The plot ripens: a peach of a detective story

Two remarkable tales of determined gardeners.

Gardeners are some of the most generous people; I had an email a few days ago from a gentleman who had a rather interesting tale about a peach. This man and his wife moved to Norfolk some years ago after finding an idyllic spot, the site of a demolished hall with all the very grand and important trees that you would expect in such a situation but, without the expensive large house to maintain. Here they now reside in what is the converted stable block but, with the great advantage of a rather superb walled garden with 20ft high, south facing walls.

It was from an intriguing old label attached to a wall in this garden where there had once been a greenhouse that Christopher started on an incredible journey. In front of the label which read 'Sea Eagle' were the skeletal remains of a tree and after some research it was found that it was the remains of a peach tree that had been planted in the garden in the 1800s called 'Sea Eagle'. Chris thought that it would be rather good to replace the peach tree but was disappointed to find that it was no longer available. Further research led to more dismay when it became apparent that the tree was widely thought to be extinct.

However, not to be thwarted and with all the help that modern technology could offer Chris put a search in motion – little knowing that it would take six years before he managed to track down his quarry. When he had all but given up any hope of finding 'Sea Eagle' he was both surprised and delighted when a gardener got in touch with him from Brechin Castle in Scotland telling him that in their peach house in the garden there they had 'Sea Eagle' growing quite happily.

Chris then went off to see the peach and talk to the gardener where it was agreed that propagating material would be sent from Scotland at the correct time so that Chris could take on the onerous task of grafting this on to the correct stock, which in this case was a plum.


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The email that I received from him told me that he had indeed been successful and that he had six plants where the grafts had taken. Having read this column where I had been saying that I intended to put a peach tree in the glass house in our walled garden, he very kindly offered me one which I gratefully accepted. 'Sea Eagle' was described thus in The Fruit Grower's Guide in 1892: 'The fruit is very large and round, the skin is whitish-yellow or lemon, flushed deep red on the side facing the sun, the flesh is melting, juicy and well flavoured. The tree is very healthy and a good bearer; flowers large, glands round, fruit handsome and ripe towards the end of September'. This sound quite mouth-watering but, I shall have to abide by my own dictum and 'enjoy the pleasure of anticipation' for a few years yet!

While on the way to visit Chris I saw that the gardens in North Burlingham near Acle are having an open day on Sunday June 3 so why not go along and help raise some money for charity? I have been out and about rather too much lately at the expense of attention to my garden but, when other gardeners endeavour to open their gardens, especially when it is for charity, I feel that I should do all that I can to help them. Thus it was that I found myself in south Norfolk, quite close to where I grew up, looking at a garden which, as the owners say, is very much a 'work in progress'.

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In the village of Rockland All Saints near Attleborough there are some very strange goings-on. Gardeners are many things, including quite mad, and that is exactly what Behira and Jonathan Graham are for they bought a 12-acre quarry and then decided to build themselves a house and to make a garden there – all without very much topsoil. How mad is that?

But with a great deal of determination, a good amount of grit and the British bulldog spirit we can overcome adversity with wit, style and good taste wherever we are and it is all here. Although this is very much a 'work in progress' garden, they are, somewhat courageously, opening their creation to the public on June 17 to help raise funds for their two local churches.

I have a feeling that real garden lovers appreciate such work-in-progress places. Most gardens that we are invited to see and appreciate have been the efforts of a family's forebears, often for several centuries. Well, they too had to start somewhere. So did Graham and I here at East Ruston Old Vicarage, some 22 years ago, making ours too a comparatively young garden. Now Behira and Jonathan are doing a similar thing and you can go along and see their aspirations and ambitions. I for one admire their courage but then I have been there and I know that the results in the end will more than justify all their efforts and upheaval.

Their garden is 12 years old and during this time many lessons, sometimes painful, have been learned. Suffice to say that the whole garden is now fenced against deer and rabbits, a very necessary and expensive protection but, when you have planted more than 1,000 trees and 1,000 shrubs it is perhaps one that you will appreciate is justified! The garden here is filled with optimism as most new gardens are but, here I felt that there is a sense of the owners coming home, that here they feel complete. The garden has a shelter belt of mainly native trees surrounding it and some of it might be described as a 'tamed wilderness' which is quite beautiful, however, within this there is passion, pride and great ambition which I for one wholeheartedly salute.

Go along and take a look, also take in this couple's optimism too for it is a great pick-you-up! In a garden where there is not much top soil, I found Behira's joy at finding mole hills rather puzzling. That is until she explained that moles only work where there is top soil, so hurrah! Swan's Meadow is open on Sunday June 17, from 11am to 5pm. Adults �3, school-age children �1, infants free. Plants will be on sale from Walnut Tree Garden Nursery and there will be a special appearance by The Village Singers at 2.30pm. All proceeds for the support of Rockland All Saints and Rockland St Peter churches.

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