A treasure trove of plants at Daws Hall

PUBLISHED: 14:14 18 February 2014 | UPDATED: 14:15 18 February 2014

Clematis 'Arabella' tumbling over an old tree stump

Clematis 'Arabella' tumbling over an old tree stump


Each time I visit the gardens at Daws Hall, in Lamarsh near Bures, I delight in finding a plant that I haven’t come across before or simply marvel at ones I know well but are happily flourishing in a different setting.

Daws Hall and its idyllic 10 acres of gardens are tucked away on a country road next to the River Stour, which marks the boundary between Essex and Suffolk. With fine views over the separate nature reserve, including a wildflower meadow and the surrounding countryside, the gardens gently undulate and are packed with an astonishing collection of plants and, as an added delight for all gardeners, everything is labelled.

The gardens were mostly created in the 1960s when Iain Grahame and his family moved here. ‘There was very little garden here at all,’ recalls Iain, ‘and I wanted to create a good show of autumn colour, so I planted lots of trees.’

With help from his knowledgeable Dutch gardener, the late Ceef Stapel, many rare and unusual species were planted, many of which are maturing gracefully and from late October the gardens are defined by autumn hues as foliage begins to change colour. Acers are key players in the autumn display with Acer palmatum ‘Osakazuki’ and A. p ‘Sango-kaku’ among the best for stunning leaf and stem colour. Acer palmatum ‘Sango-kaku’ was top of my list of finds in the garden; with its stunning red stems in winter and pale green foliage which turns buttery yellow in autumn, this is a great tree to enjoy throughout the year. Elsewhere, a magnificent Liquidambar styraciflua ‘Worplesdon’ and Nyssa sylvatica and N. sinensis compete for their share of autumn colour attention.

In spring, the gardens are blooming with thousands of bulbs, while areas of acid soil, unusual in Essex, means that camellias, azaleas and rhododendrons flourish.

‘Camellias grow like weeds here,’ smiles Iain as he explains why there are pockets of acid soil here. ‘I used to keep pheasants in this area,’ he says, ‘and added 18inches of sand, so now the soil is very acidic with levels at pH 4.’

Blue Meconopsis also enjoy the acid soil conditions while the adjacent wildflower meadow starts to come into bloom in April as some of the 100 different species of plants, begin to flower. Iain created and planted the wildflower meadow in the 1980s and during the summer there is a fine display of grasses, ox-eye daisies, knapweed and many other wildflowers; cowslips and meadow saxifrage begin flowering in early spring. The meadow is traditionally managed and sheep graze here from winter until early April before the wildflowers emerge. The field is cut in late autumn, after which the sheep return.

Summer sees a shimmering and fragrant display from more than 100 different types of old fashioned 
shrub roses, which mingle with several varieties of clematis to extend the flowering season. ‘We treat all the roses the same way,’ says Iain, ‘by pruning, feeding with bone meal and applying a good mulch of well-rotted manure in February.’

Many favourite roses are there, including Rosa Mundi (which was introduced in the 12th century with its striped, semi-double blooms), ‘Charles de Mills’ with deep purple-red double flowers, ‘Boule de Neige’ (which repeat flowers in the autumn and has pure white strongly fragranced flowers) and ‘Fantin-Latour’ with abundant blush-pink fragrant flowers. Being surrounded by wildlife can occasionally cause problems to the ornamental plants. Iain has built fox and rabbit-proof fences around some areas of the garden, but concedes that nature and gardens just have to work together side by side.

When Iain began his garden in the 1960s, he looked to Beth Chatto and her gardens near Colchester for inspiration. ‘I visited the gardens many times and bought plants from the nursery,’ says Iain. ‘Beth gave me some sound advice for planting trees. She told me to make sure the hole was dug deep enough to bury an elephant.’

Iain also excavated two ponds in the 1960s which flow from a higher pond dating back many hundreds of years. The ponds are all fed by a natural bore hole and different species of waterfowl enjoy the sanctuary of this enclosed area of the garden. The gardens at Daws Hall are not only relaxing, but also an adventure as you seek out unusual and interesting plants and encounter different planting habitats. If you visit, don’t forget your note book to jot down the plant names

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