The flowering of Norfolk

PUBLISHED: 06:15 15 September 2014

Fields of roses at Whartons Nurseries, Diss

Fields of roses at Whartons Nurseries, Diss


Fragile and fleeting yet vibrant and bold, the poppy carries a heavy burden of meaning in its bright red petals on slender stems.

Cut flowers from Hillcrest Nurseries, near LingwoodCut flowers from Hillcrest Nurseries, near Lingwood

The poignant symbolism of the poppy, swift to bloom on trampled battlefields but also swift to die, makes it the memorial flower for the millions killed in war. In 1915 Canadian John McCrae began a poem,

“In Flanders fields the poppies blow,

Between the crosses, row on row.”

Ever since the poppy has been the flower of remembrance for lives sacrificed in war.

A wildflower meadow at FrittonA wildflower meadow at Fritton

Here in Norfolk, the north coast was known as Poppyland from the 1880s because of the abundance of wild poppies blooming in cliff-top fields. Today, modern agriculture often consigns poppies to the margins of fields, but this year, a century on from the outbreak of the First World War, the brave red of the poppy takes centre stage again.

Every summer it is joined by an abundance of other flowers brightening the Norfolk landscape. Wildflowers grow in hedgerows and meadows; fields of flowers are grown for bunches and bouquets; flowering herbs are cultivated for their perfume. Even fairies are involved.

The buzz about blooms

In a walled garden in Lingwood, near Acle, Julie Clark is growing delphiniums, roses, peonies, phlox, foxgloves, scabiosa, veronica, sweetpeas, cornflowers, dahlias and larkspur.

Brides come to choose their wedding bouquets, florists can pick their own stock and Julie delivers buckets of blooms to nearby shops. Instead of being flown across the world or brought by ship and lorry from Holland, the flowers at Hillcrest Nurseries Cut Flower Garden are home-grown. Julie says imported flowers are picked too early and kept too long in cold storage - her Norfolk blooms, with their next-to-nothing flower-miles are bursting with beauty, vitality and fragrance.

Julie inherited her love gardening from her mother. “My mum died and it was very sudden and we just decided to relocate from London,” she says. When they heard of a nursery business for sale in Norfolk, Julie and her husband David were captivated.

They ran the business alongside careers, David as an engineer and Julie as a legal secretary, and eventually had to close the nursery. For four years the weeds took over, but last year the couple planted a field of flowers. This year they are clearing another field and eventually hope to have seasonal flowers ready to cut almost all year round.

“I just love watching them grow, from sowing the seeds to someone leaving with a bucket of flowers and knowing they are going to get pleasure from them,” says Julie.

“There’s a real buzz around the British cut flower industry at the moment and sometimes they literally come with a buzz, because the bees love them too!”

A touch of magic

The Fairyland Trust, founded in Norfolk in 2001, holds an annual fairy fair, full of magical ways to connect with the natural world. This year it launched its Fairy Meadow Fund to buy land for native flowers, to support bees and other threatened wildlife, and to provide places for families to picnic and play.

Chris Rose, director of the Fairyland Trust, says: “It can be hard for today’s parents even to find a traditional, flower-filled meadow to take the family to. We hope the Fairy Meadow Fund will help change that”.

The national conservation charity is based in Norfolk, and aims to help children and families learn about wildlife and nature through stories, drama, science and play. The trust hopes to raise £20,000 through donations via the charity’s website

Tulip tales

Twenty million tulips are grown by a Terrington St Clement nursery every year. Peter and Janet Ward, of Belmont Nurseries, Terrington, near King’s Lynn, also grow daffodils, stocks, gladioli, lilies, peonies and asters. But it is the tulips which are their biggest crop and are sold in supermarkets across the country. In just 10 years they have become England’s biggest tulip bulb producer.

The finished flowers are grown under glass in a soil-free hydroponic system. But first the bulbs are planted in around 100 acres of rented fields near Swaffham. The vibrant colours delight nearby residents and Janet says people from much further afield often ask about tours of their tulip fields. However, not a single flower is sold, instead they are de-headed, letting the goodness flow back into the bulb to create an even finer flower the following season. The bulbs are then lifted and put into cold storage over summer, to simulate winter, before being nurtured back into glorious bloom.

Plant treasures

For 25 years Norfolk Plant Heritage has been protecting and preserving rare plants. In gardens across the county almost 200 keen gardeners do their bit to save endangered species, and eight specialised collections of particular plants, garnered from all over the world, are nationally important. Norfolk Plant Heritage aims to preserve biodiversity by encouraging the cultivation of rare and endangered plants. This spring it treated delegates from across the country to tours of some of the county’s loveliest gardens. “Even the welcome packs contained Norfolk lavender and Nelson sweetpeas!” says Lesley Cunneen, of Norfolk Plant Heritage.

Norfolk’s national collections are:

Crocuses in Norwich

Tony Goode maintains his collection of crocuses in his garden in Hellesdon, and has crocuses in flower for almost nine months every year.

Gunneraceae in Ludham

Nivea Green’s collection began when her grandmother introduced one to her garden at The Mowle in Staithe Road, Ludham in 1923.

Lavender at Heacham

A national collection of lavender plants is held by Norfolk Lavender, at Caley Mill, Heacham, near King’s Lynn.

Fuschias in Norwich

Fuchsias introduced by Victorian gardener James Lye are held in a garden collection in Norwich.

Miscanthus grass in Bressingham, near Diss

The grass is the basis of a national collection at Bressingham Gardens which began as part of Alan Bloom’s island bed planting schemes.

Purple moor grass at South Lopham, near Diss

The national collection of this European moorland grass is held at The Plantsman’s Preference on Church Road, South Lopham, near Diss.

Roses at Attleborough

The Peter Beales old rose collection in Attleborough includes more than 100 different roses.

Grape hyacinths at Little Plumstead, near Norwich

Richard Hobbs inherited his national collection of hardy grape hyacinths, after being the only person to make an appointment to visit the flowers. He now has more than 100 types.

Nature’s finest

Natural Surroundings is a wildlife garden, wildflower nursery and nature reserve in the Glaven Valley at Bayfield, near Holt.

It also includes the Little Café in the Woods and a plant shop and is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. A programme of events runs all year round including, on Sunday, August 3, Bioblitz, when visitors are invited to join experts to find out how many different animals and plants live on the reserve. Admission fees are waived for people taking part in the drop-in day;

Ab Fab flowers

From the yellow of Absolutely Fabulous to the deep pink of Zephirine Drouhin, more than 1.5 million rose bushes are grown in the rose fields of Wharton’s Nurseries.

Diss-based Wharton’s grows more than 300 different types of rose, and at this time of year the fields are a multicoloured, many-scented patchwork of loveliness. Founded in 1947, the family business is Britain’s biggest rose grower, selling to garden centres and nurseries across the country.

Wharton’s Rose Fields will be open as part of the National Gardens Scheme on the weekend of August 23 and 24.

Bach to the coast

Dr Edward Bach developed some of his famous flower remedies while living in Cromer.

He was a Harley Street doctor with a particular interest in bacteria and the intestine before devoting his time to creating remedies from flower extracts. Six of his 38 Bach Flower Remedies were created in Cromer in the 1930s.

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