Hyde Hall. 28.02.14

It is perhaps a little unfortunate to arrive at Hyde Hall as the drizzle starts. A refreshing cup of tea in the cafe leaves us a little warmer and gives us time to marvel at the renovation of the old barn. I have never seen a reed thatched roof from below and found it quite fascinating. It is a timber framed building and the original carpenter clearly enjoyed improvising with the available materials. I thought the timbers were an ancient marvel, Gloria was concerned that they appeared to be more woodworm than timber. We discussed the matter.

Outside lies the Millenium Avenue. It sits in a strange location, not reallty related to the entrance building and not pointing at anything. I have often wondered why it seems to gaze endlessly into the void. Today I was informed that it was planted to feature the visitor centre at the top end, but that planning controls insisted the centre be relocated to the lowest point on the site, to conceal it. A mystery is solved (though why the avenue was retained still perplexes me, the trees are all still saplings and very common species).

We had hoped to find spring beneath our feet, but instead we found waterlogged ground and pockets rapidly filled with chilled hands. All of the elements of spring are here but only as tokens. The potential for wonder has not yet been realised.
Rhododendron 'Praecox' is not the most beautiful of its clan, but it is among the earliest. At this time of the year it would be possible to paint the rolling landscape purple and visitors could drift like the daffodils and early spring bulbs. Unfortunately there only seems to be one of them, bravely shouting something indelicate into the void.

This dwarf daffodil, like a giant N. asturiensis defeated my attempts at identification. One can't help feeling that the RHS could do a little more for the early season visitor. Spring bulbs would come and be gone again before the bulk of the garden noticed and would add greatly to the wide open spaces and gigantic skies of East Anglia.

This strange aversion to colour cannot be put down to timidity. This is probably the most adventurous of the RHS gardens and the place where the most chances are taken with tender plants. The successes are often astonishing. This is the best plant of Agave striata I have seen in a British garden, yet here it is, growing outside in the dry garden and almost unmarked by winter.

Just as beautiful but much more tolerant of cold and wet, Euphorbia myrsinites prospers, spreading into carpets of animated shapes. It appreciates the long hot summers this garden enjoys and the silvery-blue evergreen leaves are always immaculate.

These willows match the writhing shapes of the Euphorbia. Salix alba vitellina produces marvellous golden stems but I have never found pollarded willows entirely satisfactory. They always look like clipped poodles. The stems are not packed densely enough to feature as the main attraction. They are like a serving of Aduki beans on a side dish. Not interesting enough in themselves to serve on the plate, but whimsical enough to add novelty to a main course. Unfortunately pollarded willows are always served without a main course and the deficiency is telling. This wild weaving adds substantially to the impact.

The woven shapes of the willow demonstrate the inventive spirit that persists in this garden. These displays of scare-crows are an annual feature, made by local children and very amusing. I'm not sure that the stake is entirely dignified but it raised a smile, as I am sure it was meant to.
Gloria suggested that the RHS solution to low visitor numbers early in the year was to manufacture some decoys to tempt the passers-bye to land. Let us hope that it succeeds.

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