By complete coincidence, I noticed in the weekend property supplement of The Times, half my old house for sale. Here it is on Rightmove, hoping the link will work for anyone out of this country – https://www.rightmove.co.uk/property-for-sale/property-81992414.html
It looks very little as it was when we were there and has been chi-chi’d to within an inch of its old life. At least it doesn’t seem to have the gilded radiators or gaudy scenes painted onto the ceilings any more. Friends knew the then owners, about twenty years ago, who kindly invited us to Sunday lunch and showed us round. They were a bit embarrassed at the radiators and ceilings that they’d inherited from the last owner. But there, I have simpler tastes and I must try not to be snobbish about it.
I’ll return to the garden. I’m not sure how far the house is set back from the river, at least 100 yards but it could be twice that. The house is set higher than the garden in front (the frontage is the river side, the back faces the road) and there was a terrace in front with steps down to the lawn. The lawn, in turn, sloped for half its length, then there was a flat area, then four big rectangular beds, each half the width of the house and, I should think, ten to fifteen feet deep. Beyond that was an area of rough grass, trees and shrubs, and then the lower lawn and the river beyond. This area was all directly in front of the house. At the side (on the left, as you look at the picture) there was another section altogether, but I’ll come on to that in due course.
To the right of the house – still looking from the riverside, as in the photo, there were some cordon apple trees, quince trees, a walnut and two horse chestnuts with pink flowers, and an enormous bay tree; or rather bush. It must have been twenty feet tall and as big in diameter.
The sloping section of the lawn used to be set out into flower beds, which were planted with bedding twice a year. Two round beds, each surrounded by four other beds to make two separate squares. In the early 1960s, my parents decided to put them down to grass and make one big lawn. This was partly because the bedding scheme looked quite old-fashioned, partly because it was time-consuming and expensive to keep up. Years later, there was a hot, dry summer and you could still see the shape of the old beds from twenty years before.
The further two rectangular beds contained herbaceous plants. Everything you can think of, all the traditional English garden flowers and they were smothered in bees and butterflies all summer. The two nearer the house were planted with Queen Elizabeth rose bushes, which are attractive, tall, healthy plants which bloom all summer. The flowers have long, straight stems and their only downside is that they’re unscented. My mother decided to make a bold statement with her rose garden and just have one variety, rather than a display of different ones. I believe that 250 bushes were planted which, considering it’s a large plant, gives an indication of quite how big those beds were.
The terrace had a retaining wall, with beds in front and there were various stone tubs along its length. The beds had chrysanthemums and dahlias in them, but I can’t remember what else. I do remember watching the tiny red spiders scurrying along the brickwork. And lying at the top of the lawn and rolling until I got to the slope, then whizzing over and over until I reached the bottom and falling over with dizziness as I got up. And pretending to be a horse and galloping around and over jumps; playing ball with the dogs, who didn’t play fair, as they never brought them back and had to be chased; playing tennis with those cordon apple trees as a ‘net’ (no, they never did very well) ; and the long hours spent weeding the beds and the pleasure of finding newts in their summer dry period. More about those newts another time.
The garden was enclosed by hedges and wire or wooden fences, so it was safe for any wildlife that the dogs didn’t go for. No rabbits, but no foxes or cats either – lots of hedgehogs. Occasionally, one of the dogs would bring in a hedgehog which was, of course, covered in fleas. We used to have to persuade the dog to drop it, gingerly put it into a box and then treat the dog for thousands of fleas. Hedgehog fleas don’t bite people, apparently, but that doesn’t mean you want them all over the house.
The house is now shielded from the river by greenery, but it was all open in my day. Until my parents, at some function at the Yacht Club on the park opposite (this is the Oulton Broad club, not the Royal Norfolk and Suffolk, which is in Lowestoft), could see that there was a newspaper on the back of the sofa in the drawing room, and had a nasty feeling of being overlooked, even though it was from a few hundreds of yards’ distance, so they planted half a dozen weeping willow trees on the bottom lawn. This didn’t lessen the view from the house but was, as they grew, some barrier from the perspective of river viewers.
You can pick me out of that lot quite easily.