The Only Way is Essex: part 2

RHS Garden Hyde Hall

Once a year throughout my teenage years we took Sean, our black Labrador cross, to Mr Montgomery’s kennels or ‘Monto’ as my dad called it. Mr Montgomery was an elderly Scotsman whose boarding kennels were down a country lane about 12 miles from our house in Brentwood. Mr Montgomery loved Sean and we knew he would be in safe hands while we were on holiday. The kennels were in the tiny village of Rettendon close to the Hanningfields reservoir which supplied water to much of south Essex. In those distant days there was no indication that from 1993 a remarkable new garden would develop in Rettendon, to be run by the Royal Horticultural Society: RHS Garden Hyde Hall.

My last post described my visit to the Beth Chatto Garden near Colchester. The next day we went to Hyde Hall. The only other RHS garden I have visited is Wisley in Surrey, not too long a drive from home for me and where I go a couple of times a year. I was curious to compare Hyde Hall with its older sister garden and the most striking immediate differences for me were the wide skies and open vistas of the Essex garden. If I say that a couple of areas reminded me of a golf course it is not meant as a criticism, it is to describe the openness of much of the site. It was fascinating to see the extent of the tree planting being undertaken and to imagine what the same views will look like in 40 years’ time when the trees have matured. It made me think about the work of the great 18th century landscape designers like Charles Bridgeman, Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown and Humphrey Repton who moulded the land to their vision of the perfect landscape, moving trees and creating lakes and mounds. In the 21st century powered machinery has replaced men, horses and ingenious (and huge) tree planting devices.

The route indicated in the visitor map leads you first to the Winter Garden, always of interest to me for ideas for year round interest. I hadn’t gone very far before spying a low-growing plant with lobed and serrated leaves in a neat crown with a mass of starry white flowers flushed pink and held on dainty red stems: Saxifraga Sibyll Trelawney JP.

Saxifraga Sibyll Trelawney JP.

Grasses feature throughout much of the garden, such as at the foot of these birches, blended with Cornus, yet to be shed crimson leaves masking the scarlet stems which will come to the fore during the winter months.

Birches, grasses & dogwoods

I was surprised to find a Daphne already in flower, expecting these sweetly scented evergreen shrubs to flower in very early spring, but here Daphne x transatlantica Blafra was covered in waxy white blooms, smelling quite divine. Not far away, I was pleased to identify a tree that I have seen growing near my niece’s home in Somerset, Fraxinus angustifolia Raywood, the leaves of which turn a faintly metallic crimson shade from early October.

It was the third weekend in October and thanks to a blend of grasses and late flowering perennials such as Verbena bonariensis and Anemone japonica the Clover Hill Borders were both colourful and full of movement. The stems of Lythrum virgatum Dropmore Purple are garnet-coloured in autumn and complement swathes of Persicaria. Another combination that caught my eye was russet flowered Mahonia nitens Cabaret and the blue flowers of Ceratostigma willmottianum.

The area known as the Queen Mother’s Garden is composed of a series of woodland areas, packed with interesting trees and shrubs. This being an RHS garden I saw many unfamiliar cultivars, such as the white berry-bearing Callicarpa japonica Leucocarpa, its autumn leaves almost as pale as its fruit. Or Berberis Georgei, festooned with bunches of plump berries resembling scarlet jellybeans. Cornus Norman Hadden also bears unusual fruits which look for all the world like very large raspberries.

A tree cultivar suitable for a smallish garden thrust skywards through a grove of bananas: Liquidambar styraciflua Slender Silhouette. And the sun illuminated the plumes of a Pampas grass (Cortaderia).

Beyond the shaded slopes of Clover Hill the garden opens out to reveal a light-filled cafe and buildings such as a thatched barn, which once formed part of the farm on the site of which the garden has been created. Echoing Beth Chatto’s Gravel Garden from the day before, but built on a sloping site, it was interesting to explore the Dry Garden where another pampas grass swayed gracefully in the breeze.

We cut through to the Global Growth Vegetable Garden, built in a circular design around an octagonal glasshouse. All manner of edible plants are displayed here including dahlias. When I’ve seen dahlias growing on allotments it’s usually for decorative purposes but here I learnt from an interpretation panel that they can be eaten! But when you can mash, fry or roast the common or garden spud, cooking dahlias seems like a lot of bother particularly if it means missing out on spectacular flowers like those on view here.

The crisp precision of the yew hedging in the very formal and traditional Rose Garden and Herbaceous Border was a testament to the high standard of horticulture at Hyde Hall, showcase as it is for the RHS.

Formality of a more contemporary kind anchors the last two gardens we saw on this visit. Located near the garden exit, the Modern Country Garden and Cottage Garden. In the former, yew pyramids at bed corners and drums created from (I think) olive trees, provide structure amidst grasses and Allium seedheads.

Vivid foliage shone out in the Cottage Garden: button snakeroot (Liatris spicata Kobold) and Euonymus alatus. Uplifting sights before facing the Sunday afternoon traffic on the A12 and M25!

20 November 2021

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