The first part of the garden to be planted, about five years ago, was a gravel strip running from the car park to the start of the woodland, in between the grass (I hesitate to call it a lawn as it is in such a terrible mess after having buried in chippings for years) and the vegetable patch. Over the last few years the plants have spread until such a point that people don’t realise that it is something that they can walk through – gravel garden, what gravel? Still, quite pretty no?
It might be slightly overgrown but Lola manages to find her way through somehow…
Even though its planting is far from perfect I have always liked it – especially in the late summer sunshine. This year I was particularly proud of the towering echiums that made it through last winter’s snows and flowering through much of this year. Fingers crossed that they self seed…
That narrow strip however was never intended to be the main part of the gravel garden – merely the entrance to it. This summer I finally embarked on the main project – to create a larger gravel garden that would also house a BBQ, fire pit and eating area away from the house (partly to provide a new space but also to ensure that any flames are as far away from the house as possible – especially after some guests decided to use a throw away BBQ on the room five deck and set it alight). I must have been in a very optimistic mood when I started out as I thought that it would only take me a month to create – even against the backdrop of a busy summer of guests.
Of course it was much more time-consuming than I expected, taking the best part of four or five months and it’s not quite finished even now. First the grass had to be lifted (manually of course – absolutely no point rotavating it all into the ground only for it to reappear in a few weeks), barrow and distribute about twelve bulk bags of gravel and of course plant the plants.
Budget means that most of the plants are necessarily small and they will take a while to mature. Wherever possible I have also grown from seed (with limited success I have to be honest) or transplanted self-sown seedlings from other parts of the garden. Even after a few weeks I am pretty pleased with how the plants are settling in.
The plants are pretty standard garden fare – Rudbeckia, Thalictrum, Artichoke, Hemerocalis, Agapanthus, Rosemary, various Euphorbia, Eryngium, Lilies – but hopefully over time I will add some more unusual plants.
We have added in some sun chairs and have finally added in the much promised fire pit.
Let it snow
In the six years that we have been here we have only had ‘proper snow’ twice – both courtesy of the ‘Beast from the East’ .
The snow has been delivered on Arctic winds which have seen temperatures drop and the previous mild weather quickly became a distant memory. Fortunately with our woods between us and the coast, the house and garden have been protected from the worst of the easterlies and the snow didn’t drift too much (not that drifts stopped Lola when we were out on walks – seeing them more as hurdles to be leaped).
As you can see the zig zag of the roof has really been emphasised by the snow – especially with the shingles darkened by the snow flurries.
Of course there was some sunshine too which made everything gleam. The areas recently cleared became a huge blanket of snow. Let’s hope the small plants so recently planted have survived several days of ice and sub zero temperatures.
These are the room decks. We didn’t bother clearing them as, with the Lockdown, we are closed. What a shame to have no one here to enjoy the wintry panorama..
It’s almost a year since we dug the pond – the first stage of a Japanese-inspired garden. As it turned out we had more time on our hands in 2020 then we expected and that meant that we could create the next part – our take on a Zen garden.
When I say ‘Zen’ I am not trying to pretend that I have any deep insight into this ancient style (and certainly not the philosophy). The intention is to create a quiet, restful place that leaves space for the mind to fill. Not full of showy flowers, focusing instead on greens from ferns, pines and bamboo. At the garden’s centre would be a raked, gravel ‘sea’ with a mossy mountainous island rising from it….
The end result is simple but it is deceptively time-consuming to put in place. To create a sea and mountains means of course shifting lots of soil. In order to convincingly suggest an expanse of water surrounded by the land you need the water to be flat and to ensure that the enclosing mountains ‘keep the water in’. Digging the pond almost killed me so I won’t pretend that I enjoyed days more digging – even if it is sand.
The starting point was a fairly anonymous area next to the large cedar, just beyond room five and heading out towards the woods. When we first arrived the area was covered mostly conifers. I then tried to start a rose garden but it didn’t work – too dry and too much shade. We all make mistakes but there were plenty of places to move them to.
