The Walled Garden, Benhall 5184

Saxmundham, England, Suffolk, Suffolk Coastal

Brief Description

The Walled Garden at Benhall was originally the kitchen garden for Benhall Lodge, built in the early 19th century. It is now a plant nursery, selling to the public.

History

Built around 1815, at the same time as the present Benhall Lodge, the walled kitchen garden once formed part of the Benhall Estate to supply produce for the Lodge.

Visitor Facilities

http://www.thewalledgarden.co.uk
Features

Plant Environment

  • Flower Garden
  • Plant Type
Access & Directions

Access Contact Details

http://www.thewalledgarden.co.uk

Directions

Approximately 7 miles north of Woodbridge. Well-signposted just off the A12.
Authorities

Civil Parish

  • Benhall
History

Detailed History

Built around 1815, at the same time as the present Benhall Lodge, the walled kitchen garden once formed part of the Benhall Estate to supply produce for the Lodge. There are various references in trade directories to market gardening taking place at the garden from as early as 1873, eventually leading to it being run as an independent nursery from the mid 1920s. However, by the 1980s the fortunes of the nursery had declined and the walled garden had become derelict and in a state of disrepair. In 1987, the present owners took over the garden and set about a major restoration programme, which was completed in 2006. Today, it is run as a successful commercial nursery with a one acre area set aside as a planted garden of mixed perennial and shrub display borders for visitors to view stock plants in a mature and peaceful setting.

BENHALL LODGE AND ESTATE

Today the hamlet of Benhall Green, in the south-west corner of the parish (and east of the A12) forms the only village settlement. However, an area west of Benhall Church was formerly a village of considerable size known as Kelton. The earliest Benhall Lodge was built by Sir Edward Duke about 1638. Kirby’s 1736 map shows it situated near to Kelton settlement – the occupier at that time being E Tyrel Esq. In 1783, Hodskinsons (Fadens) map shows the Lodge and estate located west of the road (today's A12) and bounded by Kelton End in the south-west and Silverlace Green in the north-west. The church, which is today isolated, is shown on the edge of the estate land, just to the east of the house.

At this time Samual Rush Esq was in residence. On his death about 1784 the estate passed to his nephew, Sir William Beamaris Rush who sold it to his cousin, George Rush Esq, in 1790, who later sold it to Admiral Sir Hyde Parker in 1801. On the death of Admiral Sir Hyde Parker in 1807 the estate was bought by Edward Hollond Esq, the High Sheriff of Suffolk, who demolished the original Lodge and built the present residence on another site to the south-east in about 1815.

It was set in an extensive park of 130 acres with the walled kitchen garden in a slightly remote westerly location from the house. By 1830, sales particulars describe it as having a park of around 120 acres and 'very judiciously placed at a moderate distance from the bustle of the High Road, and seated in a park of some extent, well wooded, and belted by a most luxuriant Plantation for nearly two miles.' It was sold for 78,000 guineas to the Rev Edmund Hollond who also had a London residence in Grosvenor Place. In 1884, Edmund died and the estate passed to his nephew, Edmund Robert Hollond Esq. It was to stay in the Hollond family during most of the 1900s, albeit slowly broken up and sold off.

Today the Lodge, walled garden and much of the estate lands are in separate ownership, and the park, which is dominated by 19th century planting, especially horse chestnut, lime and sweet chestnut, has recently (2007) seen a programme of replanting, after becoming badly degraded by the end of the 20th century.

THE WALLED GARDEN DESCRIPTION

The walled garden is in a slightly remote situation to the west of Benhall Lodge and was built around the same time as the house in about 1815. It is located south-west of Saxmundham and lies on the boundary between sandy clay loams to the west and the free-draining sandy soils to the east, known as the Suffolk Sandlings. The soil at the garden reflects this by varying from a sandy loam at the entrance to a medium clay loam in most of the garden itself.

SETTING AND BOUNDARIES

The garden is bordered to the north, south and east by woodland trees and to the west by a recently developed car parking area and open grass and shrubs. From here the garden is accessed through an entrance, which once was much narrower, but which has been widened and developed since the hurricane of 1987 destroyed the original walls and entrance opening.

HISTORIC CONTEXT

Built at the same time as the new Lodge, the walled garden provided fresh produce for the house. Estate accounts for Benhall Lodge from the 1820s and 1830s describe the work of 3 or 4 men regularly employed in the gardens of the Lodge – trimming trees, painting lights, hoeing round gardens and weeding. By 1873, Harrod’s Directory for Suffolk and Cambridgeshire lists William Caddle as estate gardener and Thomas Podd as market gardener – presumably working within the walled garden and providing produce both for the house and to sell on the open market. By 1883, Kelly’s Directory shows that John Pallant had joined Benjamin Podd as a market gardener, whilst Charles Caddle had taken over from William Caddle as estate gardener. Further entries in trade directories over the next 20 years show John Pallant continuing as a market gardener until the beginning of the First World War.

