden to full productivity, providing the hall and customers with a supply of organic fruit and vegetables through on-site sales and a veg box scheme.
Built into the back wall is the head gardeners cottage with a door leading straight into the lost three bay greenhouses where the ghosts of the past head gardeners appear to keep a watchful eye on the new generation of gardeners.
A clue to the size of these greenhouses is the silhouette of whitewash on the walls, the holes left by the timber beams and the brick plinth on which another greenhouse structure once stood. There are also cold frames under restoration with new covers and the rainwater tanks built to collect from the greenhouses which are back in working order.
On the back of the wall is the large chimney of the boilerhouse which would have generated heat for the greenhouses and built into the wall are heated flues against which peaches and apricots would have been trained in fans.
Behind the head gardeners cottage are the offices of local businesses which once would have housed the potato and apple store, a dormitory for the boy gardeners, a potting shed and even a mushroom house.
Ray, who has worked on the estate since the age of 14, has uncovered many lengths of Victorian rope-edged path tiles and a number of tree labels from the same period.
If you would like to visit, there is a series of open days through out the year with a Friday Gardeners Trail linked to a number of other local gardens and designers starting in April and running until September. The garden will also be open for the National Garden Scheme, Heritage Open Days and a special open garden day on June 6, 2-5pm.
The people at the garden are breathing new life into this elegant beauty with their drive, enthusiasm and commitment to the daunting task ahead of them. They are always pleased to see visitors, so go along and support them, buy produce or even become a volunteer. Whatever you decide, once Langham walled garden has sprinkled her magic upon you return visits will surely follow.
Langham Herbs, set up by Phil to sell herbs and veg boxes, can be accessed at www.langhamherbs.co.uk. Sue also has a website, www.alpinecampanulas.co.uk that will feature details and opening times of her nursery launched on March 28 this year.