PUBLISHED: 10:58 19 May 2015 | UPDATED: 10:58 19 May 2015
Archant Norfolk 2015
As Mannington Hall gardens prepares to open for the summer, Rachel Buller meets owner Lady Walpole to discover more about this magical, enchanting place.
It is hard not to fall in love with Mannington Hall Gardens.
Where beautiful formal gardens, 19th century follies and a lily-filled moat combine with a mess of pots brimming with striking flowers and a vast wild meadow beginning to buzz with activity, it is a place of great contrast where something different catches your eye at every turn.
Owned by Lord Robin and Lady Laurel Walpole, Mannington Hall is a magnificent, romantic 15th century moated house, but while the hall itself might be rich in British political history, very little is known about its gardens. Lord Walpole says however, that the lack of historical knowledge in fact gave him more scope for “imaginative plans” when he and his wife set about transforming the gardens in the 1980s.
“There are very few records about the gardens,” says Lady Walpole. “Although just recently I discovered some colour glass negatives of the gardens which were from around the 1920s, hidden in a box marked Barningham Hall. It was a wonderful surprise and very interesting to see how things looked with lots of brightly coloured flowers by the hall.”
The couple come at gardening from two very different perspectives, with Lord Walpole very much more the horticulturist.
“He was much inspired by the headmaster of his prep school who was a member of the Royal Horticultural Society, and indeed he went on to read natural sciences, which included botany,” says Lady Walpole. “So he has a deep love for the gardens, whereas although I enjoy gardening, for me here at Mannington it has been a very different journey. I love the historic aspects of the garden and the stories behind it.
“When designing parts of the garden, we drew influence from historic books, would visit other gardens from certain periods or use memories of our own childhood to create something. When we were creating this rose garden, my husband remembered back to his grandfather’s garden in Essex which he was very fond of. It had brick pillars and a pond, with paving around it and we recreated that look which works very well.”
Springing into life
The couple employs a small team of gardeners who they work closely with throughout the year, but Lady Walpole says she loves being there when the gardens open in May.
“I am here all the time when it is open and love talking to people about the gardens; I also learn a lot from them as well. May is one of my favourite times of year here, when the gardens are only just starting to bloom because you can really appreciate the structure of the gardens and the little bits of history hidden away. When summer comes you are somewhat distracted by the amazing flowers in their full summer bloom.”
The unpredictable nature of gardening in one of things which makes it so special, and Mannington is no different.
“You get very odd anomalies and year by year things are so very different,” she smiles. “We have the most beautiful early flowering Banksia rose growing up the side of the hall, but because of the mild autumn we had last year, for the first time ever, it flowered in spring and then again in November. While it looked magical, it is only supposed to flower once a year, so now we are not sure whether we will see it again this year; we keep looking for signs and our fingers are all crossed.”
Lord Walpole has created as many different areas within the gardens as possible, which he describes as “complementary but contrasting”.
One of the most special things at Mannington is the walled Heritage Rose Garden which is home to hundreds of varieties of roses, many of which date back more than 30 years when they were carefully chosen by Lady Walpole.
“This is a very special place to me. I began working with Peter Beales on the list of roses we wanted to plant, and his enthusiasm was just so incredibly infectious,” she says of the late leading rose expert who founded the nursery bearing his name at Attleborough. “When one of our older roses dies we try to replace it with the same one, but we are finding that many no longer exist. We are trying to nurture those we have as carefully as possible.”
From the formal, traditional beauty of the rose garden, a gate takes you into a very contrasting area – the new stump garden which overlooks the wild meadow.
“It used to be a compost area but it has the most beautiful views across the meadow, so it is now an area to sit and take in these vistas. In the summer it is full of brightly coloured orchids and so much wildlife. We have placed a real emphasis on attracting more and more wildlife to our gardens and you can see the benefits all the time. We have otters in the moat and waterways, barn owls swooping across the meadow and so many water birds here now.”
Mannington Hall Gardens, near Itteringham, north-west of Aylsham (NR11 7BB) opens to the public on May 24.
It hosts events throughout the year, including regular nature walks and jazz afternoons and evenings, and is a home to the Mannington Minnows Nature Club, a school holiday club for children aged six and above; www.manningtongardens.co.uk; 01263 584175.