Once the grass, bramble and the odd bit of errant bamboo had been removed we brought in the local tree surgeons to remove the old conifer stumps.
Once the stumps had gone there was a blank canvas. Soil was moved around (randomly?) to try and create the sea and mountains – whilst at the same time having to keep a certain black Labrador occupied.
Fortunately I had plenty of offcuts from the pond liner that somehow managed to almost exactly cover the base of the ‘sea’. I did use a spirit level to try and ensure that it was flat but it was still a challenge and your eyes can play tricks on you – whatever your tools might say.
The final addition was of course gravel – provided by a UK company that focuses entirely on Japanese supplies. Apparently it is the type that is used in Japanese Temple gardens – perhaps the only authentic part of the whole thing!
The sea is then ‘bordered’ at one end with a curving brick path (the bricks having been saved from the demolition of the original cottage). Strictly using artificial materials in Japanese gardens is a no no – but it’s good to recycle and we don’t have the money for anything more appropriate. Hopefully come the spring it will be lined by iris. Though as I grew them from seed last year – perhaps I am being rather ambitious.
The brick path marks the boundary of the last part of the Japanese Garden….. hopefully that will be coming soon.
From the start we wanted a pond – but it takes a Covid lockdown to provide enough time to make one!
The Pond is the first part of a larger Japanese influenced ‘Stroll’ garden – with the aim of creating a peaceful understated space to sit and relax.
Unfortunately before we could start we had to hack back the rampant bamboo that we had allowed to get out of control. People don’t often consider a pickaxe a gardening tool but it is absolutely the right one for the job. You also need to be super vigilant as the smallest piece of root is enough to send a shoot rocketing into the air. I can’t help but think that the shoots look slightly evil!
Once the ground had been cleared of the bamboo and nettles we had to dig the hole. The shape is a traditional Japanese one – apparently originally based on a Chinese character for ‘heart’. Fortunately the soil is very sandy and relatively easy to shovel. It was exhausting nonetheless – it needs to be at least a metre deep in areas to ensure that it never freezes over at the weekend. Several days in and I was wondering why we didn’t use a digger. Ultimately it was good exercise and it did mean that I could keep an eye on the stray bamboo roots. At the some point it did look as though open cast mining had arrived at the Suffolk Coast.
Unfortunately we had to fill the pond with tap water. It’s not ideal – a waste of drinking water – but to try and wait for rain water in Suffolk could take years. It does mean with all that chlorine it was initially a very wildlife – friendly environment. That said, it is amazing how quickly life finds it’s way in. Pond skaters, water boatmen and mosquito larvae (!) moved in pretty quickly. Fortunately for us (less for the mosquitos), after a couple of weeks, our neighbor came round, with an ice cream tub full of smooth newts.
They had been quietly hibernating under a concrete slab. They were a little surprised to be tipped (gently of course) into the pond, but they have settled in. The pond has three pebble beaches and shallow areas to allow creatures to find their way in and out. Next year we will be on the look out for frog spawn to add to our amphibian collection.
A few weeks later, once the pond had settled in and sourced ten Rudd (muddy brown with orange fins) from a friend’s pond and then added in a couple Tench (bottom feeders that I haven’t actually seen – but they are there). They are now swim around in a shoal. We just have to hope that the herons don’t spot them or else it would be short lived. They seem happy enough as the pond is now full of fry.
We have planted plants on the banks with traditional Japanese plants – Japanese holly, that can be clipped into mounds, azalea, hostas, acers, Solomon’s Seal, black Ophiopogon, Liriope and ferns. They are all small plants so they look a little teletubby at the moment but hopefully they will mature in a few years into something respectable.
Five Acre Barn news
Well its almost been a year since the last Five Acre Barn post. I realise that there are probably not many (any) people hanging on our every update…. but if you have a blog then I think that you are supposed to write something on a regular basis.
