‘Hidden Gardens’ this weekend at Grundisburgh, Burgh & Culpho, near Woodbridge. Details here
- Credit: Sarah Lucy brown
Gardening’s a family affair for Davina, Peter, Josie and David
As well as pretty flowers, elegant fruit trees and glorious views, you might see Wallace and Gromit the goats if you visit one of the ‘hidden gardens’ opening its gates this weekend. Steven Russell was allowed in early
It probably wouldn’t be everybody’s cup of tea, but in this corner of Suffolk it works a treat: two (three, really) generations living within 75-odd metres of each other and caring for the land as a team effort.
Davina and Peter Marshall have occupied the main house since 1996. Then, just up the slope, is a lovely home created from farm buildings that were once falling down. Rebuilt, it will have been home to Davina’s parents, Josie and David Baker, for nine years come November.
“They live in the mansion. This is ours. We know our place,” quips David. In terms of looking after the flora and fauna, “We all muck in together, really,” says Josie.
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Fynn Hoo Farmhouse and Barn are at Burgh, near Woodbridge. When Peter and Davina bought the site, it was essentially clear, bar the buildings. Now there’s a rockery at the front of the farmhouse, with alpine plants and shrubs, and a mini-wood at the back. There are roses and a long herbaceous border, too. All told, the land stretches to about six acres. The views are a bonus. The front of the house looks over the valley, with the shiny cap of 57-feet-high Burgh Mill. From the top of the house, the couple can see three churches in one direction (Burgh, Clopton and Otley) and Grundisburgh the other way.
Fynn Hoo Barn was in 1890 part of a dairy with 90 acres. Now it’s the Bakers’ neat C-shaped house, set around a courtyard adorned with pots. One side is a cart-barn full of bygone tools David has collected, including a hand-operated horse hair-clipper. Outside is a well-stocked vegetable garden, an orchard with 11 trees, and a herbaceous border. “You can tell, we do like plants,” smiles David. “We used to like plants.” (A reference to the number, and the work required.) “No, we do.” They’ve all swapped Essex for Suffolk. Peter was working at Bradwell power station, near Maldon, and looking to change his job. A position came up at Sizewell B. (Nowadays he oversees the planned “outage” management of the eight nuclear power plants operated by EDF Energy.) Peter and Davina moved up from Essex in about 1989 and lived at Yoxford for eight or so years before finding Fynn Hoo. A builder had lived there a few years, turning a pair of cottages into the farmhouse and filling in a deep pond, but the Marshalls had plenty of scope.
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Friend Ken Akers, a garden design consultant, added a basic structure, with trees. Now there are at least 120 – including ash, maple and Mirabelle wild plum. Ken also built the rockery, where there had been two brick walls, a bit out of kilter. David did the steps. “That was when I was fit,” he laughs. Hedging was planted; a turning circle laid. Davina and Peter also bought part of the adjoining field and planted May-trees along the drive.
The orchard was created at the top end. There are apples, pears, greengages, plums and more.
“It’s all just evolved, really,” says Davina, “like all places do.”
Those old outbuildings were tumbling down. “Mum and dad were looking to move, looked at some properties, couldn’t really find anything, so we said ‘The buildings need doing; do you want to live there?’” Perfect solution. A builder friend came up from Essex, installed a mobile home and his team on-site, and would spend the week in Suffolk. “We couldn’t afford the ‘Suffolk prices’,” grins David. “That saved us £100,000. That’s a lot of money.” The project took about a year.
The transformation of the site wasn’t without its challenges. Much of the ground at the back was crushed concrete with clinker on top, he says, with a lot of waste material seemingly buried from the days when the place was a farm. A digger had to be used to dig holes for trees.
Trees, shrubs and residents aren’t the only additions. There are five goats, Bert the horse and Dusty the pony; Kunekune pigs Rua and Tahi; chickens and ducks. And dog Buster.
David and Josie had lived in Mayland for a long time, near Burnham-on-Crouch. Josie’s father had had a small nursery, so horticulture was in her DNA. Not quite the same with David. “I wasn’t interested in gardening whatsoever,” he says. “My father died when I was 13 and I got landed with an allotment and a big garden, because I was the only boy left at home. “I had to leave school and, fool that I was, I went to work in a nursery at Woodford. We lived in Newbury Park in those days. And then we had a weekend bungalow in Mayland.”
His dad had bought land sold off in the 1930s as 200ft by 60ft plots. The family would come up for weekends. “And later I moved down there. And where did I go? Worked in an orchard!”
After he and Josie got together they had some land and grew things, putting up a 100ft greenhouse and producing salad crops they’d sell at the door. Then they started growing shrubs and it became a small nursery. Life for the couple is now grounded firmly in Suffolk, though they keep in touch with friends from Essex, and they belong to Wickham Market & District Gardening Club and groups in Otley and Woodbridge.
He’d “lived” in Suffolk before – very, very briefly – after being evacuated to Ipswich at five. His mother retrieved her three lads after just two weeks, because life just wasn’t the same without them. “So we went back and slept under a billiard table during the war!”
We go on a tour – admiring the border by the second old dairy building, in which an owl roosted during the winter. There’s a lot of life in this border, including poppies, alliums, pittosporum, elaeagnus, thymus, euonymus and berberis.
Trees in the orchard include a Pink Lady apple that one of Davina and Peter’s daughters grew from seed. (They have a daughter at university; another’s finishing sixth-form.)
There are extensive vegetable patches ? growing potatoes, gooseberries, beans, rhubarb, peppers, runner beans, spinach, leeks, lettuce, beetroot, parsnip and cabbage. The carrots are covered, to deter carrot root fly, and there are tomatoes in the large greenhouse.
Round the back and we find the developing young wood, with the nautical-themed treehouse where the girls played. Trees include crab apple, walnut (squirrels pinch the nuts), and mulberries.
Davina looks at an area where the bulbs have died down, apologises (there’s no need!) and says tidying it is on her to-do list.
Does the family manage to find time to kick back and enjoy it all? “Well, we do, but we’re always busy trying to do lots of things.” Davina herself is keen on cycling, is in a choir and works one day a week.
“This is how you weigh up your workload. It’s there to be done, but it’s important to spend time with the girls, too,” she says.
Looks to me as if the balance is just right.
• Fynn Hoo Farmhouse and Barn are open as part of Grundisburgh, Burgh & Culpho Horticultural Society Hidden Gardens
• It takes place today and tomorrow (Saturday, June 13 and Sunday 14th)
• Times: 2pm to 6pm
• There are more than 25 places to visit. Some are open only on one of the days
• Buy programmes from stall on Grundisburgh Village Green
• Admission: £5 by programme and sticker, giving entry on both days
• Accompanied children aged 14 and under are free
• Profits go to Home Start East Suffolk, and Krissy and Friends (which works with musicians to raise money for therapy, through music, for children with a life-threatening injury or illness. It also helps their families)
• Lunches are being served at The Dog pub in Grundisburgh
• Teas are served in the Parish Rooms
• There are plant and cake stalls on The Green