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!
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.
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.
During the building of our new guest wing, it was a pretty much impossible to develop the garden. Any gardener that has ‘had the builders in’ knows that they have big boots and are not averse to running over plants every now and again. As the build drew to a close towards the end of 2016, we started the ‘white garden’ in front of the Barn. It probably seems a bit pretentious (we have just stolen the idea from Sissinghurst in Kent to be honest) but we figured that it would look great against the black decking.
Having just criticised our builders (!) they were great at landscaping the ground, shifting soil around to even out the lumps and bumps. However by the end it was a bit of a quagmire with bricks and nettles not far below the surface. Just to complicate things further there is a network of pipes carrying waste out to mains sewerage (not a lovely thought but can’t be avoided!) so plants should be shallowly rooted to avoid causing any potential problems. Oh and three manhole covers….
The result is a roughly triangular patch with a gravel path dividing the garden into two beds – one of which is partly north facing and the rest baked in the sun. So all in all a bit of a challenging patch of ground.
Eighteen months later we thinking it’s looking ok. The bareroot yew plants lining the path, planted in the middle of winter (not a fun task) have, by and large survived. The beds have been planted with lots of delphinium, peonies, roses, lavender, wallflowers, salvia, nicotiana, alliums, ferns, hostas, hellebores, astrantia, valerian …… all white of course.