As with other estates at the time, Benhall appears to have suffered great turbulence during and immediately after the war, and it is not until about 1925, in the hands of Amos Goldsmith, that the kitchen garden appears to be back in full production, although by this time it had become an independent commercial nursery, which provided produce for the house only as a payment for rent. A wide range of produce was grown at the time with cut flowers being the most profitable. Pot plants, vegetables, soft fruit and more exotic fruits such as peaches, figs and grapes, were produced for the local market, bedding plants were regularly delivered to Woolworths in Great Yarmouth, and wreaths and crosses using greenery from the woods outside the walled garden became a speciality. Once a year terracotta pots packed in straw were transported by horse and cart from nearby Saxmundham railway station, as were huge quantities of coal, which was used to heat at least five boilers within the garden. Soil for the pots was supplied from the estate in the form of turves, which were interspersed with pig manure and stacked on site. A pond, which is still in existence, and a number of water tanks were used to store water. This was pumped from a number of ponds outside the walls to the north.

After the Second World War the cut flower trade, mostly chrysanthemums which were sold in Covent Garden Market, became the mainstay of the nursery. But by the 1980s the fortunes of the nursery had declined and the walled garden had become derelict and in need of repair. In 1987 the present owners took over the garden and set about a major restoration programme. Enclosing some 2 acres with a further 2.5 acres outside the walls, the garden has a number of buildings still standing, although the last of a range of glasshouses and the walls near the original entrance were destroyed by the hurricane of 1987. The main feature is a quarter mile of wall comprising 300,000 red bricks, many of which are believed to have been made from clay dug on site. This has had considerable attention and all the buildings on the site have had restoration work done, including in some cases reroofed. Modern polytunnels and glasshouses have been carefully sited so as to respect the integrity of the historic features within the gardens and a one acre area has been set aside as a planted garden of mixed perennial and shrub display borders in which visitors can view stock plants in a mature and peaceful setting. Today, the walled garden is run as a nursery selling a range of garden plants and is a valuable source of stock plants.

OVERALL DESCRIPTION & OUTSIDE

The walls enclose roughly 2 acres of land with an additional 2.5 acres outside. This outside area is planted with a mixture of laurel, beech, oak and yew – mostly less than 100 years old – obscuring the former path that surrounded the outer walls, which is shown on the 1883 OS Map. Little, other than an overgrown pile of rubble, remains of the former gardener’s cottage that once stood to the north of the walled garden.

THE WALLS FROM OUTSIDE

Thanks to the restoration programme by the present owners, the walls are generally in good repair, although a large crack – from what appears to be settlement – is badly in need of repair in the south-east corner. Bonding and coping is varied throughout the length of the walls. There are 14 brick stepped buttresses on the outside of the east wall, 10 on the north wall and approximately 23 on the west wall. The outside of the east wall shows signs of irregular pitting and a few nails that are indicative of previous planting, although very little evidence was found on the outside of the other walls for this. The north wall is of an irregular height – being lower at its western end – and has the remains of a boilerhouse and storeroom with a bricked up doorway which once gave access from the garden to the gardener’s cottage. A large brick built water tank stands at the corner of the north and west walls, and a further bricked up entrance is seen near this along the west wall. Approximately midway along the west wall, a modern conservatory and entrance has been created into the garden, replacing the original narrower entrance and flanking walls that were demolished by the 1987 storm. Positioned midway along the south wall is an entrance gate, which is shown on the 1883 OS Map and gave access from the house through wooded pleasure grounds.

THE WALLS FROM INSIDE

Remnants of whitewash – indicative of the position of former glasshouses – can be seen continuously along the south facing wall (north wall) of the garden and, in patches along the west facing wall (east wall). Much of the south facing wall (north wall) was heated by three boilers, all serving heating systems with heavy 4 inch cast iron pipes where the water moved round by convection. The chimney of the boiler house still stands to the east end of this wall, and there are a number of holes made by the nails that held carefully trained fruit trees. Further evidence appears for the training of fruit along much of the west facing wall (east wall), although little can be seen on the east facing (west) or north facing (south) walls.

DIVIDING RANGE

A large lean-to vinery house once stood on the south of the wall which divides the garden. Still in evidence are the remains of pulleys, which once formed part of a ventilation system similar to that used in sash windows. Grapes were grown on wires fixed to the glazing bars, and peaches were grown on the south facing back wall. The buildings on the other side of this wall, which comprised stores, potting shed and mushroom house, have been adapted for use as offices and stores.

INTERNAL USE

Today, a one acre area at the north end is set aside as a planted garden of yew hedges, mixed perennial and shrub display borders for visitors to view stock plants in a mature and peaceful setting. This area also includes newly built pond, pergola and paths, although none of these bear any relationship to the original paths layout shown on early OS maps. The central area comprises plant sales displays, shop, store and offices, whilst the southern end is taken up with modern glasshouses, polytunnels and beds for raising plants, all of which have been carefully positioned to respect the integrity of the walls themselves.