Whet your appetite

We are so lucky to have many fantastic producers of food in Suffolk.  We are also fortunate to have some really great places in which to eat it– whether it’s seafood served from a humble fishing shack, a three course meal at a top gastro pub or a delicious donut from Orford’s famous Pump Street Bakery.

That said, we keenly felt the loss of a couple of our favourite restaurants during the first Covid lockdown – Darsham Nurseries and Mains.  They were the ‘go to’ restaurants for both our guests and when we fancied a meal out ourselves.

Much as we happily walk down the road to our brilliant local pub – The Parrot & Punchbowl (or simply ‘The Parrot’) – it’s always good to discover some new places.  These are some recent finds:

The Suffolk (www.the_suffolk.co.uk  – originally a Covid relocation of Soho’s L’Escargot, The Suffolk is here to stay and is already very much a fixture on Aldeburgh’s high street (and soon to be with rooms – though perhaps I shouldn’t dwell on that- and a rooftop bar).  The menu changes but you will always find delicious lobster and oysters on the menu.

Southwold Canteen (www.oldhospitalhub.co.uk) – Darsham Nurseries is dead – long live the Southwold Canteen!.  The chef, Nicola Hordern, has bought her amazing flair and creativity, from Darsham Nurseries to this quiet community location set away from the hubbub of Southwold’s High Street.  It has the vibe of a neighbourhood eaterie, with a seasonal menu prepared using wonderful ingredients,  cooked beautifully served up with super friendly service.  Lunch only at the moment – so go easy at breakfast!

Watson and Walpole (www.watsonandwalpole.com) – this has been a regular destination for us and guests over the last year or so.  The Watson of the title was the original TV Hotel Inspector and has brought her eye for detail to this buzzing restaurant (though despite her formidable TV persona I hasten to add it is relaxed and informal).  It’s in Framlingham – so a bit of a trek – but this regional Italian dishes are definitely well worth the effort. I have to confess I am a little addicted to their zucchini fries, unadventurous as that is.  They also have an excellent vegan menu.

Greyhound Inn at Pettristree (www.greyhoundpettristree.co.uk) – this pub near Wickham Market has always been on our radar because it had a good reputation, however it changed ownership a few weeks back and word quickly got out that it is well worth a visit.  We can confirm that indeed it is!  A beautiful Suffolk pub set in a quiet, out of the way village.  The food is modern British with everything cooked to perfection.  Here is my delicious oxtail ravioli starter.




Garden Update

We have long described our garden as a ‘work in progress’. When I say that to guests they always says that gardens are never finished – after seven years it seems like a good time to take stock.

When we arrived the garden was mostly grass, old bushes and giant conifers. So many conifers! Bruce headed off to learn how to wield a chain saw and start felling. There was no real plan with the garden other than to try and create something close to the house as quickly as possible.

I am in no way a garden designer and while I did have some ideas at the start there was a lot of making it up as I went along. Apart from a few mature trees it was a blank canvas which in a way is a great thing and in other ways a little overwhelming.

We have long described our garden as a ‘work in progress’. When I say that to guests they always says that gardens are never finished – after seven years it seems like a good time to take stock.

When we arrived the garden was mostly grass, old bushes and giant conifers. So many conifers! Bruce headed off to learn how to wield a chain saw and start felling.

There was no real plan with the garden other than to try and create something close to the house as quickly as possible. I am in no way a garden designer and while I did have some ideas at the start there was a lot of making it up as I went along. Apart from a few mature trees it was a blank canvas which in a way is a great thing but it also has its challenges.

Although we have spent quite a lot of money on the garden we have tried to keep it within a reasonable budget. There is no fancy hard landscaping, no dramatic water features and no help! To keep the costs down we plant a lot of self sowers and move them around, we have raided WI plant sales on numerous occasions. We are also lucky enough to have some great local nurseries – Ladybird and the Walled Garden – and some further afield – especially plantsman Preference and Knoll. More recently we have been able to get a wholesale account with a Suffolk based nursery that allows us to buy affordable small pots in larger numbers.

Initially we bought a poly tunnel but we got a bit bored of it been blown into the woods so eventually bought a green house. It’s not fancy (it’s still made of plastic) but it really helps with growing from seeds (though this year I hardly managed to germinate a single one – no idea what I was doing wrong. Fortunately Bruce has had more success with his veggies).

