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Historic houses and glorious gardens in Essex

Thursday, August 11th, 2016

EssexHistoric houses and glorious gardens


Whether it’s meandering round a manor or stepping back in time 


Meander round a medieval barn, wander among works of art and get away from it all in Essex’s inspiring gardens and historic gems.

In the heart of the county, September sees the return of the Chelmsford Heritage Open Days (8th to 11th September) with a host of properties again welcoming visitors and offering free admission. Highlights include access to the grounds of Pleshey Castle, tours of Hylands House and joining in the open days programme for the first time this year, Writtle Agricultural College and the Little Baddow History Centre. For more information, visit   and search events for ‘Chelmsford’.


A palace in all but name, Audley End is not just one of Essex’s grandest country houses but one of the nation’s. Amongst the Jacobean splendour, the history of the house and people who lived and worked there down the centuries is brought to life, and this summer the whole family can experience a series of events centering upon the wonderful Victorian stables.


As well as a new weekend stable yard timetable, there will be marvellous monthly horse shows on the first weekend of the month, until September. Find out about the life of a horse on a Victorian estate, from the elegance of carriage driving to working in harness. The resident horses and their visiting friends will be on hand to demonstrate the horse work that would have taken place at Audley throughout the 1800s.


On Saturday 3rd and Sunday 4th September, Audley End welcomes the ladies of the Victorian period for Stunning Side Saddles. Join these historic heroines as they take a stroll in the grounds, with demonstrations and experts on hand to tell you everything you want to know about horses and the modest but challenging art of riding side saddle. For full details of these and other events, click on


In nearby Saffron Walden, tucked away amongst the medieval market town’s picturesque back streets is Bridge End Garden. Consisting of seven, lovingly restored interlinked gardens, Bridge End is a Grade II-listed evocation of the Victorian taste for both formal and practical horticulture. In the case of the former, visitors can delight in a knot garden, complete with hedge maze (the largest in the world), whilst the latter reveals the 19th century diet through the garden’s herbs and vegetable plots.  for more information.


The exotic-sounding Forgotten Gardens of Easton Lodge are a ‘must’ for romantics and keen gardeners alike. Easton Lodge was originally built by Henry Maynard, former Treasurer to Queen Elizabeth I. His mansion followed the ‘H’ ground plan, typical of the era but was destroyed by fire in 1847. A gothic pile replaced it, which came to Frances ‘Daisy’ Maynard in 1865. Renowned as a great beauty, Daisy was courted by European aristocracy but eventually married Lord Brooke, the Earl of Warwick.


In 1902 she commissioned Harold Peto to redesign the grounds and he did so by bringing his passion for Italianate and French designs to Easton Lodge. These were greatly feted and much photographed during the Edwardian era, but the Second World War saw the estate requisitioned by the War Office and transformed into an airfield. Thousands of trees were either felled or blown up to make way for a runway and to create a base suitable for bomber aircraft.


After the cessation of hostilities, Greville Maynard demolished the house and bequeathed what remained of the estate to his daughter, Felice Spurrier in 1960. Felice sold the remaining buildings on and in turn, the grounds have been passed on to a number of individuals. However, in 1993 a small but enthusiastic group of volunteers undertook to restore the gardens of Easton Lodge. The intervening years have seen painstaking work to restore Peto’s gardens and though it continues, the areas recovered from nature’s wilder habits, are magnificent.


Whilst Copped Hall is another great house that fell victim to fire and abandonment, it too is now enjoying a renaissance thanks to volunteers. Reflecting its Tudor, Georgian and Victorian past, the once splendid hall’s gardens are undergoing restoration and visitors can get a sense of the house’s once majestic lawns, parkland and walled kitchen garden; produce from which – including fresh vegetables, fruit and flowers – can be bought on site.


In 1594, to celebrate his marriage to the Countess of Southampton, Sir Thomas Heneage – the house’s then owner – commissioned Shakespeare to write a play. The resultant A Midsummer Night’s Dream was thus first performed at Copped Hall, after the wedding ceremony in London. Acknowledging this a garden theatre has been created in the grounds.


Not far from Southend’s beaches and expansive waterfront sits Southchurch Hall and Gardens. Originally built in the 1300s, the medieval moated manor house is wonderfully preserved with its interiors laid out in a series of period rooms, including a great open hall reflecting life in the later Middle Ages, a Tudor kitchen with magnificent fireplace, and a solar wing displaying rooms in late Tudor and Stuart style. The surrounding five acres of park include ponds which are ideal for entertaining small children with that most traditional of pastimes, feeding the ducks.


For enthusiastic gardeners looking for inspiration and indeed, plants, the Beth Chatto Gardens are a must. Covering 6 acres, these beautiful gardens have become world famous. Creative use of the space has seen Beth and her team transform something of a wasteland into both a visitor attraction and important resource. There are four principal gardens across the site; scree, gravel, woodland and water all with lush leafy plantings of Gunnera, Eupatorium, Phormium and impressive Miscanthus around a series of natural ponds. New for summer 2016 is an audio tour voiced by Beth herself. To help plan your visit, have a look here

For more ideas of historic houses and glorious gardens to explore and enjoy and details on the attractions mentioned, please visit


Do you need some gardening done?

Tuesday, July 14th, 2015

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Unusual plant fairs

Monday, May 6th, 2013

Sunday 12th May 10 – 6. Cosmeston Lakes Country Park, Penarth. CF64 5UY. Free entry to fair and Medieval Village, and free parking.

Saturday 15th June 10 – 4, Old Hall Gardens, Cowbridge CF71 7AH. Free entry and parking.