So here is a quick update.
Summer was incredibly busy – we had at least one guest staying with us every day from mid May to mid September. This was our third summer and it is great to see ourselves getting busier with plenty of guests returning for repeat visits and others being the result of recommendations. We have been lucky enough to get some very generous TripAdvisor and Google reviews which all help give potential guests the confidence to book. We also joined the Alastair Sawday platform with the aim of accessing the seemingly elusive week day market.
As in 2019 we hosted some of the talent from the Latitude Festival. It’s a real novelty for us to meet people in the public eye and it’s even better when they turn out to be so lovely and appreciative. Here is a photo of Colin from Mull Historical Society rehearsing his session with Bernard Butler. How cool is that?
We have also hosted a few photo shoots – for Volvo and for local fashion label Lavenham. Again it’s a real insight into a life that we have never had anything to do with in our past lives (I’m an accountant and Bruce was a Royal Navy Officer!). Unfortunately for the Lavenham team it poured with rain throughout (very un-Suffolk) but they soldiered on. Here they are in a huddle, capturing one of the models on the deck of room five.
We were offered an opportunity to be dressed and photographed in their (very cool) clothes but we decided that that really wouldn’t be a good idea!
We have also been lucky enough to have been featured in a couple of Interiors magazines – Country Living Modern Rustic and more recently House Beautiful. It’s very flattering to think that we are worthy of being included. It’s also fascinating to see how the professional photographers capture a room – hint always use natural light. Unsurprisingly they don’t follow my approach of standing in a corner up against a wall as if I were an estate agent trying to make the room seem as large as possible.
In other news…. we continue to work hard on the garden. The vegetable patch and gravel garden – some of the first areas we created – were wrestled back from the control of nettles and brambles. They had fallen by the way side as our attention went elsewhere. Of course it’s a constant battle but at least they don’t look as embarrassing as they did previously The area in front of the guest bedrooms has been extended further (see our previous post on the stumpery) and planted with grasses. It will need some time to mature as well as some additional planting (one guest with a drone showed us an aerial view of the area and it seemed to be a mass of earthy spaces from the air), but we are happy with the results so far. Here’s a photo from the autumn on a rather dull day.
I think that that is about all our news. Watch this space if I can think of something vaguely interesting to say!
Full Steam ahead
We met Sasha French a few months ago. Sasha has a lovely bed and breakfast in Great Glemham – Crown House (www.crownhousebedandbreakfast.com) – about 20 mins away from us. She has created a beautiful calm place in which to stay – definitely worth checking out!
Sasha has been open for a couple of years – about the same length of time as Five Acre Barn. If that makes her (and us!) a B&B newbie, where she does have a huge amount of experience is staging operas. Her CV is brim full of testimonials – from the likes of Sir Christopher Frayling, Bel Mooney, Jonathan Dimblebly and Sir James Dyson – and has created events at the River Café, Gasholders in Kings Cross and at Dodington Park in Gloucestershire. So it’s not entirely surprising that Sasha is bring her operas to Suffolk and has picked an amazing location on our doorstep – the iconic Long Shop Museum in Leiston. The event will be a fundraiser for this unsung gem. The ‘The Long Shop’ is a very early example of a building designed for assembly-line production. It is now grade II* listed and you can see why – it’s a truly amazing space.
Of course let’s not forget about the music. Sasha is bring in some very talented singers – Linda Richardson (soprano), Jesus Leon (tenor), Susannah Glanville (soprano), Simon Thorpe (baritone) and Steven Maughan on piano. They will be performing scenes from Madame Butterfly, La Boheme, La Traviata and Tosca.
If this has whet your appetite then keep your diary clear Saturday 25th May 2019. Tickets are limited to 120 (seated) stalls tickets @ £35 and 80 @ £10 standing in the gallery. Please email email@example.com for tickets.
