Top garden designer Xa Tollemache created homely gardens for Crow’s Hall Suffolk – just picture-perfect for making wedding memories. ‘Country Life’ details the planting.
At Crow’s Hall the ‘island’ gardens (contained within the moat) cover less than an acre. Owner, Caroline Spurrier, who commissioned them from leading garden designer Xa Tollemache of Helmingham Hall, refers to some of the planting, like that in the courtyard’s beds as ‘quite cottagey, which I like,’ declaring herself self-deprecatingly to be ‘a novice gardener of modest ability and conservative tastes… Xa knew there was no point giving me something too complex to maintain!’
Beyond her Grade II* listed ‘small scale’ redbrick manor house home and long Tudor Suffolk barn, lie three acres or more of old orchards, now used as paddocks and as a potential location for wedding couples celebrating their nuptials at the site to position marquees, glamping tents and even grand tipis. (“Our heartfelt thanks for hosting us for our big fat Indian Tipi wedding weekend,” writes one delighted couple in the Crow’s Hall visitors’ book!)
Further on from the paddocks lie more ‘mini-moats’, most probably the remains of historic stew ponds where fish were ‘stored’ or ‘grown’ ready for the cooking pot when fish – particularly on Fridays – was a staple diet of the Crow’s Hall manorial lord and his household.
Country Life magazine gardens feature writer Tim Longeville noted some of the original, careful planting orchestrated by Xa Tollemache which goes into making the gardens of Crow’s Hall feel both formal and very appropriately informal – or homely perhaps even – at the same time:
The Courtyard Garden at Crow’s Hall
“There is a profusion of sun-loving plants, many of them herbs or herb-relatives, such as santolina, nepeta, rosemary and salvia, together with colourful bold clumps of iris, alliums, euphorbias and perovskia, height at the back being provided by lilies, delphiniums and Thalictrum flavum glaucum. Between the upper bed and the moat is one other survivor from an earlier garden*, an impressive acer , under which, in spring , are drifts of Erythronium White Beauty.”
*magnolia mentioned previously
The Pool Garden at Crow’s Hall
“The same combination of formal layout and informal planting can be found in the second relatively sizeable area, a yew-hedged Pool Garden, in which the central raised pool is surrounded by four box-hedged beds, each containing a similar palette of plants to that used in the courtyard beds, including delphiniums lilies, thalictrums, alliums, peonies, atiemsias and Stachys byzantine, but with the addition of roses such as Winchester Cathedral and William Shakespeare.
“There is also a bed devoted to roses against the garden’s east wall, including that favourite of climber Madame Caroline Testout and the modern shrub roses Darcey Bussel and Sexy Rexy.”
There is also a “a small box-edged herb garden centred on a Warwick vase” and “a miniature knot garden, in-filled in gravel as it’s deep in shade throughout winter.”
The above extracts are taken from Tim Longeville’s 2014 article about Crow’s Hall Debenham Suffolk entitled ‘Water, water, everywhere’.
Coming up roses – gardening (and wedding) reasons to be cheerful
As one of the highest parts of Suffolk – be it only 200ft up! – both wedding guests and plants enjoy fine views down into the valley of the Deben, not so far from its source an also encounter fresh breezes. The soil here is heavy clay and given the ancient nature of the moated site, many of the beds are designed mindful of the footprint of earlier existing buildings to minimize planting challenges.
Wedding guests in particular will be delighted that gardens are open and sunny, yet protected from those breezes in many places by buildings and trees and that Crow’s Hall Debenham is located in a county of low rainfall, in one of the driest areas of the country. Even with water all around, due to the site’s height and resultant refreshing breezes, Caroline and the Crow’s Hall gardeners still find that it isn’t easy to prevent the soil from drying out. Recent hot, dry summers may have been a challenge, but wedding guests have always still commented on the fabulous nature of the gardens.
Crow’s Hall – Kind words »