Hoveton Hall Gardens
A hidden gem
Set at the edge of the Norfolk Broads, Hoveton Hall is an idyllic garden that is being restored and brought back to life– a hidden gem that is well worth discovering.
Like a modern-day secret garden, Hoveton Hall Gardens were largely undiscovered by the public until recently.
Built between 1809 and 1812, Hoveton Hall had a somewhat chequered history, with five different families living in the house in one 50-year period. Then in the Second World War, it was requisitioned for the war effort and its parkland was ploughed to produce food.
In 1946, the Buxton family took over the Hall and have been there ever since. One of their tasks has been to bring the 15-acre gardens back to life. In 1993, under the Countryside Commission Scheme for the Restoration of Historic parks, the once ploughed fields were re-sown with grass and iron railings were re-established. The gardens have been given a new lease of life and are now truly spectacular.
A spectrum of colour
The gardens are made up mainly of a large walled area, with various outbuildings a field’s length away from the Hall. In addition, there are wilder, more natural areas with woodland and lakeside walks for visitors to enjoy.
Every season offers new delights to see in the gardens. In spring daffodils and snowdrops cover the ground and the long driveway is flanked by a magnificent display of brightly-coloured azaleas and rhododendrons. The grandfather of current owner Andrew Buxton was a keen collector of daffodils. He had over 200 different varieties and one was even named after him – the ‘Edward Buxton’ daffodil, a small-cupped variety with lemon-yellow petals. Once spring has passed, the annual parade of colour continues with vivid blue and pink hydrangeas, swiftly followed by autumn berries in the Arboretum to round off the year.
The Spider Garden
The main area of the walled gardens, the Spider Garden, was marked on maps dating from 1841, but not with that name. That came from its spectacular ornamental gate, created in 1936 by Eric Stevenson, who later became known for his wrought ironwork in many of England’s cathedrals. Visitors catch sight of the garden and the bright colours beyond for the first time through segments of the web-like gate.
The Spider Garden is full of salvias, hardy geraniums and penstemons. The colourful central borders wash from white to pale blues, until you reach the far end, which is ablaze with simmering red, orange and yellow blooms.
One of the aspects that makes this such an enjoyable place to visit are the quirky pieces left around, which add character. In one corner there is a bust of John Bunting, head gardener from 1947-89, and in another a traditional roller sits next to the old boiler house, put to one side as if the gardener were just taking a quick break from his work.
The Spider Garden was once the kitchen garden for the Hall, with as many as 12 gardeners working there to produce vegetables for the household. Gradually piece by piece, the garden was taken over by flowers. Only the walls are still covered with ancient espalier peaches, pears and plums.
A passion for salvias
Much love and attention has been lavished on the Spider Garden by the head gardener, Stewart Wright, whose particular passion is for salvias. This is obvious by the abundant slender stems throughout the garden in vivid blue and
Enormous bunches of crocosmia and Verbena bonariensis threaten to spill over onto the gravel path. There are no sharp angles in the Spider Garden – even the perfectly manicured lawn has rounded corners. Interest is created by the contrast of textures; for example, structural allium seed heads provide a lovely contrast with the delicate yellow ‘Mermaid’ rose in one corner.
The dry border beneath one of the walls is edged with grey-tinged foliage plants such as Phlomis fruticosa, ‘Santolia’ and Teucrium fruticans. This area flooded several times in 2007 and many of the dry-loving plants perished; Stewart is now working on putting new plants into this border.
The Knot Garden
Next to the Spider Garden, the one-acre Knot Garden was planted with box, santolina and rosemary in 1998. This section picks up on the theme of the spider’s web with interwoven patterns.
A wrought iron archway, supporting the rose ‘American Pillar’ leads to the nearby Clematis Walk. The border has large clumps of alstroemeria ‘Apollo’, agapanthus and the rose ‘Norwich Cathedral’.
The Water Garden
Leaving the more formal gardens, the visitor sees a gradual transition into wilderness until the large lake is reached. Extensive work to the Water Garden was carried out in the 1920s, when Gunnera manicata and ferns were planted near the lake. Stewart wanted to collect all the different varieties of gunnera until he realised that there were hundreds!
More recently, he has focused on improving the appearance of the Water Garden – spending the first six weeks just pulling out brambles. Purple loosestrife blends with natural vegetation and around the lake is a good place to hunt for dragonflies, especially the rare Norfolk Hawker.
The daylilies near the lake are a remnant of an old bed, from the days when there were more gardeners and more areas would have been formally planted. Only the daylilies have been tough enough to survive. One visitor explained to Stewart that he used to work in the gardens – because there were so many gardeners, his job was to weed the flint path that ran through the wooded area.
Stewart wants to introduce more borders around the lake once again, and is planning to split the crocosmia in the Spider Garden and move some to the lakeside.
Newly planted Arboretum
Walking past the lake, you arrive at the newly-planted Arboretum. Here specimen trees have been selected to provide interest all year. Among them are the silver maple Acer saccharinum, Liriodendron tulipifera and Prunus serrula. Stewart plans to add more wildflowers in among the trees. He explains that parasitic Yellow Rattle (Rhinanthus minor), with its pretty yellow flowers and attractive dried seed heads, is useful planted here because it spreads rapidly and weakens the grass by taking the energy out of the roots. This gives other wildflowers a chance to grow and increases biodiversity by allowing other species to thrive.
Offering visitors a chance to stroll through the elegant formal gardens, bursting with colourful blooms, or to take a walk through woods and past the lake, Hoveton Hall Gardens are the perfect place for contemplation or just to enjoy the peace and quiet – broken only by the bleats of sheep and the buzz of bees.
Hoveton Hall Gardens are not part of the usual tourist trail, but are certainly a real find.
Hoveton Hall Gardens, Norwich, Norfolk, NR12 8RJ
Tel. 01603 782798
Open from April 2009, Easter Sunday, Easter Monday then Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday and bank holiday Mondays.10.30am-5pm
Admission adults £5, children £2.