PUBLISHED: 17:56 14 April 2009 | UPDATED: 15:55 20 February 2013
More than 14,000 bulbs and bedding plants create a must-be-seen spring spectacular in the gardens of Audley End House, says Philippa Pearson
THE first floor rooms at Audley House are the best place to view the ornamental parterre in the garden below. Created by Lord Braybrooke in the 1830s, the design, probably Italian in origin, was taken from an 18th century garden pattern book. The beds were planted with herbaceous flowers and roses and another formal garden in the grounds, the pond garden, was also created at this time, featuring roses and a rugged rock garden. During the 20th century, the parterre gradually fell into decline but was fully restored by English Heritage during the 1980s.
Jeff Lingwood, head gardener at Audley End, and his team now grow
most of the bedding plants here from saved seed and combined with bulbs, shrubs roses and herbaceous perennials, the parterre is a spectacular display blooming from early spring through to autumn.
All plants are selected from varieties researched by English Heritage
that were available during the 1830s.
The spring display includes wallflowers, primroses, forget-me-nots, daffodils, tulips and hyacinths. From late May to early June, spring bedding is removed to make way for the summer scheme, a busy
time for the gardeners.
'It takes around three to four weeks to remove the spring bedding plants and put in the summer ones,' says Jeff. 'The 165 beds also need edging throughout the spring and summer season and there is over a mile of edging just in the parterre.'
The old fashioned shrub roses, trained and bent over hoops to encourage flowering all along the stems, are pruned hard in late winter, a task taking two to three weeks, while the colourful herbaceous beds are renovated over a three to five-year cycle.
Problems with rabbits and pheasants early in the season mean some beds need wire netting around them, which are removed in early summer, to protect emerging shoots.
The gardens at Audley End have changed over the centuries to reflect the tastes and fortunes of their owners and fashion. From the formal and orderly lines in the 17th century, natural landscaping by Capability Brown in the 18th century and the development of the kitchen garden in the 19th century, the gardens are steeped in historical details. The 100 acres of grounds combine a mixture of parkland with interesting and unusual trees, formal areas and ornamental flower beds.
The bold and tall Cloud Hedge, cut to shape around 80 years ago and near the main entrance to the house, is pruned each year in September.
'It takes about four weeks to prune the Cloud Hedge,' says Jeff, 'but it creates an interesting site for visitors as the gardeners work from an elevated platform.'
The Elysian garden was created in 1783 as a formal flower garden on the banks of the River Cam, which flows through the grounds, with paths bordered by flower beds, statues, a Turkish tent for picnics, a cold bath for health-giving bathing, a cascade and the Tea House Bridge, used then for afternoon tea and card games. The frequent frosts quickly destroyed the tender flower beds and the garden was largely removed in the 1830s. Today, only the bridge and cascade survive. Nearby, the Pond Garden has roses scrambling over arches, two ponds and a splendid display of ferns in the rockery.
The pond garden backs onto the walled Victorian kitchen garden which produces heritage fruit, vegetables and cut flowers with many heirloom varieties local to the Essex region, all typical of those grown for
a large Victorian household. The garden, which is run by Garden Organic, was restored in 1999 and celebrates its tenth anniversary this year. Mike Thurlow, head gardener at the kitchen garden, led the project restoration ten years ago creating this fascinating authentic Victorian kitchen garden from an overgrown, dilapidated site.
MORE gardens open THIS summer a selection of 12 gardens will again be open to visitors in the village of East Bergholt, the family home of the painter John Constable. The gardens and three tea venues will be open from 11am to 5pm on Sunday, June 7. Ample parking is available
at the high school with a free hop-on hop-off bus service between the car park and gardens. Admission is priced at £4, with accompanied children free. Monies raised will be donated to the St Mary's Church East Bergholt Preservation Society.
Last month Philippa Pearson introduced Essex Life readers to Little Walden's Clare Kneen and her passion for Irises. You can get in touch with Clare using the following
VISIT THE GARDEN
Audley End House and Gardens CB11 4JF
Wednesday to Sunday:
March 21 to Sept 30, 10am-6pm
October 1-31, 10am-5pm
Nov 1 to Dec 23, 10am-4pm
Closed Dec 24 to Jan 31
Limited openings in Feb and Mar
Admission: Adults £7.30, children £3.70, concessions £5.90, family ticket, £18.30. English Heritage members get in free. Garden tours available, please book in advance.