We have been told that Suffolk is so dry that technically is semi-arid (we are close to Essex that apparently as the same rainfall as Jerusalem). Rain can be very patchy (this year has been a real challenge and no doubt there will be a fair few losses) and if you add the fact that soil is effectively pure sand then what little water we receive quickly soaks away. We invested in a huge subterranean water tank to collect the rain off our huge roof.

Early on, someone sensibly suggested that we contact local tree surgeons who often have a surplus of chippings. Before we knew it, we had a mountain of chippings that covered the lawn (and continued to do so for at least a couple of years – which explains the weed-ridden state of our lawn). After the chippings have aged a while we use then to cover the beds. It doesn’t mean a lot of barrow journeys but it’s worth it – moisture is kept in the soil, weeds are by and large kept at bay and over time the soil is improved.

Initially I pretty much threw in whatever I could find in the garden centre. If there were three then I bought three and if there were five I bought five. Only in the last couple of years have I planned areas more but also bought in numbers to try and increase the repetition. So not unusually for such a large garden, we have created some separate rooms to provide some variety. Here is a quick summary:

• White garden – we initially said that this was influenced by Sissinghurst but after a guest told us that she was the archivist here we stopped saying it (that’s where we got the idea but in no way do we think that we are on a par with them).

• Cottage garden – this is a riot of blues, pinks and white. I think that this is the weakest part of the garden. I didn’t realise how hard it was to maintain this kind of the garden through the seasons. It all falls over by July. It’s also full of couch grass. Grr.

• Grass Garden – This is the area behind the guest rooms. Initially after the build this area was a mass of weeds. In fact after six months there was virtually a forest of tree lupins. Funnily enough guests loved it and ignored all the nettles and docks – ‘I love the countryside!’ was a common response. Now it has been planted with all sorts of ornamental grasses and wild flowers. Funnily enough we have spent quite a lot of money to create something that developed naturally!

• Japanese Inspired garden – this has only partly been completed. It’s been a bit of challenge – little rain, no running water and no rocks – all the constituent parts of the Japanese Garden. So much so that Guests look blankly when I mention it. I’m not surprised really. Give me a couple of years and all will become clear.

• Gravel Garden – this was the first part of the garden that we planted – because it was a long way from the house and the building work. For a long while it was a narrow strip leading to nowhere. Now there is a destination – a large space with a fire pit and a BBQ area. This new area was only planted at the end of 2021. After a dry summer it has a long way to go – I have been a bit complacent and things are not thriving. There are limits to how dry a dry garden can be if the plants haven’t had enough time to bed in

• Driveway – this is the most recent addition to the garden. For a long time the drive was lined with bamboo, bramble and old shrubs. At the end of 2022 we dug it all up in order to lay a cable for our car chargers. It’s now a mass of blue, yellow and orange. It’s struggling at the moment but hopefully it will be a welcoming site in the years to be (and not scratch the paintwork of cars). There are still some areas that are to be put in place – the area lining the lawn and the final section of the Japanese Garden. Jobs for the autumn and the winter!

So that’s a little introduction… I guess that the obvious thing to say is ‘come and see it for yourself!’.


Pond Life

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!


Bloomin’ lovely

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.  


We would like to thank….

Our architect Greg Blee (www.bleehalligan.co.uk) asked whether we wanted to be entered into the RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects) East 2018 awards earlier in the year.  We thought ‘why not?’ and then didn’t give it much thought.  We were surprised and excited to find out that we had been shortlisted in March and the judges came round to visit in April.  As we had already committed to go on holiday (a rare event!) we could only guess from the snippets of feedback we received from Greg and our B&B sitting friend James, whether or not Five Acre Barn had impressed the judges…..

Bruce and I then went off – with some trepidation – to the awards ceremony on 24th May just outside Cambridge.  The long and the short of it was that we were an award winner and also received an additional gong for ‘Best small project’ (not that it felt very small to us, but it is in relation to university libraries, social housing estates etc.).

It was a very interesting event and a rare chance for people like us to hear about the incredible projects being undertaken in the area.  Each shortlisted project was featured and the judges provided insight about how the project had been conceived and executed.  Unfortunately we missed most of the feedback from the judges about our own build as we were busy gurning for the cameras with our awards – but we were really pleased that as well as celebrating the great work of Greg and Josh, our architects, they also acknowledged the excellence of our builder Paul Rolph.  We have come to realise that builders are frequently the ‘unsung heroes’ and it was great to see him get some well deserved credit!

The awards are currently in the loo in the Barn – isn’t that what you are supposed to do with them??  We will contact Adele for some advice….