5 historic gardens to visit in Suffolk
- Credit: Julie Kemp
Helmingham Hall, Stowmarket
Able to trace their lineage all the way back to the Norman era, the Tollemache family have resided at Stowmarket’s Helmingham Hall for hundreds of years after completing the grand, sprawling residence in 1510.
While the hall itself isn’t open to the public, visitors can explore its expansive, mixed gardens between May and September. Home to extensive borders, a stunning rose garden, a parterre, a herb and knot garden, a wildflower orchard, impressive arched tunnels throughout, and a topiary garden, it’s not hard to see why the gardens themselves are Grade I-listed.
In addition to stunning floral displays, Hellingham Hall’s gardens are home to a wide variety of wildlife – including and not limited to toads, blue tits, robins, dragonflies, tortoiseshell butterflies, goldfinches, grasshoppers, newts, weasels and turtle doves. A survey taken last decade also recorded seven species of bats that have been observed on the grounds.
Beyond the garden, there is also a 400-acre park with red and fallow deer throughout. The hall’s archives suggest the deer have been in the park since the mid-17th century. Famed artist John Constable, whose brother was a steward of the grounds, lived briefly at Helmingham Rectory – and it was during this period that he painted A Dell, Helmingham Park in 1830. A number of the park’s oaks are thought to be around 900 years old, and the very same oak featured in Constable’s painting is still stood to this day. Tickets are currently available for the very popular spring plant fair at Helmingham. Cancelled last year, it takes place over two days in 2021 - May 30 and 31.
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Otley Hall, Otley
Surrounding this 15th century moated Tudor Hall are 10 acres of picturesque gardens set in the heart of the Suffolk countryside. Otley Hall’s historic grounds are known for their vibrant floral borders, wooded areas, water features and nods to medieval design throughout.
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Standout features include the H-shape canal and mount inspired by Francis Inigo Thomas, a famous Edwardian landscape gardener. Otley Hall’s Elizabethan-style knot garden, herber and orchard were designed by garden historian Sylvia Landsberg, and its most recent feature – a striking hedge labyrinth – was installed in the gardens over a decade ago, its design inspired by the one on the floor of France’s Chantres Cathedral.
For any avid birdspotters, be sure to keep an eye out for any of the 75 species of birds that have been noted across the grounds – including majestically roaming peacocks, ducks, green woodpeckers, heron and moorhens.
Kentwell Hall, Long Melford
With over 30 acres of gardens to lose yourself in and surrounded by an idyllic moat, Kentwell Hall is not only a sight to behold, but is an impressive thousand years old. While its current building façade dates back to the mid-16th century, Kentwell itself is referenced in the Domesday Book of 1086.
Its colourful, historic garden boasts a number of standout features, including its walled garden and espaliered fruit trees, which are home to over 60 varieties of apple and pears; lawns that date back to the 18th century; and a number of majestic cedar trees which have been stood since the 19th century.
For fans of all things floral, spring is the ideal time of year to visit, as snowdrops are in bloom in the woods, while swathes of daffodils take over the grounds. Fast forward to summer and you’re guaranteed to catch a glimpse of cowslips, bluebells and a variety of wildflowers including pyramid orchids and roses.
Kentwell Hall is also home to a rare breed farm, which features a range of livestock including Norfolk Horn Sheep, Longhorn cattle, a Suffolk Punch Cross, three Bagot goats and a Baudet du Poitou – one of the rarest donkey breeds in the world. Believed to also be one of the oldest donkey breeds in the world, evidence shows that the variety has existed since the Roman period. Visitors can head to Kentwell Hall between March 6 and September 19 between 11am and 3pm. Tickets can be booked via its website.
Glemham Hall, Woodbridge
Just outside of Woobridge is Glemham Hall, a Grade I-listed Elizabethan stately home that is surrounded by 300 acres of stunning park and grounds. With a history going all the way back to the mid-16th century, the hall and its grounds have been owned by the Cobbold family since 1923.
The gardens that currently stand today are the work of English landscape designer Humphry Repton, who designed the parkland in 1791. Its wide, sprawling lawns are framed by yew hedges, topiary and an avenue of Irish yews, while a variety of veteran oak trees can be seen across the grounds – with some dating back to over 600 years ago.
Glemhall Hall is also home to a walled rose garden, a lily pond, a herbaceous garden, swathes of wildflowers and a commemorative garden dedicated to Suffolk composer Benjamin Britten which was designed in 2013 to mark the centenary of his birth.
Ickworth Park, Bury St Edmunds
While Ickworth House was built between 1795 and 1829, Ickworth itself can be traced back to the medieval Domesday Book of the late 11th century. It later became the home of the Hervey family in 1432 for the next 500 years.
Now under the care of the National Trust, Ickworth is the proud home of an Italianate garden that encircles the stunning Rotunda - one of the first of its kind in the UK. Made with privacy, space and freedom in mind, this garden is a marriage of both classical Italian design and English heritage.
Visitors can be sure to see a variety of beautiful floral displays and trees throughout the sprawling grounds, including towering cypress trees, magnolia trees and purple-leaved beech, alongside a mixture of Mediterranean herbs, grasses, and perennials. In addition, heritage fruit and vegetables grow in the ground’s gardens, and espaliered pear, apple, and quince trees trail along Ickworth’s walls and line pathways. Currently, Ickworth is limiting the number of visitors to its grounds, but tickets can be booked via its website.