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Oxburgh Estate reveals it’s adapting its historic Parterre Garden for a 21st century climate, during Great Big Green Week

A gardener working on the restoration of the parterre at Oxburgh Hall
A gardener working in the parterre at Oxburgh Hall | © National Trust Images/Paull Harris

The National Trust is adapting the iconic 19th century Parterre Garden at Oxburgh Estate in Norfolk so it can thrive in a 21st century climate.

The effects of climate change are having a serious impact at Oxburgh Estate. Extreme weather, unpredictable rainfall, drought and flooding are all taking their toll on landscapes and buildings. Summer heatwaves are now 30 times more likely than in 1750, pre-industrial revolution and Oxburgh has experienced its longest period of drought ever recorded, from the summer of 2022 to May 2023.

The Parterre, known by the family as the French Garden, was created for the 6th Baronet in 1848 following a trip to France. Every thirty or forty years, it needs a major refresh and replanting to keep it looking good. Last fully refurbished in 1972, the time has come to ensure it will last another forty years.

With the effects of climate change and the impact of disease on the Parterre’s box hedging, the team wants to ensure this next major restoration of the popular garden feature is fit for the future.

Dea Fischer, Senior Gardener at the National Trust’s Oxburgh Estate, said:

“Over the last two years we’ve been running a hedging trial in the Parterre, testing three species against a control bed of the original that is failing. We carefully matched conditions for each species, without a lot of extra supporting care, to reflect the fairly exposed and often harsh conditions the final choice will have to survive in.

“We’ve chosen Euonymus japonicus ‘Microphyllus’ as our replacement hedging, which tolerates the light, sandy soil, as well as dry, exposed conditions here at Oxburgh. It offers a similar colour and appearance to the failing Buxus, which has box blight, and suffers from no known pests or diseases. We estimate it should achieve good growth, bushing out to create a dense small hedge within three years.

“Now we know what variety of replacement hedging we need, it’s being grown by the National Trust’s Plant Conservation Centre. The Centre is currently propagating 6,000 plants for us, which will begin to arrive at Oxburgh from spring 2024.”

Until then, the garden team will continue to feed and maintain the remaining Buxus hedging in situ as best they can.

As part of its efforts towards the global fight against climate change, the National Trust is looking to move towards a more sustainable and less intensive method of gardening within its estates.

Dea continues:

“We’re preparing the beds to limit the amount of soil disturbance and hand weeding that has to be carried out. By limiting the disturbance of our soil, and planting the bed areas with perennial plants, we help our soil to become a carbon sink, sequestering carbon that is not then released into the atmosphere by continual digging and weeding.

“Our first step in this process was to add natural jute degradable mulch matting to suppress weeds and retain moisture and nutrients in the soil. This matting was then mulched over with a thick layer of peat-free organic soil improver. Planting is made through slits in the matting into the soil below without digging the beds over. The plants being added will eventually fill the beds and completely cover the mulch matting.”

At Oxburgh Estate, the team will also swap the 7,000 annuals in the Parterre that need to be replaced each year with perennials that provide a year-round display. This will reduce costs, save on plant transportation, propagation and disposal.

Dea explained:

“The Parterre has changed a number of times over the years. Traces of coal and cement suggest it might have been originally coloured with minerals as well as flowers, before being planted with potatoes during the Second World War to help with the war effort. Now we’re adapting its use again.

“Over the last year, we have planted perennials in the Parterre beds using a carefully researched selection of plants to maximise resilience and minimise loss, due to drought or flooding.

“Keeping to the heraldry colour palette of the Bedingfeld family who have called Oxburgh home for more than 500 years, our perennial planting choices include Ajuga reptans ‘Braunhertz’ and Ajuga reptans ‘Black Scallop’- cultivars of purple bugle with beautiful evergreen, bronze and purple foliage and striking spikes of blue flowers through spring and summer.

“Alyssum montanum ‘Mountain Gold’– a yellow alyssum with bright green foliage that is evergreen in all but the harshest years, with clouds of sweetly fragrant yellow flowers through spring and summer.

“The central bed will continue to be planted with the traditional red Canna indica lilies and Pelargonium ‘Paul Crampel’, which our records show has been propagated on site since Victorian times. To these, we have added the acid green of Alchemilla mollis, ladies’ mantle and an early display of tulips in reds and yellows.”

Climate change remains the single biggest threat to the places that the National Trust cares for and the charity is encouraging everyone to play their part in the global fight. Great Big Green Week, which takes place from 10-18 June, will see tens of thousands of people across the UK stand up for nature and take positive steps to address the climate crisis. For more information about how you can take part visit