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Gardens: Virtual open gardens to visit now

June normally sees gardens across our area open to the public to raise funds for caring causes, via the National Garden Scheme. With gates closed by coronavirus, organisers have come up with a brilliant Plan B: visit their website now and you can pay a virtual visit to gardens all over Britain.

Two of our counties’ loveliest private plots are on the tour list: the sculpture-filled grounds of Suffolk’s Lavenham Hall and the magical Music Maze at Balsham, Cambridgeshire.

Spanning five acres on the outskirts of Lavenham village, the Hall’s garden was originally set out in the 1880s, when most of the established trees were planted. It’s been revamped over the last decade by owners Anthony Faulkner and his wife, the sculptor Kate Denton: “It was a case of archaeology,” says Anthony. “Finding the old flower beds and plants, cutting them back, augmenting them – it’s been enormous fun and very satisfying.”

Notable features include four long herbaceous borders, cut from what was formerly a field; a carp lake with criss-crossing bridges; a Victorian yew walk; an ages-old orchard; a wild flower garden; and a well-stocked vegetable patch. All act as backdrop to Kate’s sculptures of both animals and people, including an impressive stag and Suffolk Punch, both life-size.

Arrive at the home of Balsham’s Music Maze and, set at the top of a long gravel drive flanked by lush planting, it looks much like any other NGS garden. To the front of the house, there’s a Beth Chatto-inspired gravel garden, a sequence of raised veg beds and, in the cool shade to one side, a fern border; at the back, there’s a duck-filled pond, an orchard and a sweep of parkland dotted with contemporary sculpture.

The maze itself is a hedge-encircled surprise: planted in 1993, it takes the form of a golden yew treble clef, inspired by the home-owners’ love of music, and contains more than 1,500 trees, equivalent to half a mile of hedging. Inset brick paths are shaped like a pair of French horns.

The National Garden Scheme has been opening gardens to raise funds for nursing and health charities for more than 90 years and, in 2019 alone, made donations totalling £3 million. With gardens now closed, the scheme faces an 80% drop in donations it can give for 2020 - so, if you pay a virtual visit, consider making a contribution via the Donation click button.

* Visit ngs.org.uk/virtual-garden-visits-collection/

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