Norfolk estate receives special garden award

Hoveton Hall Gardens close to Wroxham.
The Spider Garden in full flower
June 2010
Picture: Jam

This year Hoveton Hall Gardens celebrates over 40 years' opening for the National Garden Scheme - Credit: James Bass

This July a country estate in the Norfolk Broads will celebrate more than 40 years of working with the National Garden Scheme (NGS), a nationwide initiative which gives members of the public access to more than 3,500 private gardens across the country.

Money raised from admission, as well as the sale of tea and cakes, goes to health charities such as Macmillan, Marie Curie, Hospice UK and the Carers Trust. 

On Monday, June 6, owners Rachel and Harry Buxton, as well as head gardener Stuart Wright, were presented with a commemorative sun dial from the Norfolk branch of the NGS for their service to the scheme.

But for Rachel, opening the gardens is an inherited legacy - just as much as the bricks and mortar of the house itself.   

Since they took over Hoveton Hall in 2013, Harry and Rachel have transformed the estate - which includes 620 acres of parkland, woodland, grazing and arable farmland - into a popular visitor attraction.

“Harry and I are very keen that people come and see the gardens,” says Rachel. “It’s not just ours to have and not share with anyone, and we’ve taken that ethos from my in-laws, essentially, because that’s what they wanted and that’s what we want to continue to do.” 

Hoveton Hall's head gardener Stuart Wright with Rachel Buxton, Alan Gray and Harry Buxton

Head gardener Stuart Wright with Rachel Buxton, Alan Gray and Harry Buxton - Credit: Archant

Harry’s grandparents moved onto the estate in 1946, she says, when they renovated various bits of the hall and opened up areas of the gardens previously unseen.

They hosted “one-off” days for Daffodil Sunday but it wasn’t until the early 1990s, when the next generation – Harry’s parents – took over that the gardens really started to bloom – both in the grounds and in the public’s interest. 

“My in-laws were very keen on gardening,” says Rachel. “My mother-in-law in particular – she was an amazing gardener. She did a lot of the redesign in the walled gardens, particularly, and did all the cakes in the tea room.” 

Since they moved in around 10 years ago, Harry and Rachel have continued that legacy – although now, she says, they offer much more.  

Andrew and Barbara Buxton of Hoveton Hall received a anniversary fork from (right) Alan Gray and Fio

Andrew and Barbara Buxton of Hoveton Hall in 2006, when they received an anniversary fork from (right) Alan Gray and Fiona Black after opening their gardens for 30 years under the National Garden Scheme - Credit: Simon Finlay

“We have a café and restaurant on site now and cater for a lot of different markets,” she says. “We are becoming more and more known for the events that we do. We have a big Easter event where kids go and find Easter eggs and we try to appeal to as many audiences as possible.” 

But for many, a visit to Hoveton Hall Estate will always be about its gardens.
 
They are managed by head gardener Stuart Wright and a handful of volunteers, as well as Rachel, Harry and their four children. “My children are extremely lucky to have this on their doorstep,” she says, “and they also like getting involved. It’s very much a family team.”  

Hoveton Hall in the winter sunshine shortly after Harry and Rachel Buxton had took it over

Harry and Rachel Buxton took over Hoveton Hall in 2013 - having been in Harry's family for decades - Credit: Archant

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The gardens’ displays of azaleas and rhododendrons are why many people visit, although they are packed with interest year-round, and in particular for the six months that the estate is open to the public – six days a week between Easter and September.

“You walk down and it’s just magical,” she says. “Lots of different varieties that have been planted 80 odd years ago that are now massive trees. Lots of different colours. You just can’t help but go ‘wow’ – it’s breathtaking.

“When the daffodils come out in the spring, it’s stunning because we just have carpet after carpet of daffodils,” explains Rachel. “But I also do like autumn. We’ve got woodlands and lots of trees and it’s beautiful when the leaves turn.”  

When I visit, it’s pouring with rain. That must be a problem, I think, being so open to the elements?  “I sometimes curse the fact that we’re all open air because we’re dependent on the weather,” says Rachel, “but actually on the reverse of that, it’s helped us.” 

Over the past few years, “people wanted to get out and they wanted to be outside and it was safe,” she says. “We’ve obviously got all the Covid protocols in place and we had lots of visitors which was great. We’ve got lots of acres for people to run around and just contemplate life, or listen to the wildlife or take their kids on the trail, and I think that appealed to a lot of people.”  

Hoveton Hall Gardens close to Wroxham.The Spider Garden in full flower - AlliumsJune 2010Pic

Sharing the garden with others is important to Rachel and Harry - Credit: James Bass

Rachel says it’s very important to her and Harry to share the space, particularly with young people. As a result they team up with the local primary school and do as much as they can to help kids enjoy the space – partly because the estate, hall and gardens has also been their home.  

“Having the children, it’s very important that we encourage younger people to visit us and enjoy it,” she says. “We’re very keen on our local primary school to come in, and they do lots of activities with the children. 

“Kids just like things like going round and finding stamps or checking out what bugs they can find under rocks or finding various different types of bird or animal in the gardens. And it’s just nice that they’re out in the fresh air – they’re not on a device, which is good.” 

And the estate is home to lots of wildlife, too. “We are very keen on preserving our beautiful walled gardens so they look pristine, but we also are very keen on inviting wildlife and nature into the gardens, so we do have wilding areas and some amazing butterflies and dragonflies that are just stunning.” 

Neon 'garden kitchen' sign at the cafe at Hoveton Hall Estate, near Wroxham, in the Norfolk Broads

Owner of Hoveton Hall Gardens, Rachel Buxton, says they now cater to a number of different markets and now have their own on-site cafe and restaurant - Credit: Archant

Head gardener Stuart encourages wildlife within the gardens, and they “do their best” to stay sustainable, too.

“Obviously we try and utilise as much as we can in terms of what we grow, so that either goes to the on-site cafe or to the house,” says Rachel. “We do have areas where we produce our own compost and provide hotels for bugs, too, and we try and limit our waste as much as possible and return it back to the gardens.” 

The family is very present on the estate, and the house is lived in, Rachel says, which is part of its charm. They occasionally open the house for tours or private groups. 

Henry Blofield opening the 19th Century glasshouse at Hoveton Hall. PHOTO: ANTONY KELLYCOPY:FOR:E

The historic 19th century glasshouse at Hoveton Hall, which was opened by Henry Blofield over a decade ago - Credit: Archant

“We don’t have an events manager or a visitor manager,” says Rachel, “but I think that’s what makes it personable. People like to see the owners getting involved, whether that’s sorting out the dog show or children’s trails or toilets – just getting stuck in. Whatever needs doing, we just do it. It’s a labour of love but we certainly love doing it.” 

On Sunday, July 3 Hoveton Hall Estate will once again open as part of the National Garden Scheme from 10.30am-5pm. To find out more, visit hovetonhallestate.co.uk

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