Helmingham Hall

Half Term Treat for East Anglian Women Gardeners

It's no secret that I live mainly in Suffolk and love East Anglia so I was delighted to hear of a new exhibit at a museum I'd never been to - The Museum of East Anglian Life. Tucked away behind a supermarket in the mid-Suffolk town of Stowmarket (not as bad as it sounds - handy for parking!) is the delightful Abbot's Hall, a small estate that has been given to the people of East Anglia to preserve their heritage.

As part of their Heritage Lottery funding redevelopment of Abbot’s Hall – a grade 2* listed Queen Anne House – they have focussed one of their exhibition rooms on gardening in East Anglia.


The space has been titled ‘How does your garden grow’ and touches on the types of garden in East Anglia, links between farming and gardening on the local landscape, and the benefits of gardening to wellbeing.

One of their key displays relates to people that form the ‘East Anglian Inspiration’ in the garden. I was particularly delighted to see that this included objects relating toten-times gold medal winner Beth Chatto,  Xa Tollemache of Helmingham Hall and countrywoman, Peggy Cole, all of course, great Gardening Women.

There's also a wall covered in extra large plant labels where visitors are encouraged to write about what gardening means to them. 

It would be a terrific half term outing with lots for children to see and do. Full details and opening times at Museum of East Anglian Rural Life



Lily-sniffing parties in Suffolk

Not far from where I garden in Suffolk is the exquisite village of Boxford full of the honey-coloured wood-framed houses that the county is so famed for. One has just come on the market but for those in the know, it isn't the house that's the big draw but the garden. For this was the home of Jenny Robinson, veteran plantswoman, who died aged 94 years old last August.

I never met Jenny but her reputation as a great 'Gardening Woman' lives on. So I'm delighted to reproduce (with their permission) short memories of Jenny from the latest edition of the Plant Heritage Suffolk Group Journal (Spring 2011).


[Jenny Robinson] persuaded many of us to join Plant Heritage (then the NCCPG) having been a founder and President of the Suffolk Group and was unstinting in her gifts of plants to be sold for the cause. For many years, Jenny kept the National Collection of Muscari in her garden and had one named Muscari 'Jenny Robinson' which she discovered in Cyprus. Two other plants from her garden she gave to us for distributing amonst members, Narcissus 'Osborne's Grey' and Narcissus 'Jenny's Little Sister'.

Her garden was a triumph and was still being opened to the public right up to the spring before her death in August [2010], four days before her 94th birthday.



Jenny's garden at Chequers, Boxford, [was] featured in Alvide Lees-Milne and Rosemary Verey's book, An Englishwoman's Garden, published in 1980.

Lilies were among her plant passions, and she was a member of the RHS Lily Committee, then the Lily Group Committee from 1976-89. Many friends will remember being summoned to her 'Lily-sniffing Parties', held at short notice on the summer evening when she judged the lilies in her garden to be at their best.



If you'd like to find out more about Plant Heritage or the local Plant Heritage group in Suffolk, please click on the links. They will be running the bi-annual Plant Fair at Helmingham Hall in Suffolk on Sunday 29 May which attracts dozens of specialist nurseries to the grounds of the famous gardens created by Xa Tollemache at Helmingham.