Gardens and Estate at Oxburgh Hall
Whether you would prefer to relax in the tranquility of the formal gardens or embark on a woodland trail with the family, the beautiful gardens at Oxburgh are the perfect place to enjoy nature at its best.
The Walled Garden
Oxburgh’s working gardens have been to the east of the house since at least 1725. The present walled gardens were created by the 6th Baronet between 1836 and 1839. The northern boundary was altered a little later, when the stable block was built. Family tradition holds that the towers in the walls represent each of the Baronet’s children. The paths lined with dwarf box and the relatively sparse planting of fruit trees in the main orchard area are based on late 19th-century photographs.
The Walled Garden today has two distinct areas: the vegetable garden and the orchard. The wall between the two was once the back wall of a splendid peach house, used for growing soft fruit and vines. Sadly, it was taken down in the 1970s. The Walled Garden should in fact be one united space, with produce growing on both sides of the peach house wall.
Many heritage varieties of vegetables are grown each year in the kitchen garden to reflect the long history of providing food for the Hall. It supplies the tea-room with salad vegetables, rhubarb, beetroot, potatoes and celeriac. The greenhouse was restored in 2010 by a team of volunteers.
My Lady’s Wood
This ornamental area of water and woodland was created c.1850–55 by the 6th Baronet. It provided a tranquil semi-formal landscape, with ornamental water courses, woodland trees and shrubs. The paths were edged with dwarf box hedges, and small bridges and summer-houses provided attractive places to pause. The name ‘My Lady’s Wood’ refers to the 6th Baronet’s wife, Margaret, and the estate also had an area of woodland called ‘My Lord’s Wood’.
" M' ladies wood was perfectly charming. It had a stream and a drawbridge which would pull it up. There was a little waterfall down into the stream, then another waterfall - all beautifully kept, with trees, gravel paths and more box hedging."
The site incorporates various 18th-century features and was developed out of woodland planted at that time. Remains of an 18th-century grotto have been found on the wood’s boundary with the adjacent field, which until the mid-19th century was known as Grotto Piece or Grotto Plantation. The streams follow the course of early 18th-century waterways, including a portion of the great Broad Water Canal.
By the stream you may see a water vole, mallard or moor-hen. Depending on the season you may hear robins, song thrushes, blackbirds, great-spotted woodpeckers, chiffchaffs and willow warblers. Occasionally, muntjac and hedgehogs make an appearance.
From My Lady’s Wood you can access the Wash Pit, a natural wetland meadow in which orchids and fritillaries grow.
The Parterre, known by the family as the French Garden, was created in 1848 by ‘a clever Scotch gardener named Anderson’ for the 6th Baronet. The design was selected by the family from La Théorie et Pratique de la Jardinage by Dezallier d’Argenville (1709), following a trip to France. Parterres were a feature of the 17th and 18th centuries, so the family’s decision to install this element in the garden complements their ‘romantic’ approach to restoring Oxburgh.
Traces of coal and cement have been found in the Parterre, suggesting that it was originally coloured with minerals as well as flowers. It became completely overgrown during the Second World War and was later restored. Today it requires 6,500 bedding plants annually, which are raised on site in the greenhouses.
The box hedge is 150 years old. Please help us to look after the Parterre for another generation by remaining on the Parterre paths when enjoying the garden.
The Herbaceous Border
The Herbaceous Border lies along the west side of the Walled Garden wall, and is separated from the Parterre Lawn by a yew hedge. This long, deep bed is planted with delphinium, lupin, buddleia and lavatera, edged by catmint, and with roses and clematis climbing the wall. Originally there were two narrower borders opposite each other, with a central pathway and gates at each end. Tradition holds that the hedge was planted so that the borders could be enjoyed as a secret garden. This border alone keeps two people occupied for one day a week staking, pruning, dead-heading, weeding and taking cuttings.
Wilderness gardens were created in deliberate contrast to the rigid formality of gardens immediately surrounding country houses. Clumps of shrubs, specimen trees, meandering paths and the dappled sunlight of surrounding woodland created a romantic illusion of an untamed landscape, in which people could walk and experience nature. Oxburgh’s Wilderness was created in about 1850 as a semi-formal woodland area. By 1883 a large rockery had been excavated in the centre, incorporating pieces of ornamental stone work and crossed by a rustic bridge. Formal pathways lined with miniature box hedging led the way through the Wilderness, and the central avenue, which is today lined with lime trees, may once have been elm. The sunken area at the extreme west end of the Wilderness is known as the Dell but was once the Icehouse Plantation; the precise location of the ice house is unknown. The National Trust is working to restore the character and lost planting of the Wilderness. Look out for the family’s pet cemetery adjacent to the path nearest the boundary wall.
You can walk to Home Covert along the path from the Wilderness, which follows the route of an 18th-century road. This 31-acre (12.5ha) site was formed out of three distinct areas of landscape: a 17th-century wood known as Thornham Wood; an 18th-century pasture, Miller Lays, planted as woodland in 1806; and an area of fenland which was drained and reclaimed as arable land in 1725 and planted as woodland in the 18th and 20th centuries.
" In those days people really did work - there were five in the garden and they didn't put down their tools if there was just a yard or two more to do."
Some of the oak trees in Home Covert date to the 17th century, and their ages were already being remarked upon in the 18th century. Running through the centre of Home Covert is a prominent bank, Miller Lays Bank, which was once sandwiched between parallel waterways created to drain the area following the Enclosure Act of 1724.
The wood’s primary purpose in the 19th and 20th centuries was for raising and shooting game. Today this natural woodland is worth exploring, and is a contrast with the semi-formal and formal areas of garden elsewhere at Oxburgh. Since acquiring it in 1989 the National Trust has planted three and a half thousand trees here, and has made larger areas accessible for visitors. Archaeological investigations in 2013 near the southern boundary of the wood have led to the discovery of a 19th-century brick kiln and the shallow pits where the clay was quarried. The kiln did not supply the bricks for construction of the hall but perhaps produced bricks for work around the estate in the early 19th century.
Today Home Covert provides a wonderful place to explore, intrepid young adventurers can create their own fort in the Den Building Area.
The National Trust’s approach to managing the gardens and woodland at Oxburgh Hall is guided by a Conservation Plan. This helps us to preserve the significance of the landscape, plan appropriate day-to-day maintenance, restore lost features and conserve flora and fauna. A welcome outcome of this careful management is that wildlife and biodiversity flourish, and Oxburgh is an important site for nature conservation.
Slender grasses and meadow plants such as yarrow, bird’s-foot trefoil and red clover grow on the banks of the moat and in the Wash Pit, providing a rich nectar source for insects. Dragonflies and damselflies in particular use the moat banks. The grass in the orchard, shielding beehives and interspersed with wild flowers, is left to grow and a cut of hay is taken in the early summer.
Ancient trees are home to barn owls, bats and invertebrates. Veteran trees are managed so that quantities of dead wood are retained for these creatures to live in. In 2013 a tree at Oxburgh was the only recorded site in Norfolk of a very rare species of click beetle called Procraerus tibialis. Its presence is due to centuries of careful woodland management.
Sustainability is very important to the National Trust. Ground source heat pumps were installed in 2016 as a more sustainable source of heating for the greenhouses, such as ground source heat pumps. A rainwater harvesting system stores water from the greenhouse roof in an underground tank, from where it is pumped back to water the plants.