The Parterre at Oxburgh Hall

Visitors standing by the parterre in bloom

The most striking feature within the garden at Oxburgh Hall is the French inspired Parterre. Planted with potatoes during the Second World War to help with the war effort, today over 6,500 bedding plants create a colourful floral display each summer.

A garden with a French connection

The Parterre, known by the family as the French Garden, was created in 1848 for the 6th Baronet. Family tradition maintains that a member of the family saw a parterre whilst on a trip to France, which we imagine they thought would look good at Oxburgh. We’re then led to believe they looked at designs by Dezallier d’Argentiere and chose a plan similar to the garden they had seen.

6,500 colourful bedding plants  

Designed to be looked at from above, the Parterre may not have always been entirely planted. Evidence suggests that crushed stones may have been used to create a year-round ornamental appearance. 

Today, over 6,500 bedding plants arrive at Oxburgh each April. They’re then re-potted, nurtured and watered in the glasshouse and polytunnel by a team of volunteers until June. During this time we de-bud the plants, to prevent the flowers from blooming before they’re planted out in the Parterre.   

Depending on the weather, it can take around two weeks to plant all of the bedding plants, a task that we welcome visitors to help us with. To ensure the planting in the central quadrant of the Parterre is accurate, June our gardener, stands on top of the roof giving directions over the radio. 

Looking its colourful best during the summer, flowers can continue to bloom until late October. Why not lend us a hand over the summer months and help keep the Parterre blooming for longer? Simply remove any flowers you see that have bloomed and faded.

It doesn't take long for the 6,500 bedding plants to create a colourful impact
A couple walking through the parterre garden at Oxburgh Hall, Norfolk
It doesn't take long for the 6,500 bedding plants to create a colourful impact
The four plants we grow

We use a colour combination of yellow tagetes and purple heliotrope, punctuated with red in the central beds, from canna and geraniums used to fill in the gaps. Box was originally used to hedge the Parterre. However, since the prevalence of box blight in the UK, a fungal disease that causes the leaves to look unsightly, we’re now trialling the use of different hedging plants.

Heliotrope

At Oxburgh we grow heliotrope ‘Marine’, which has large clusters of deep purple flowers that are a magnet for butterflies. Heliotrope was popular in Victorian times for its fragrance. It smells of cherries, hence its common name, cherry pie plant. Did you know if you gather it in August for use in magic, you should take care? It’s said your intention will be amplified and reflected back to you!

Tagetes  

Tagetes, the ever popular marigold, are great summer annuals for attracting pollinators. Their foliage also has a pungent scent, which is said to deter some common insect pests. This is why you’ll often find this plant used in companion planting with tomato, chilli pepper and potato. 

Paul Crampel 

One of the most significant plants of the Victorian bedding age, Paul Crampel was even the geranium of choice outside Buckingham Palace during this period. Introduced by the great French nurseryman Victor Lemoine in 1892, these historical geraniums were highly prized and sort after throughout the early 20th century. Today, we take cuttings at the end of each year, so we can grow new stock.

Canna

The seeds of Canna indica are small hard black balls, resembling shotgun pellets, giving rise to the plant's common name of Indian shot. The story goes that during the Indian mutiny of the 19th century, soldiers used these seeds when they ran out of bullets. At Oxburgh, we keep these plants going during the cold winter months in the warmth of the glasshouse. 

Keep your bedding plants blooming

June, our gardener, shares her top tips for choosing bedding plants and getting the best out of them. 

Top tips: summer bedding plants

1.    Choose the right spot. Sun-loving blooms include marigolds and pelargoniums, while fuchsias perform well in shade. Begonias are the most versatile, as they can thrive in either. 

2.    A strong colour theme and simple design will give the most effective display, for example using warm yellows and reds or cool blues and purples. 

3.    Whether you’re planting in a bed, container or hanging basket, summer bedding plants pack a lot into a short space of time, so you’ll need to be vigilant and water regularly. 

4.    Within four to six weeks of planting, hungry bedding plants will have depleted most of the goodness in the compost. So, you’ll need to add more nutrients to the soil. Make sure your feed contains plenty of potassium, like tomato fertiliser, which boosts flower growth.

5.    As the flowers of bedding plants fade, deadhead them by pinching out the old flowers. This will help the plant redirect its energy back into the production of more flowers and give you a continuous display throughout the summer.