05 July 2013

I Capture the Castle

For a person of such slender means I have been motoring up a lot of drives lately, sometimes to the front door but equally happy with the tradesman's entrance. At the moated Helmingham Hall in Suffolk the other day, the drawbridge was down but we did not cross it. We were there to see the gardens of Xa Tollemache, care of the Garden Museum.

There is a walled garden at Helmingham that is double-dug by Roy and two helpers. Roy has been there for longer than Xa, who arrived in the 70s. He is standing in a fruit cage hoeing, talking about the weather, addressing our hostess as "m'lady". She knew nothing about gardening before arriving at Helmingham, which was built by her husband's family at the turn of the fifteenth century. Lady Tollemache is now a leading landscape designer, and Roy is a treasure.

The most astonishing thing about the very romantic gardens at Helmingham is for me the Wild Garden. I mean the tennis court. Or - whatever it is.

The wildflower meadow—an unusually successful one this—is teeming with luxuriant quantities of orchids, mingling with commoner cranesbill, scabious and oxeye daisy.

In the middle of this flower-laden meadow is an asphalt tennis court; the most counter-intuitive arrangement I've ever seen. Some very careful tennis playing would have to go on here...

The solution is obvious if you re-imagine the space as a four-poster bed. Tennis, anyone? Just draw the curtains, will you.

More Helmingham Hall over at Gardenista: Shouldn't Every Garden Have a Moat?