A few weeks ago I was invited to a bloggers get together at RHS Hyde Hall in Essex. A new garden to explore with blogging buddies old and new was way too much of a temptation, especially as a picnic, tour of the garden with Ian Bull the garden manager and a plant swap (a planned RHS event for the weekend) were thrown in for good measure.
I don't know Essex that well and as I got ever closer to Hyde Hall, I couldn't believe an RHS garden could be found anywhere amongst the rolling hills (yes, Essex has hills!) and extensive farmland - and that was after I'd taken the signposted entrance to the garden.*
Later Ian enlightened us about the farmland whilst looking at the pictured view above - over 300 hundred acres came with the house and original garden bequeathed to them. So as well as this being let out to farmers, the RHS has plenty of opportunity to make walking trails, plus plant 1,000s of trees on the estate as well as having ambitious plans to make a large lake on the lower lying land. One of their key approaches is to make the garden blend in more with its surrounding landscape, hence the major changes envisaged.
Around the original traditional farmhouse is the more conventional 'English country garden' which the previous owners the Robinsons had made. It has probably the lushest of lawns I've ever seen. Here, visitors are encouraged to take a picnic and generally make the garden their own.
There's a rose garden with strong structures and outlines...
... and yew buttresses enclosing the planting at the side - we were told the scooped shape to soften the structure was one of Matthew Wilson's alterations to the garden.
Another reworked part of the garden is a lower, damper garden with its walls constructed from gabions devised by Christopher Bradley-Hole. Ian told us people either love or loathe this part of the garden. I loved it - my tastes must be changing again!
Hyde Hall is well known for pushing the barriers regarding what can be grown in this country. Sadly last year's harsh winter has devastated the Australian and New Zealand Garden, which was roped off for redevelopment when I was there. Probably the most famous feature in this line is the Dry Garden, which was still going strong. This was my favourite part of the garden, because it was looking really good and provided an opportunity to learn exactly which plants will thrive under dry conditions.
Ian told us that the underlying clay at Hyde Hall provides quite a challenge to having a dry garden as the kind of plants which thrive there in the summer absolutely hate getting their feet wet in the winter. As ever soil preparation is key, with lots of gravel added to help with drainage. The dry garden is also on a slope, which helps. It'll be interesting to see how the large extension to the dry garden fares as the slope for this part is much gentler. As you can see from the photo, this was in its early stages of being built.
Then came a piece of unplanned planting. Last year a wildflower mix was sown in the dry garden extension area. The temporary clearance of the soil to make the new dry garden meant a bank of self-sown wildflowers is the serendipitous result this year.
Over the summer there's also a display of African sculpture throughout the garden (plus workshops on selected dates), which gives the viewer a different perspective on some of the garden's features.
Overall it was a great day, thanks to the RHS' hospitality (special thanks go to Laura Tibbs, Hayley Monckton and Ian Bull) and the lively company of Amanda (Eight by Six) Claire (Plant Passion) and Kevin (Nature/Nurture). I haven't shown you all of the garden so there's plenty more for you to explore and discover for yourselves and with the changes envisaged in the garden's 10 year plan, it looks like it'll be worth many a repeat visit over the coming years :)
* NB the entrance has been moved this year, so it's best to use the directions on the RHS website. Google maps hadn't caught up with the times when I visited in June and would have sent me to the wrong place had I followed its directions. It feels terribly wrong driving through what seems miles of relatively empty farmland, but you will get there eventually I promise.