Flowers and Ferraris: A bumper bank holiday event to say goodbye to summer in style

Scenes from Kevin Boardley and John Ward’s cottage garden at Walsham le Willows. Pictures: Kevin Boa

Scenes from Kevin Boardley and John Wards cottage garden at Walsham le Willows. Pictures: Kevin Boardley - Credit: Archant

There’s an endorsement on the village website: ‘we go to a lot of open gardens events and this is the best’. High praise. We can judge for ourselves soon


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Not an open garden afternoon, over just a few hours, but a packed August bank holiday weekend to mark the tail end of summer in style. The focus is the 30-odd gardens, of course – big and small, established and newer – but there’s lots more on top: live music, art exhibitions, a farmers’ market, craft and plant stalls. And tea and cakes – including meringues that have won their own following.

We’ll even find a vintage Rolls Royce and stylish Ferraris this year.

Gardens range from two- and three-acre plots to small courtyard-style affairs. New for this year is a garden with distinct Japanese theme.

We certainly get a lot of bang for our buck at Walsham le Willows, between Bury St Edmunds and Diss.

I visited Kevin Boardley and John Ward’s cottage garden four years ago. They’d lived there since 2009.

It was once dominated by a big willow tree – removed early in 2010. By the middle of the following year the garden had been designed and hard-landscaped to include four-metre oak pillars to soften the view of the wall of the neighbouring house and provide a backdrop to the seating area, a small wildlife pond and small chamomile lawn. The garden has about 240 plant species or varieties – many to lure bees and butterflies.


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Time to catch up with Kevin to see how things have gone since.

The fierce summer hasn’t been too hard on the garden. It “gets good sun, but nowhere gets full sun all day, apart from maybe a small patch in the middle, so most things get a bit of daily respite in hot, dry weather,” he reports.

“The one good thing – there’s always an upside – is slugs and snails have been few again this year. They don’t like the cold and they don’t like hot and dry. It’s kept numbers down.”

Does he have a vision for the garden, nowadays?

“Mainly evolution now. Plants do what they do, whatever plans a gardener may have for them. Things start not to work, maybe, or maybe never work as envisaged.”


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Does he still find himself going to garden centres, buying plants that take his fancy, and squeezing them in, somehow?

“Where possible; but usually now I have to resist, buying only to make changes/replacements – usually in response to constant evolution, as things need refreshing, moving, removing etc. I still see things, and keep them in mind for planned changes.”

It was the influence of his grandmother, along with the magic of an old Reader’s Digest book, that got Kevin interested in horticulture. Why is he so passionate about it?

“For me it is a creative thing; and the novelty of being able to propagate and grow things on, producing good-quality plants that at their best can hold their own against those that can be bought. The buzz of that never pales for me. Another urge which I have to restrain.”

Is there a frustrating side?

“People who ask me why does this or that not grow for them, when they are not really interested in gardening and growing. They just want a result without understanding that success is about paying attention to the basics for a particular plant: the right amount of heat, light and moisture; the right position and nurture – especially in the first year – to ensure that balance is more or less right for that plant, taking into account its size and age and local conditions.”

What’s the best piece of gardening advice he’s ever received?

“When buying plants, know what you are buying and where you are buying it for, within reason. What does it naturally like? Does it need a particular aspect, location, sun, shade? Does it need good drainage and will it tolerate dry conditions, or does it need constant moisture? Is it fussy as to soil?

“Most aren’t too fussy once established. If it’s pretty but needs conditions you can’t give it, or you can’t be bothered to understand and create, don’t be surprised if it dies. Either change the conditions or buy something else!

“But also remember that it’s always worth having a go; plants can surprise even experienced gardeners sometimes. I always say ‘give a plant half a chance and it will grow’.

“The other bit of advice was I think from a panellist on Gardeners’ World: Plants are not set in stone. If they aren’t doing well, carefully move them before they deteriorate and die!”

What’s the magic of Walsham le Willows Open Gardens?

“It is an event that brings people in the village together, which is a real antidote to much of what goes on in the world. The atmosphere that is created by the event over the two days is really special.

“On a personal level, I get such a kick when I see people who really delight in our garden, without even having to say anything. It’s why I enjoy staying in my garden whilst it is open, because I like to see and talk to the people who come.”

And finally – because the world needs more smiles – can he think of a funny gardening anecdote?

“Not really; but I sort of enjoyed the wry look on the face of the chap who advised me when creating our very small pond, when I asked him for a repair kit and told him not to ask (why)!! I had split the liner by taking a spade too near to it! Stupid mistake – big no-no. A job for the autumn.”

All the gen

Walsham le Willows Open Gardens Weekend

Sunday, August 26 and bank holiday Monday (August 27).

11am to 6pm both days.

Tickets £7 per person (one-day pass) or £10 (two-day pass).

So organisers can claim Gift Aid, the charge includes a voluntary contribution of 10%. Visitors can choose to pay a standard entrance fee £6.40 (one-day pass) or £9.10 (two-day pass) without the donation.

Children under 16 free.

Ticket gives copy of detailed programme; entry to all gardens and other events; free parking; free travel on village bus.

Attractions/events include floral displays; bell-ringing demonstrations; art exhibition and sale; music in the church and Memorial Hall car park; lunches, teas and refreshments in the hall and Priory Room; village market (plants, stone ornaments, honey, gardening tools and more); barbecue and pizzas in one garden; displays of classic cars (the local Ferrari Owners Club will be bringing the famous marque to Walsham le Willows).

The Gardens MiniBus Service travels around village on both days, from 10.45am until 6pm, for anyone needing a bit of help. It’s free – just wave it down and get on.

Back for 2018 is the chance to tour the village in style, in a 1933 Rolls Royce. It’s £5 per trip for a maximum of four people a time.

Money raised by the weekend helps village causes, including maintaining 15th Century St Mary’s Church.