It’s the start of February. Most gardeners would have put their tools away in the shed a couple of months of go, settled in front of the fire and patiently waited for spring to arrive. At Five Acre Barn we don’t have that luxury – we have a garden to create.
When we first arrived (about 3 1/2 years ago) we had a large number of towering conifers that just had to go. They were far too tall – we couldn’t see anything – and were downright ugly and well a bit suburban. Bruce – aka ‘man of stihl’ – despatched them pretty quickly.
We managed to get rid of most of the small branches but the bigger pieces proved a bit more of a challenge. Had we thought about it we would have asked our builders to bury them. We didn’t, so we tried to get burn the stumps – but try as we might the buggers wouldn’t burn!! We were therefore left with a number of charred stumps. So what to do….. build a stumpery!
Stumperies are oddities from the nineteenth century gardens which became popular as ferns became fashionable and hundreds of new species arrived in Britain from around the world. The first stumpery was built, at Biddulph Grange with an arguably more famous modern version at Prince Charles’ home at Highgrove House. Apparently Prince Phillip’s verdict when he first saw his son’s effort was “When are you going to set fire to this lot?”. The Duke of Edinburgh would love our effort then!
The largest stumpery is in the US with around 95 separate tree stumps. Ours is on a more modest scale – with five and a couple of trunks that were too heavy to move. Most stumperies are located in shady areas (hence the ferns) – whereas ours in out in the middle of the ornamental grass garden. That’s where we tried to burn them and they are simply too heavy to move. I have to say that I quite like the fact that they are charred but it is doesn’t work out then they will soon be surrounded by grasses!
Unfortunately when we started we first had to remove the nettles that had settled in over the last couple of years. Ouch. We also had to excavate considerable amounts of building rubble – not the best basis for planting.
That’s now gone and the first few plants have been added. Many are traditional – hellebores, hostas and (sun-loving) ferns – but also the less obvious acanthus, hakonechloa macra (Japanese forest grass) and even edelweiss. We will let you know how we get on……
Do it yourself
The Suffolk countryside seems to be full of talented artists. It’s staggering just how many beautiful things are produced close by and how easy it is to track them down – there are lots of makers markets (particularly around Christmas time) and open studios.
There are also opportunities to learn how to make too. You might not become as immediately skilled as the professionals – but it is great fun giving it a go. Two of our favourites are husband and wife team Ed and Jane Mitchell Finch, who live about twenty minutes away in Brampton (check them out at www.mitchell-finch.online).
Ed is a master of the letter press – working with old metal and wood type to product his bold, witty designs on a vintage printing press. Ed runs letterpress printing experience days, so that you can go along for a day to learn about printing.
Jane produces exquisitely embroidered brooches and pictures. Although I don’t really need brooches other than as presents, I find them mesmerising- so detailed, delicate and capturing the likeness of her subject.
I was so fascinated I went on one of Jane’s machine embroidery one day workshops. Unfortunately I didn’t get very far as my sewing machine decided to play up. Jane’s very quick diagnosis was a lack of housekeeping on my part (it was full of lint from months of upholstery and curtain making). So whilst I had to throw in the towel on that occasion, I am definitely up for a rematch! Doubly keen having seen the amazing efforts of the other people on the course.
We have also just come across a ‘new kid on the block’ – a recently established studio in the glorious, tranquil Sudbourne Park Estate. Having lived in Suffolk for many years, Chris has set up the Bluebird Pottery Shed (www.bluebirdpotteryshed.co.uk) in one of the out buildings in the estate (complete with beautiful brick floors) with three professional potting wheels. The shed offers scheduled courses for all levels of ability each month with a maximum class size of four. You can also arrange bespoke courses if you contact Chris. We have yet to go on a course – watch this space – but couldn’t thing of a better place to learn.
Honesty is the best policy
Some of our favourite hotels and B&Bs, run honesty bars – you fix yourself a drink as if you were at home, jot it down and settle up when you check out. Very ‘grown up’ and civilised we think.
