Friday, September 14, 2012
You'll remember that when we first arrived in Norwich we stayed at the Party Central Hotel from Hell. Aside from the fact that we both wanted from the first to see as much of everything as we possibly could, we also did as much as we were able to get out of the hotel for most of each day. Although the hotel was quiet during the daytime, knowledge of the long night ahead made it important to get away and fill our days with interesting, distracting, pleasurable experiences.
Right next to our hotel was a hidden gem called Plantation Garden. These three acres of gardens were begun in 1856, in a former chalk quarry and industrial site. Henry Trevor, the mastermind behind the gardens, was an industrialist, and he spent the next forty years constructing a garden that he felt was fit for a successful Victorian gentleman.
Many of the construction elements came from a nearby decorative brickworks, and Trevor incorporated many broken brick remnants into the walls of his gardens. The bricks were cast in both a traditional red clay, and a more unusual grey that has weathered in the garden to look like stone. These brick pieces, mixed with the flint that is so endemic to Norfolk, forms all of the hardscape of the garden.
Henry built hothouses and a Gothic fountain, medieval walls and a summerhouse and a rustic bridge. He laid out carpet beds, a rockery, parterres, serpentine paths, and woodlands. One of my favorite elements, however, is the stunning Italianate terrace that dominates the far end of the garden. It makes a nice contrast to the more intimate peace of the basin of the Gothic fountain near the entrance, and both are wonderful places to sit and contemplate the gardens.
After we explored the terrace and the paths at the top, we returned to the fountain, where we enjoyed a light rain and the patterns made by rain drops and water splashes in the water of the basin. The basin is planted with water lilies, which you may know hold a special place in my heart, and there where bright flashes of tiny goldfish darting through the water. It is a wonderfully peaceful place to sit and just be.
The British take gardening seriously. Everywhere you go there are garden centers, which Graham tells me are the place to be on the weekends. There isn't a house that doesn't have some sort of garden attached, even if it only consists of planters filled with colorful flowers, or sometimes a tiny orchard of a dozen fruit trees. In towns and villages there are multiple decorative plantings on the streets, often with hanging baskets filled with pansies, petunias and various forms of ivy making a huge ball dripping with flowers.
We visited the Hellesdon Barns garden center this week, on a coolish, windy afternoon, and found an old brick and flint barn converted to retail and workshop spaces with everything from antiques, to a silversmith, to a fiber artist, and a maker of custom drapes. There was also a small area selling plants which, for what the garden center lacked in space, made up with variety of some of the most wonderful ornamental plants I've ever seen: dwarf conifers and red banana plants, red grasses and a small area of the requisite flower plantings. It is probably a very good thing that we have no garden space in this flat.
In the meantime, take a look at my album of photos from Plantation Garden, and enjoy ">Graham's video of the fountain area.