Jan and Mark are opening their garden for charity. Do go and see it

PUBLISHED: 00:27 21 July 2018 | UPDATED: 08:30 21 July 2018

Colourless no longer... The Oakleys garden at Beccles. Pictures: JAN OAKLEY

Colourless no longer... The Oakleys garden at Beccles. Pictures: JAN OAKLEY


It has dazzling colours and topiary in the shape of a duckling and dragon!


First things first: How are husband and wife Jan and Mark Oakley feeling as NGS “newbies”, with their first opening for the charity almost upon them? Excited? Nervous? Bit of both?

“We’ve opened our garden for Beccles Open Gardens each year for the past three, so we’ve dipped our toes in the water already,” says Jan.

“The only extra is to serve tea and cake to our visitors – how hard can that be? All we need to do is prepare and serve refreshments for anywhere between 50 and 300+ people, make sure all food is labelled correctly for allergens and hope the heat doesn’t melt the cookies. Like I said: how hard can this be?”

Note the sense of irony…

So what’s the garden like?


“This is a one-acre walled town garden with a lovely ‘Arts and Crafts’ house as a backdrop. All the beds and boarders are colour-themed. We also have mature specimen trees and some fun topiary, including a snail, duckling and dragon.”

How long have you lived there?

“Nearly five years. I am the gardener; Mark looks after the lawn and clears up without too much complaint all the piles of plant matter I heap up onto his neat lawn.”

What was the garden like when you arrived?


“In a word – colourless. The layout has remained much the same but we employed an energetic chap with a chainsaw and digger to remove literally tons of laurel, bamboo and coppiced hazel. There were plenty of good trees and shrubs but few perennials.”

Do you have some kind of firm vision for your garden?

“I think it evolves. When I see something I like elsewhere, I make a version of it here. Some visitors point out a feature they like and I tell them what inspired me – there’s really nothing new under the sun.”

When and how did you become a gardener?

“I have always enjoyed gardening, growing apple trees from pips as a child, but it’s only become an obsession in the last 10 years or so. I fear it’s still getting worse.

“Mark, on the other hand, is a late developer who’s descended from a long line of vegetable gardeners. He’s gaining an appreciation of flowers other than cauliflowers now.”

Why are you passionate about it?

“It lends itself to my OCD tendencies. Woe betide any pink flower that pops up in the white bed.”

Anything frustrating about it?

“Learning to interpret plant labels is like deciphering ‘estate agent speak’, where ‘compact and bijou’ means you can’t swing a cat.

“For example, ‘rhizomatous’ or ‘good ground cover’ really means it’ll be in your neighbour’s garden before Michaelmas. Likewise, ‘seeds freely’ means you’ll find it throughout the postcode by spring.”

Best piece of gardening advice you’ve heard

“The late Beth Chatto recommended mulching with a thick layer of mushroom compost. Brilliant advice: it cuts weeding by 90% and helps retain moisture in the soil.”

And the worst…

“All gardening advice is worth a try and even the best advice develops over time. I like watching Beechgrove Garden on BBC2 on a Sunday – they trial all sorts of things and are happy to admit their failures.”

Do you have dreams for the garden?

“Our next goal is to get rid of our many ivy infestations. Eventually we would like a sunken garden – we think there may have been one here previously because of all the dressed stone we have. But that’s a lot of digging and mess, so it may not happen for a year or two.”

5 Ringsfield Road, Beccles

Open July 22 for NGS charities

11am to 5pm

It’s next to Sir John Leman

High School, Beccles

NR34 9PG

Adults £4; children free

Parking next-door at Sir John Leman High School. Disabled parking in Ashmans Road

Home-made teas available, including gluten-free cakes

How did the NGS link come about? ‘Adrian, our local NGS co-ordinator, visited the garden and asked if we’d be interested in opening for the NGS – who wouldn’t want to? It’s the ultimate compliment for any gardener to be invited and each year the NGS raise more than three-million pounds for charity. We’ve got lots of lovely volunteers who are going to help us on the day so we should have plenty of time to answer our visitors’ questions.’

Does location help or hinder? ‘We’ve got a clay soil here which is a godsend in this drought. After a couple of years, once plants are established and have their roots down into the clay they really thrive.’

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