Autumn glory at Fullers Mill
For more than half a century, Bernard Tickner worked on creating an exhilarating garden at Fullers Mill, which is a glory to visit in autumn. Words Matthew Biggs, photographs Richard Bloom
Bernard Tickner was the highly respected head brewer who created the recipe for the popular Abbot Ale. He was also an expert plantsman, who for more than half a century created an elegant, tranquil garden around the cottage he bought in 1958. Over the next 59 years, until his death aged 93, he added more land and a host of choice plants, but towards the end of his life in 2013 he gifted his creation to Perennial, the charity that helps support those working in horticulture and now manages three gardens. Under Perennial’s care the garden has continued to flourish and last year it was a regional winner in the RHS Partner Garden of the Year.
What A plantsman’s garden filled with rare and unusual plants. Where Suffolk. Soil Predominantly sandy, with random pockets of silt. Size Seven acres. Climate Temperate with dry summers and occasional rain. Hardiness zone USDA 9.
Bernard began gardening as a child alongside his mother. As his passion progressed, he studied Latin, Greek and botany to increase his academic understanding and made connections at botanic gardens including Cambridge and Kew. He also learned much about plants and gardening from a coterie of friends that included eminent gardeners Alan Bloom, Cedric Morris, Beth Chatto and Christopher Lloyd, who often visited each other’s gardens. Many of the special plants still growing at Fullers Mill were as a result of exchanges or were first seen in the gardens of his friends. The more Bernard learned, the more he collected, then planted them in a specific style. “Bernard was red-green colour blind, so he planted for other features such as texture, seedheads and architecture,” explains the current head gardener Annie Dellbridge. “He also wanted to see the natural shape and detail of each plant, so each one has its own space, like paintings in a gallery.” Read more about the garden below and don't miss our round up of the best autumn plants and flowers.
As autumn gradually weaves its cloak over the garden, the view over the mill pond to the house is filled with form and texture, including dark evergreens and the yellow foliage of compact Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Dart’s Gold’ and Darmera peltata, which later turns red.
The Low Garden with its bold structural contrasts boasts a rich splash of colour from the decaying, arched, gold and bronze plumes of Matteuccia struthiopteris combining with orange-red Acer palmatum ‘Dissectum’ and purple and green Liquidambar styraciflua awaiting its moment of glory in the background.
In The Quandary, at the base of a woven hurdle fence turned silver grey with the patina of age, the large leaves of Hosta ‘Sum and Substance’ create a bold splash of gold and green, with the bright-red stems of Cornus alba ‘Westonbirt’ beyond.
In the Top Garden is a small grove of silver birch, Betula pendula ‘Silver Grace’, a form selected by Bernard Tickner from a tree found growing at Fullers Mill. The vertical silvery lines of the birch are accentuated by a gravel mulch, with a feathery mound of Ferula communis, the giant fennel, the spiky architecture of blue-green Yucca rostrata ‘Sapphire Skies’ and the upright, bare branches of Ptelea trifoliata below.
With the seasons at a crossroads, the bright-green foliage of a trimmed, lozenge-shaped Buxus sempervirens ‘Elegantissima’ in the Top Garden complements the green of Cotinus coggygria ‘Notcutt’s Variety’, and Zelkova serrata, soon to be resplendent in red and orange, and golden yellow respectively.
The golden foliage of Aesculus parviflora helps to illuminate the dull grey of an autumn day. The leaves of this rounded, suckering shrub open bronze, before turning dark green and finally golden yellow to create a striking contrast to the dark-purple foliage of Sambucus nigra f. porphyrophylla ‘Gerda’ and the white bark of the silver birch.
USEFUL INFORMATION Address Fullers Mill Garden, West Stow, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk IP28 6HD. Tel 01284 72888. Web perennial.org.uk Open November – 17 December 2022, Saturdays 11am-4pm; April – October, Friday – Sunday, 11am-5pm, Wednesdays, 2-5pm.
Perennial can offer assistance to anyone in need working in horticulture. See website for details.
Perennial’s other gardens
• Mona Abboud Mona has bequeathed her long, narrow north London garden to Perennial as a future hub for the charity. Notable for its eclectic selection of Mediterranean and Antipodean trees and shrubs, her garden is home to the National Collection of Corokia, and is skilfully planted with an emphasis on texture, form and contrasting foliage colour. Its style is influenced by Mona’s Lebanese heritage and the time she spent living in Italy and the South of France. She has also capitalised on her city garden’s microclimate with aplomb.
• The Laskett Set in the rolling countryside of Herefordshire, this garden was created by art historian, Sir Roy Strong, and his late wife, the eminent stage set designer, Julia Trevelyan Oman. Over time, their combined brilliance transformed
a bare, four-acre field in their own, often idiosyncratic style into one of Britain’s great gardens, inspired by historic gardens such as Hidcote, those in Baroque Italy and of Tudor and Stuart England. It also reflects their friendships with fellow artists, and was gifted to Perennial by Sir Roy on the occasion of his 85th birthday.
• York Gate This one-acre garden, created by Frederick and Sybil Spencer and their son Robin, is one of the finest small gardens in the country. It is based on ‘rooms’ interlinked through a succession of vistas with the meticulous attention to detail associated with the Arts and Crafts movement, complemented by Sybil’s skills as a plantswoman. It is a ‘must-visit’ garden for anyone interested in garden design for its imaginative use of space, perspectives and plants. Discover York Gate garden here.
Matthew Biggs is a Kew trained gardener and panellist on BBC Radio 4’s Gardeners’ Question Time. He is also a prolific author, with a passion for plants and their histories.
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