Zena Robson, Woodborough Garden Centre - Tour of gardens deep in Suffolk

We no longer have Tulipmania, but the flowers are still a favourite – and its nearly time to plant them for spring

We no longer have Tulipmania, but the flowers are still a favourite – and its nearly time to plant them for spring

First published in News

I have been visiting gardens lately – this time in Suffolk, which, I was informed, is the driest county in England.

The soil also seems to be very free-draining, so gardening there is demanding in different ways.

First was Ickworth, which is a National Trust property. The gardens are Italianate in nature with many clipped hedges of Yew and Box, vertical accents from tall Cypresses in the Tuscany fashion, swathes of Catmint in full flower, huge pots full of Agapanthus, a wildflower meadow in the old walled garden and fabulous views across open fields.

The newly re-designed stumpery was a revelation – most stumperies tend to be dark, dank places but this one, while being shady, was also open and airy in places.

Then Melford Hall – also National Trust, but the Hyde Parker family still live in part of it. This had lovely herbaceous borders with not a shrub in sight.

Salvias of many types, hardy Geraniums, Helenium, perennial sunflowers in bud, Artemesia ludoviciana with its lovely bright silver-white leaves, Hemerocallis – all beautifully tended, and a formal pond surrounded by Lavender and Thymes.

Finally to Kentwell, which was an interesting place. It is privately owned and dates back to Tudor times. There is a huge walled garden with many ancient varieties of apples trained as espaliers, along with the history of each variety, some dating back to Roman times.

At the time of our arrival, there was film crew in evidence, for Dame Judi Dench it seems. A film is being made called Tulip Fever, based on the book by Deborah Moggach, which suggests it will be about Tulipmania which gripped this country in the early 1600s.

It may seem a strange thing to write a book about, but people’s fortunes were made and lost at the time. Single bulbs sold for ten times the annual income of a skilled craftsman.

These days we take bulbs for granted – they are generally easy to obtain and at affordable prices. The tulip is probably the most popular of them all. Talking of which, I hate to mention it but the spring flowering bulbs will be coming in soon, if they’re not here already!

I need to get to the Allium variety before any of you lot as I lost quite a few last winter – particularly the white ones that had only been in for a year or so. I think I’ll get some more of their cousin, Nectaroscordum, to go in the front as they are quite different, having creamy-green hanging bells that fade to lilac.

I have been cutting back the hardy Geraniums that have finished flowering, as I don’t want a lot of seeding about the place. They were good this year and even Splish Splash, which has suffered from powdery mildew in past years, has done well. The purple-leaved and purple-flowered ‘Purple Haze’ was exceptional, growing to about 70cm tall.

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