July 23 2014 Latest news:
Sunday, March 30, 2014
As Fullers Mill Gardens in West Stow prepares to open to the public for the 2014 season, James Marston meets the man behind the creation of a gardening masterpiece
An elegant swan glides across the River Lark, silver birches rustle in the gentle spring breeze, Fullers Mill Gardens is an idyllic spot.
And everywhere you look there are interesting and unusual plants.
A lifetime of work by Bernard Tickner, the garden opens to the public from April to September.
Bernard said: “I have always been interested in plants ever since I was a child. I love gardening, once you have a bit of land of your own you can get interested and get started and watch it thrive.
“The garden has evolved and it is an extension of my personality. Gardening is very creative.”
Originally from Hadleigh, Bernard came to Fullers Mill in West Stow in 1958.
He said: “I was living in a flat in Bury St Edmunds. I had always wanted to live in the countryside.
“I remembered some people said to look them up if I was ever in West Stow. So I was in the village one day and asked where they lived and I was directed here.
“They said why not buy this place. So it was all settled over a cup of tea. I paid £1,550.”
Since then Bernard has increased the size of the garden and bought some surrounding land – and today there are seven acres of garden to explore.
He added: “When I came here it was fairly Spartan. There was electricity but the water came from the well. It was suitable to drink but it was rather dependant on the level of the river.”
With the River Lark and the Culford Stream flowing through the garden, Bernard set about creating the garden that visitors see today.
He said: “I began by planting a score of cricket bat willows. I didn’t have much land at the beginning but over the years I have added to it so there are 25 acres in all now.”
Bernard’s home, the mill house, is right next to a former lock which enabled barges to carry coal and corn from the North Sea to Bury St Edmunds when the Lark was navigable.
He said: “The earliest mill on the site dates from about 1450. There hasn’t been a mill here for many years. It wasn’t a flour mill it was a mill for fulling cloth. There was a weaving industry in this area and the fulling process made thicker cloth.”
With a variety of soil types – mostly light sandy soil – Bernard, a former production director at Greene King realised plants from southern climates would grow in West Stow.
He said: “The garden is the result of many years of collecting plants. A lot are from Greece, especially Crete, and I used to import them. The climate here is one of the driest part of the UK, not dissimilar to Crete at all.”
Including the low garden, top garden, the strip, the river and mill pond and the quandaries – an area which Bernard and his wife Bess found difficult to name – the garden flows from one area to the other giving plenty for the visitor to admire.
Bernard added: “I like to see people come here and I like to engage with them and talk about gardening and plants. People go away with ideas for their own gardens which is lovely. I am particularly interested in lilies and euphorbias and the garden reflects that. We’ve got 12 new types of lilies in the garden this year.”
Head gardener Annie Dellbridge is in charge of a team of 15 to 20 other gardeners, volunteers and work experience trainees.
Bernard said: “The appearance and standards of the garden has never been better. It really is superb now. Annie has very high standards.”
Annie, who trained at Writtle College in Essex, said: “We have a team of volunteers which are very good. It is a way for them to meet new people and find out new things. The garden changes so much throughout the seasons. You can’t have a favourite part of the garden as it changes so much.”
Rabbit fenced and deer proofed, the garden nevertheless attracts all sorts of wildlife from otters to kingfishers, nuthatches and swans – there’s even a flock of bantams running wild.
Annie said: “It is a lovely place to work. We grow our own plants so people can take away a memento of their day here. I really like listening to people’s feedback when they visit.”