Reflections on a house and garden I frequently return to - The Green in Blythburgh, Suffolk.
The largely thatched house, remodelled in the Arts & Crafts idiom around 1906, sits beside Blythburgh Church. The front of the house is thick with wisteria, with the front door opening right onto a lane that leads to the church and a descending footpath into thick thicket and shaded hedges. The garden is gradually stepped, since the property sits on a gentle hill that slopes down to the River Blyth. The Arts & Crafts style garden was introduced by the current owners, along with a kitchen garden, and wild flower meadow at the very bottom of the hill.
Both the house and church look out across the River Blyth, providing the latter with its alternate title, ‘The Cathedral of the Marsh’. Certainly, the neighbouring church makes for a dramatic landmark lit up at night and stood within estuary flatlands. Blythburgh Church is also famous for a dramatic incident in the 14th century, during which the pious townsfolk inside were supposedly visited by the demonic ‘Black Shuck’, a large black hell hound whose scorching paw prints are still visible on the door. Luckily, I’ve never encountered the beast whilst visiting but there are plenty of rabbits with a macabre habit of burrowing alongside the ancient graveyard…
The Green’s connections to the church are more than just neighbourly, however, since the property actually sits on the grounds of the now destroyed Blythburgh Priory. This priory, a ‘daughter house’ to the Augustinian Priory at Dunwich, was built in flint - a very rare architectural feature in the area (albeit visible as material in the remaining church).
With the river alongside, the priory and village of Blythburgh had been a major site of trade in the early medieval period, but fell into decline in the 13th century, supposedly due to a Papal Order limiting the amount of fish to be consumed in a week! We actually found evidence of this golden trading era in the garden, in the form of a 14th century French Jetton dug up in a vegetable bed.
It always strikes me as strange that such trading ‘powerhouses’ existed in the area. A similar story can be told of Dunwich; at one point a major coastal trading point and densely populated medieval harbour, ultimately destroyed in a storm and lost to the North Sea. There’s very little evidence of the metropolitan energy of this era in either Blythburgh or Dunwich now, both recast as idyllic, sleepy Suffolk villages.
The Green itself, as mentioned, was redesigned and extended in the early 20th century. The Arts & Crafts remodelling was undertaken by Sir Ernest Crofts, Keeper of the R.A, and resident at The Green at that time. There’s a disputed link to the well-known Arts & Crafts architect Frank Jennings, the man behind many of the most famous Arts & Crafts buildings in nearby Walberswick. Given the proximity of the village, it does seem likely that a link could exist. I mention all of this since the style of the gardens overall draws so much from this aesthetic. The space immediately outside of the house is structured with box and tall squared yew hedging, allowing each section of the garden to arrive as a surprise as you move through: into an orchard space, around the corner into long grasses and a medlar tree, a stretch of blue orchids, or a stone paved courtyard with quinces growing above. Brick paths run alongside the tall hedging, surrounding a green lawn space and leading to a pergola in the furthest corner. From here you can look out onto the marshes below and beyond the garden. Cracks and gaps in the stone paving here are patched with thyme plants and other herbs.
The kitchen garden here has provided a great deal of produce, not only for Pomarius but for my own kitchen at home! For this I’m always very grateful. The owners are also very patient with the oversized ‘golden shuck’ my partner and I often have in toe - Reuben the Lurcher. The Green is also Reuben’s holiday home when we can’t take him along on a trip, and I’m told he’s as particular about which armchair he’ll sleep in here as he is at home…
I’m always struck by the balance of ‘wilding’ and structure in this garden. Even in the vegetable garden, fizzy cosmos flowers will spring up alongside well attended artichokes. The aforementioned herbs or geraniums are placed in cracks to spread beside clipped box hedges. For me these little green interludes mark a present and fully inhabited home; little disruptions of ‘presentness’ in a place that you feel simultaneously stretching forward and back a very long way beyond the here and now. Home owning as stewardship is very well embodied here, a lesson we could all take more from.