However before we could put the honesty bar in place we needed to secure a premise license (Bruce already has a personal license). This turned out to be a little more convoluted – some might say archaic – than you might imagine. We needed to display notices at the end of the drive using light blue paper (not too light it turns out – we were asked to go a shade or too darker) and advertise in a local paper within ten days of submitting the application. Fortunately the ladies of Suffolk Coastal’s licensing team were gems and made sure we hit every mark.
The real fun began once we received our license – stocking the bar!! Wherever possible we have ‘gone local’ – there are so many great producers in Suffolk, it would be crazy not to.
In the summer we visited the amazing Flint Vineyard (www.flintvineyard.com) just outside Bungay on the Norfolk border (about 40 mins away in the car). It’s hard to believe that they have only been going a few years and what they don’t know about wine isn’t worth knowing. It is no surprise that they have already won prizes. Although they have limited amounts at the moment we hope to stock their red, white and fizz. We will also be adding some other interesting (reasonably priced) wines based on some tastings from local wine merchants.
Choosing a beer was pretty straightforward as our next door neighbour has just started a micro brewery in Leiston (which you can tour if you wish) and one of their limited edition beers even has hops from their garden. Can you get more local than that?. We currently have four different types and all have been brewed in a German style. As they conform to the German purity law (‘Reinheitsgebot’ in case you are wondering) it means that they shouldn’t leave you with a hangover – unless you really go hell for leather of course.
We also hope to add vodka and gin from Suffolk distillers Flint & Hardings (www.flintandhardings.co.uk).
We haven’t forgotten the non drinkers too and hope to stock LA Brewery’s Kombucha (as well as all the usual soft drink suspects). This naturally effervescent living tea full of friendly bacteria might be a tradition of Korea but it is brewed right here in Suffolk.
For those spirits that require us to go further afield we have sought some advice and bought a varied selection of single malt and blended whiskies, rum, sherry and port. We are pretty open to adding in some other drinks so that everyone will find their favourite tipple…. within reason. We quite like the idea of a ‘cocktail of day’ – we will see if we have any takers.
Stephen Lawrence prize
When we were working with our architect we wanted something different that would stand out and hopefully intrigue potential guests. The fact that the building has gone on to win a national RIBA award was a lovely, unexpected bonus. We had thought that the journey ended there but then we were nominated for the Stephen Lawrence Prize…..
To be honest we hadn’t heard of the Stephen Lawrence prize – though as our architect was extremely excited we knew that it was something special. We hadn’t known that Stephen wanted to become an architect before he was murdered in a racist attack. The prize, now in its 21st year, honours projects that cost less than £1m to complete and is intended to encourage fresh architectural talent. I have to admit when I told my parents they laughed. I think that they were amused that someone should be honoured building a house for less than £1m!! I reassured them that we didn’t spend anywhere near that much!
The judges came to visit earlier in the summer and included Stephen’s mother – Baroness Lawrence. In the great tradition of judging panels they were pretty inscrutable so had no idea what they thought. We were one of seven projects on the shortlist so the odds seemed reasonable. You can see the shortlist here
The winner was to be announced in October at the same event as the Stirling Prize – at the Roundhouse in London. The only slight problem was the price – £400 a ticket! Way too much for B&B owners. Fortunately RIBA let us go in the cheap seats with the architecture students for only £50 ahead. Now that was more like it.
It was a great night – a brief window on a world of which neither of us are a part. Funnily enough as we bumped into a number of our previous guests (we have a lot of architects staying) we actually felt quite at home.
Unfortunately….. we didn’t win, with the award deservedly going to ‘Old Shed New House’ by Tonkin Liu Architects. It looks amazing. Our architect Greg was a little disappointed – I think that they had rather cruelly sat him right next to the stage. He very generously bought a couple of bottles of champagne which was as much compensation as we needed!
It was a fun ride while it lasted and we look forward to see the winners in future years.