Everything in the garden is bella!
PUBLISHED: 13:39 01 July 2014 | UPDATED: 13:39 01 July 2014
©National Trust Images/Arnhel de Serra
Sean Reid, outdoors manager at the National Trust’s Ickworth House, gives an insight into caring for one of the country’s finest Italianate gardens
Ickworth is the earliest remaining Italianate-influenced garden in the country and the National Trust is busy adjusting the planting scheme to reflect its historic beginnings.
As part of this refresh, the trust has planted more Italian plants including Trachycarpus palms and other exotics, Italian herbs and also expanded its delightful and mysterious stumpery.
To add interest throughout the season, herbs have been planted in the new Mediterranean dry garden alongside olive trees and Italian plants in pots to create a sweetly scented area close to the temple summerhouse. The plants include lavenders, sage, thymes, euphorbias, succulents and self-seeding Welsh poppies. On hot days the area is filled with Mediterranean scents as the volatile oils evaporate in the sun.
The plantings close to the house have also been refreshed with old 1970s groundcover plants being removed in favour of palms, tree ferns, and a double avenue of lollypop shaped elaeagnus ebbingei that will eventually become raised round-topped cylinder-shaped trees.
Various bulbs have been incorporated into the catmint borders and other beds close to the mansion to increase the display and seasonality of the plantings.
Some cypress trees have been replaced with more hardy varieties as the cypress only lasts for 30 years in the British climate. These include Juniper ‘Skyrocket’ in the Victorian border, which itself used to be a cypress avenue until the 1980s. These trees will hark back to this avenue design, while retaining the Victorian border.
The greatly expanded Stumpery will have 1,500 ferns planted – 47 varieties with an emphasis on evergreen and wintergreen ferns, plus a large amount of Himalayan Maidenhair ferns, typical of the those seen in Italian grottos. They will give a lovely feel to the area, mimicking cascading water, and will be the signature fern for the area. This will increase the atmosphere of the stumpery, which is thought to be becoming the largest in the country, rivalling the amazing one at Highgrove.
The trust is also planting some unusual plants including the European mouse plant, wild ginger and dragon arum, all of which were beloved of the late Victorians. The area is now planted with various bulbs amongst the ferns, which include bluebells, snowdrops, Erythroniums, cyclamen and snakes-head fritillaries alongside various anemones and cardamine plants, all of which add seasonal interest before the deciduous ferns emerge in spring.
There are plans to install a rustic summer house in the stumpery for use by visitors and for storytelling events. This will be made by a trust volunteer and will be covered by large ivy plants to help it blend into the garden, offering a seating area for less clement weather with a view back to the mansion.
New features in the East wing garden include a rose garden, using historic scented roses under-planted with various herbaceous and bulb plants, and two large mixed-shrub and herbaceous borders, full of colour and scent. Historically this colourful area was known as the Ladies Flower Garden and contrasted with the mainly evergreen Italianate garden. From 1800 to 1950 it had various planting schemes and the trust has decided to go
for a fulsome late Victorian feel, using various plants from the differing periods to show how the garden developed over time.
As part of the changes the trust will also be laying some new gravel pathways, to increase access and create a circular route around the mansion for the first time. The three-acre seasonal meadow at the walled garden will be replanted after the great success of last year’s display. This seed mix comes from the same suppliers who did the Olympic village display and it gives a great show for the whole season up to and sometimes beyond the first frosts.
A combination of various seed mixes has been used to create this and these flowers are a great foodstuff for bees. It is also good for wild insects and birds when they are in seed and clouds of finches and buntings have been seen harvesting these during the late autumn and early winter. This display is an interim measure until the Trust can develop the Walled Garden as a restored Kitchen garden.
n Ickworth’s gardens look fantastic in July. The Italianate Gardens are open daily from 9am to 5.30pm, the plant shop from 11.30am to 5.30pm. The park closes at 8pm or dusk if earlier. To plan your visit see the website at www.nationaltrust.org.uk/ickworth