Newly appointed Head Gardener Andrew Humphris reveals his plans for the Garden and explains why visitors will find a few changes when the gates open for the 2021 season.
Parham House is as renowned for its rare collection of paintings, furniture and needlework as it is for its gardens, which consist of beautiful Pleasure Grounds and a four-acre Walled Garden, herbaceous borders, a glasshouse, vegetable garden, orchard and a 1920s Wendy House.
Ever since the House first opened to the public in 1948, visitors have enjoyed beautiful displays of spring bulbs and tulips at Easter, the flowers and the opulent borders in the summer and wonderful autumnal colour at the end of the season.
However, last year, a long-standing issue with perennial weed (bindweed and ground elder in particular) came to the point where the problem needed to be gripped, and bold decisions had to be made.
The problem of perennial weed
Field bindweed (Convolvulus arvensis), with its white or pink trumpet flowers, is, sadly, a familiar sight in gardens. At Parham, it was compromising planting by choking plants in borders and twining around plant shoots and canes. Hedge bindweed and ground elder are a problem in other places as well.
Andrew explains: “As the pandemic took hold at the beginning of 2020 and it became apparent that the Garden would not be able to open, it seemed like an unprecedented opportunity to tackle the perennial weed problem head-on. Several beds were cleared and sprayed off by my predecessor, including the Blue Borders, White Border and some of the cut flower beds. Regrettably, a chemical-free approach wasn’t possible in these areas.”
He adds: “It has become clear to me since that the Blue Borders were so infested that it is going to take at least another twelve months to try to get the beds clean. This will mean leaving these iconic areas fallow for 2021.”
The White Border and the cut flower beds, which had less of a problem, will be dug through to remove any remaining roots and we hope to replant and enhance them this Spring. If I find that the problem is significantly worse than expected, I may decide to leave these fallow, too.”
An unprecedented opportunity
“I firmly believe that sorting the problem out now will benefit generations of the family, the gardeners and the visitors alike, for many years to come,” said Andrew. “We know that inevitably there will be some disruption, but in the long history of this centuries-old garden, this will be but a short blip. We’re confident that all those who know and love Parham will understand the wisdom of the task in hand and will encourage us forward.”
Parham’s garden team are also researching the issue of climate change, taking this into account when making plant choices. Rising temperatures will have an impact on any garden, especially when it comes to watering requirements. Andrew adds: “We will need to think imaginatively and carefully about our plant selection, whilst retaining the wonderful feel and atmosphere of the garden at Parham.”
Andrew is excited by the challenge and the opportunity to replant and recreate with the close input and help of the Barnard family and, of course, the garden team. Progress will be documented on Parham’s website and social channels so that people can follow the journey and even be inspired to make bold changes within their gardens.
Lady Emma Barnard DL, Parham’s chatelaine, commented:
“We’re very excited that Andrew has joined us and are greatly looking forward to working with him. With his stewardship and guidance, we will be continuing the programme of renewal, renovation and conservation that we started in 2020 – Andrew’s knowledge and experience will be invaluable.”