Classic and Contemporary Garden Designs

14Jul, 2018

Houghton Hall – Historic House and Gardens

A few weeks ago, three garden-loving friends and I visited Houghton Hall, a Historic house and gardens situated close to King’s Lynn and not far from Sandringham House. Houghton Hall was built in 1722 for Britain’s first Prime Minister, Sir Robert Walpole (who apparently only visited twice a year!), it is set in 100 acres of parkland and has an interesting and eclectic mix of things to see, including contemporary sculptures by world renowned artists, St Martin’s Church (built in the 12th Century), the world’s largest private collection of model soldiers and up to 29th July, art from around Norfolk (Norfolk by Design) and Damien Hirst.

The Walled Garden

Starting in the delightful Walled Garden, the long Nepeta-lined herbaceous borders are generous in proportion with a picturesque jumble of cool mauves, whites and blues of Delphiniums, Campanulas and foxgloves, punctuated here and there with Lupins, Geraniums and Sanguisorba amongst others. The Houghton Hall Rustic Temple can be seen at one end of the avenue whilst the impressive glasshouse is located at the opposite end. There is an unusual central ‘roundabout’ which works especially well and is a great touch. Carrying on around the Walled Garden we passed under the huge Wisteria covered pergola where a large collection of peonies were still out and about, unashamedly showy and boisterous. Their more reserved neighbours, the tree peonies, weren’t in flower yet, but promised much to come.

Nepeta line the generous herbaceous borders with the large glass house at the end
Roses and alliums in the formal borders encircling the central reservation

The Rose Garden

Another Houghton Hall highlight was the elegant Rose Garden which had just started to flower with hints of heady fragrance drifting across the paths. In the centre we found another surprise, a (very) sunken pool, surrounded by English Lavender at the top and hydrangea at the bottom – an easy place to sit down and relax, less so to leave once settled! The wide and wavy yew hedge that encompassed the rose garden added to the feeling of refinement and elegance within this peaceful area.

The magnificent Rose Garden surrounded by wide and wavy yew hedges
The sunken water feature lined with hydrangeas and relaxing benches

The vegetable garden and old fruit trees fit well into their surroundings and the Cupani sweet pea beds (probably at peak flowering now) looked and smelt great. There was even a pair of scissors laid on for visitors to cut their own sweet peas to take home (a clever way of getting other people to do your deadheading for you!).

The Mediterranean Garden

Also within the Walled Garden was the Mediterranean Garden, one of my favourite parts of Houghton Hall gardens, with formal box hedges forming tight spirals and a great water feature. This led onto the other interesting water feature in the garden – the Waterflame created by Jeppe Hein – a great idea and so well executed.

Box hedges formed into tight spirals
Jeppe Hein’s Waterflame

Modern and Contemporary Sculptures

The Waterflame is one of the many contemporary scultures found around the grounds at Houghton Hall. Among my personal highlights is the Houghton Hut (Rachel Whiteread), the Sybil Hedge (Anya Gallacio), Skyspace (James Turrell) and the Full Moon circle (Sir Richard Long).

Sybil Hedge
Skyspace
Full moon from above

In the end we spent so long wandering around the gardens that we missed out on the other attractions, but it’s always worth leaving something for next time, after all. Houghton Hall is a really interesting, beautiful and fun place to visit, with so many quirky, humorous touches to appreciate (and I haven’t even mentioned the significant Ha Ha). As an up and coming garden designer it provides wonderful ideas and inspiration to incorporate into future projects. I shall certainly be returning again to Houghton Hall to revisit the wonderful garden and probably see the other features that I missed first time around.

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