This prestigious national award, presented annually since 1984, is designed to recognise the importance of some of the country’s most spectacular gardens with outstanding horticultural and public appeal. The Award is voted for by HHA Friends who judge the gardens purely based on their enjoyment.
The Grade I listed gardens at Helmingham are owned by the Tollemache family who have lived in this beautiful house since it was built in 1490. Currently the house is inhabited by Timothy and his wife Xa, a landscape designer and gardener. The current owners have lived on the site longer than any of the previous 18 generations and have brought their family up inside the boundaries of its moat.
On approaching the house visitors are met with the incredible site of an unchanged early Tudor house surrounded by a moat with a drawbridge that is still lifted every evening. The tranquil gardens themselves are tucked away; they exude style and clearly reflect the hard work of Xa herself.
Visitors to the garden first reach a Parterre and Hybrid Musk Garden, approached along a wide grass causeway flanked by large yew domes. Beyond the Parterre, and surrounding it on three sides, is a rose garden planted in 1965 by, Dinah then Lady Tollemache. The garden contains hybrid musk roses edged with Hidcote lavender and under-planted with London Pride.
Visitors can also see a working walled kitchen garden, complete with sweet peas, runner beans and gourds, surrounded by double herbaceous borders in cruciform style. In 1986 this area was restored to the original eight sections, as per garden plans. Arched tunnels have been added to the vegetable plots creating new walks and vistas, while two bridges lead to an Apple Walk and Wild Flower Garden.
At the latter, wildflowers abound with primroses, cowslips and marsh orchids providing a refreshing contrast to the formal gardens and a natural wildness not often found at historic houses.
The borders at Helmingham consist of shrub, topiary, grass and colour-themed flowers. While separate areas are planted to flower in early spring and summer providing a variety of stunning plants to look at throughout the open season.
Xa has recently planted a new woodland garden in this area, taking in some of the surrounding parkland which is home to large herds of both red and fallow deer. Ornamental trees and shrubs sit nestled in long grass with winding paths between them and two landform sculptures complimenting the setting.
A Knot and Herb Garden was also added in more recent years, historically sympathetic to the house and visually effective. The two knot patterns are divided into four squares; two with the pattern of the Tollemache fret and two with the owners’ initials.
This area is also home to the main rose garden, planted with a huge variety of roses as well as small shrubs and herbaceous plants that span the season, from early hellebores to late-blooming Fuchsias and Hibiscus.
Xa directs the gardening at Helmingham, working alongside a team of 3 full time staff including Head Gardener Ray Balaam who has worked at the site for 60 years.
Xa Tollemache commented: “We were so excited to hear the wonderful news that Helmingham has won the Garden of the Year Award. We have worked so hard to create a beautiful garden and to keep on, every year, with new improvements. We want our visitors to be constantly stimulated and inspired in what we do and to have a fabulous day in this very unexplored part of Suffolk. Russell Page said that the Garden must curtsey to the House. I would like to add to this that a historic house such as Helmingham deserves and indeed should have a garden worthy of its stature, beauty and historic importance. Helmingham has taught me so much and so for that and to Roy Balaam, I am deeply grateful.”
James Birch, President of the Historic Houses Association commented: “I am delighted that Helmingham has won the 2017 Garden of the Year Award. The stunning garden reflects not just the hard work of the current owners, but the generations of Tollemaches who have lived at this beautiful place previously. The striking gardens are enjoyed by c.20,000 visitors each year and this recognition by Friends of the HHA is very well deserved.”
Orlando Rock, Christie’s UK Chairman commented: “We are thrilled to congratulate Helmingham Hall Gardens on winning the prestigious 2017 Historic Houses Association/Christie’s Garden of the Year Award. This award, which Christie’s has proudly sponsored since 1984, recognises the high level of commitment and dedication involved in the creation and preservation of some of the country’s most impressive gardens. The gardens at Helmingham – reflecting the inspired vision of the well-known garden designer Xa Tollemache – are incredibly deserving of this coveted award. We hope this national prize will bring further visitors to enjoy this remarkable place.”
Helmingham Hall gardens are open to the public from 1st May – 17th September 2017 from 12.00-5.00pm every Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday (also open Bank Holiday Mondays). They also host a range of special events.