The beautiful gardens of Parsonage House
PUBLISHED: 16:04 09 May 2016 | UPDATED: 16:04 09 May 2016
Late spring is the perfect time to visit this charming and quintessentially English garden at Wiggens Green,Helions Bumpstead. Philippa Pearson finds out what’s in bloom for the month of May
May is the month for wildflower meadows to spring into life and Annie Turner has a particular passion for this type of planting.
‘One of the first things we did with the field was to plant trees around it to create a shelter belt,’ says Annie of the three acre wildflower meadow next to their home, Parsonage House at Wiggens Green near Helions Bumpstead.
Annie and her husband, The Hon Nigel Turner, moved to the Grade II* 15th century house some 27 years ago, buying the field next door to extend the garden area.
‘I sowed the field with my own blend of grass seed and wildflowers,’ explains Annie, ‘then we removed the grasses later to ensure the area wasn’t too rich in nutrients.’
One of the key aspects of growing a wildflower meadow is to keep the soil poor and the chemistry just right, low in nitrogen and phosphorus, otherwise grasses tend to take over and smother other plants. The good housekeeping seems to have worked as the wildflower meadow, which hasn’t been sprayed or fed for more than 25 years, is abundant in flower species and a rich habitat for wildlife.
‘I grew the cowslips and ox-eye daisies myself,’ says Annie, ‘and what started off as small patches are now carpets of flowers.’ There are also three sorts of orchids and many other wildflowers that have ‘arrived by themselves’.
The shelter belt of trees has helped create a favourable microclimate for the wildflower meadow, while other areas of the garden have benefited from additional shelter from new hedging. The main garden area around the house had a good selection of mature trees when the Turners moved in. A huge and ancient topiary yew dominates the lawn area and Annie has embellished this with mixed borders filled with interesting and usual plants and other plant-focused features to create a traditional garden that blends with the house.
‘I wanted the garden to look good from many places,’ she explains. ‘From inside and out, to flow and to have good views.’ She has grown a lot of the plants herself from seed or propagation and the greenhouse, containing an extensive collection of pelargoniums and tender plants, is the propagation hub. Many of the plants grown there appear in the containers by the pool house.
Charles Morris, designer of the Orchard Room at Highgrove House for HRH Prince Charles, designed the pool house, garden room and potting shed. The potager has an ancient ‘Newton Wonder’ apple tree, standard gooseberries, raspberries and strawberries, as well as lettuce, carrots, beans and other herbs and vegetables for the kitchen. Annie is ably assisted by gardener Andrew Bond, who has been working with her for 14 years. Andrew’s wife Sharon also does lots in the garden and helps Annie with baking cakes and getting things ready on open days.
In the late 1990s, the garden acquired two more fields near the house, one of which is exactly one acre in size. These are the only two fields in the village which have not changed in size since being drawn on the original tithe maps for the area. In the past, strawberries were grown as a crop in polytunnels, but for 13 years the fields had been left to grow wild and it took some time to clear the area.
‘It was a thicket of brambles and scrub,’ remembers Annie. ‘We removed more than 20 skips of polythene and irrigation pipes from the area.’
The fields were then drained and cultivated before a new orchard was planted. The two fields today now have more than 130 mostly old East Anglian apple varieties and the blossom looks stunning in late spring. Sheep graze the area to keep the grass short and apple juice is created from the orchard produce.
Annie has been opening the garden for the NGS and others since 1999 and likes to open in May as well as other times of the year.
‘I think people appreciate the opportunity to visit gardens at this time of the year,’ she says, ‘and late spring is such a lovely time to see this garden, with the orchard coming into bloom and plenty of interest unfolding in the borders.’
Visit the garden
Parsonage House. Wiggens Green, Helions Bumpstead, Haverhill, Essex, CB9 7AD. The garden is open for the NGS on Sunday, May 1 and Sunday, June 19 (2pm to 5pm). Admission £4, children free. Homemade teas, plants for sale and apple juice from the orchard available on the day for sale. The garden is mostly suitable for wheelchair access.
Essex at The RHS Chelsea Flower Show
Held in the grounds of the Royal Hospital Chelsea since 1913, RHS Chelsea is the world’s most prestigious flower show. Catch exhibitors from across Essex at the event which runs from Tuesday, May 24 to Saturday, May 28. For opening times and further information, see the RHS website at www.rhs.org.uk.
Cayeux Iris, co-ordinated by Clare Kneen from Little Walden
Enterprise Plants from Upminster
Ken Muir from Weeley Heath near Clacton on Sea
Todd’s Botanics from Coggeshall
Barlow Tyrie from Braintree
Bulldog Tools (Rollins) from Harlow
East 4 West from Clacton on Sea
John Harris Products from Basildon
John O’Connor Sculpture from Colchester
OutdoorBeanbag.com from Clacton on Sea
Patio & Terrace from Colchester
Ruskins Trees from Brentwood
The New Eden from Brentwood
Writtle College floristry team