Brilliant gardening quote

Monday, November 5th, 2012

To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow-Audrey Hepburn

Going to Interesting museum – The Zuider Zee Museum

Tuesday, July 10th, 2012

The Zuider Zee Museum in Enkhuizen is where you can eat
kippers straight out of the oil drum that they are smoked in.

Plus they have hand made sweets from the sweetshop as well as
sausages from the butchers shop there, plus a brushmakers.

The building was the 17th
century spice warehouse of the Dutch East
Indies Company.

The place is magic, it contains everything a foreigner expects in NL,
but rarely finds. The indoor museum with classic Dutch
sailing boats

in a hall in a dry dock is worth visiting too.

There’s a picture of the smoke

It also has a lot of traditional vegetable, flowers and fruit gardens
around the houses, including orchards full of fruit at the right time
of the year.

Fancy a conservatory?

Tuesday, July 10th, 2012

The weather this year has probably stopped you enjoying your garden as much as you should have done. Why not invest in a conservatory that you can sit in and enjoy full views of your garden whatever the weather.
A conservatory is a great addition to your house and garden, making a space that joins the two so well.

Request a brochure from Breckenridge Conservatories and find out more about their range of superb conservatories.

Rollable compost bag

Tuesday, March 13th, 2012

Fantastic products at Original Organics and with a brilliant invention here for making compost quickly. There are several composters that allow you to rotate the container which speeds up the process by mixing everything together. This one is the cheapest I’ve seen and it does it by being rolled on the ground so there’s no complicated set up.
It’s certainly an interesting idea and I think something people would all like to try. If you can make compost in 6 weeks with a little effort then that’d be fantastic for your garden.

Haxnicks RollMix Rollable Compost Bag

Haxnicks RollMix Rollable Compost Bag £15.99
Home composting has never been easier, quicker or more fun than with the RollMix™ Composter!Simply add the specified mix of organic waste from the simple how-to instructions included on the reverse of the pack.The polyethylene fabric traps heat, and by adding water and rolling, it is possible to make your own compost within 6 weeks.With your rich, nutritious compost you can top up raised beds, add to the base of plants and even use as a peat-free potting compost.

This is useful if you live in a rented property and don’t want a permanent long term compost container or have limited space.

I can see this being incredibly useful – imagine turning out good quality home made compost every six weeks! Rolling this looks easier than turning a huge compost bin full of material.

Mini Daffs

Monday, March 12th, 2012

mini daffodils

My mini daffodils have opened! They’re very tiny and very cute!

I have spent the weekend on my allotment. I aquired some old scaffolding boards last week so we have been putting them round beds. It’s hard work though! I’ve also done some digging over – have got my onion bed almost ready and have weeded another bed too! Am starting to think about potato planting too!

Spring Bulbs

Tuesday, March 6th, 2012


Spring bulbs are fantastic for the bees! A good reason to invest a few pounds in bulbs for spring flowers. Not only do they look amazing but they are a vital support for bees in the early spring!

My crocuses are out and looking amazing and have had several bees visiting.

My daffodils in the front garden haven’t got any sign of a flower though. This is because they were planted too shallow. I didn’t plant them I hasten to add, but I keep planning on digging them up and reburying them more deeply to give them a chance of flowering.

If you have ‘blind bulbs’ then you’ve probably not planted them deeply enough.
You might be able to bury them under more soil to get the required depth but it’s probably as easy to dig them up carefully and replant.

Deadheading bulbs – do you deadhead your bulbs? If you do then you stop them making seeds and allow them to put their energy into the bulb which means they should be stronger than ever next year!

Just moved house and got a new garden?

Monday, March 5th, 2012

Getting a new garden

What do you want from your garden?

Do you want to entertain it in, have a nice seating area, have a barbeque, grow veg, grow flowers, have a nice lawn to sunbath one, have a nice garden to look at, or have lots of things to keep you busy in it? What about a pond? Do you want a washing line? A compost bin? A play area for the kids?

If you’ve got a new garden – perhaps you’ve just moved house, then you can take your time to think about what you want from it.
Assess what plants are in it before you start work. This should sensibly mean spending a whole year just looking after it as it is.
It also gives you a chance to see which area gets the most sun, or gets too hot, or is the windiest bit of the garden.
Taking your time means you will more than likely make good decisions about how to lay out the garden.
It also means you don’t waste money on something that then either needs to be moved or isn’t suitable for your garden.

Draw plans of your garden. You don’t have to be a great artist or designer. Mark on where the sun spends most of it’s time and where is always shady. You might be able to tell from clues like moss in the shaded areas. Areas by walls and fences can often be drier because the wall affects how the rain falls. You might also find there are naturally soggy areas in the garden which need drainage improving.

Whilst you might be impatient and really want to crack on changing the garden you are best assessing your garden fully to ensure you know everything about it. You can start making notes about what you want in the garden.
You’ll also get to know what wildlife comes into the garden too – whether you have neighbouring cats, hedgehogs, birds, or foxes. All these tiny details can help you create a really good garden.

Set a budget – and save up whilst you’re assessing the garden, so when you’re finally ready you have some money to help you put your plans into action.

If you want to do hard landscape changes then do you have the skills you need, or will you have to rope in family members, or pay someone to do the work? If you want a new lawn then are you able to prepare the soil yourself and lay turf, or would you prefer to sow seed?

Your lawn might look in a bad state when you move in, but regular cutting will keep weeds down. Your flower beds might need weeding but take care that you’re not pulling up plants. If you are very lucky the previous owners will have left you information about plants in the garden. If not then you’ll have to try to identify them as best you can. Often neighbours can give you information about plants – especially those with nice gardens! Most gardeners are nice and friendly and will offer you help if you have basic questions.

Of course, after a year you might decide that the garden is perfect for you and be happy to leave it as it is. This would be a good outcome! No hard work or expense planned and you’ve got a garden you can use!