Friday, 10 June 2011

Triangular treasure in Essex - Green Island Gardens

The Japanese garden - one of a series of  "rooms" at Green Island
Just occasionally you find a garden that's different  - a place that breaks away from the stereotyped British idyll, where perennials stand on guard like soldiers throughout the summer months, proudly displaying their colours. Last week, I found a glorious 20-acre triangular garden in Essex - a regrettable omission from the well-thumbed garden guides you see visitors clutching, but well worth a visit if you're on the East Anglia trail  - Green Island Gardens at Ardleigh, just outside Colchester.
The house at the centre of the garden was designed by Raymond Erith, who is best known for redesigning
the interiors of 10,11 and 12 Downing Street during the Macmillan government in the 1960s
Home to garden designer, Fiona Edmond, who moved here from London in 1996, with her husband and children; the family have created a wonderful garden and landscape out of the 20-acre triangular plot surrounding the house. Fiona arrived here with chronic ME, but used the garden project as her therapy, and has created a unique landscape that will, I'm sure, be noticed by the garden bibles when they're next reprinted.
Trees that fell during the Great Storm of 1987 have been re-used wherever possible at Green Island
Green Island is really a series of landscapes - a perfect place to take children, who can run wild in the woodland areas (although they will need to be corralled in the water garden). There are garden rooms adjacent to the house, including a charming Japanese garden, seaside garden and gravel garden, but all overlook the bigger landscape, punctuated with log-framed borders close to the house, and woodland borders further afield. Leave the house behind you and you'll find yourself in a magical woodland world.
The seaside garden designed with low maintenance in mind
Timber stepping stones in the woods

But it wasn't always like this at Green Island! The woodland areas sustained huge damage in the Great Storm of 1987 and it took the current owners several years to clear fallen trees from the property. Much of the timber has been re-used in the gardens, either in the construction of buildings or as seats, and although the gardens opened to the public in 1999, the woods were not fully open until 10 years later. Thousands of bulbs have been planted to provide spring colour, and the woodland is ablaze with bluebells in April and May.

I loved this garden, and would thoroughly recommend it to readers who are in the area. Part of it's charm is that you're not directed through the landscape with the help of red arrows, although I did hear other visitors fretting that they might be "lost" in the woodland areas, although common sense would have saved them! That said, I have to admit that I've no pictures of the glorious water gardens because my camera ran out of batteries and common sense had not prevailed before I left home in terms of carrying spares. So I have no choice but to return here later in the year ... but it won't be a hardship!
Woodland borders are a highlight at Green Island
Green Island is open five days a week - Tuesdays through Fridays, and Sundays (closed Saturday and Monday), from 10.00 am to 5.00 pm. Also open by appointment. Close enough to Colchester to combine with the Beth Chatto Gardens, or you could go and admire the amazing walled garden at Marks Hall.


  1. Beautiful garden, I'm crazy about those stepping stones. :)

  2. It's always great to hear about undiscovered or less publicized gardens. They give you a sense that you are in on a little secret. The arbor in the Japanese garden is beautiful!

  3. I certainly would like to see more photos later on Charlotte. How anyone can work on as much as 20 acres amazes me, especially when they have ME. The pergola in your first photo, there's something about its concave shape - which I've not seen done before - that lends real grace.

  4. This looks like a real corker, I will try to plan it in to my next Chatto or Hyde Hall trip - thank you!

  5. I visited last year (also in the garden visits section of my blog - I've hardly posted any, and now you've reviewed two of the same ones in the last week!) and I really loved it too. Definitely one to visit again and again.

    I'd just like to mention though, after reading Gardener in the Distance's comment, that Fiona was far too ill to do anything to the garden when they moved there, and her father & husband did all the physical work of the clearance etc - I don't think anyone could possibly work on 20 acres while suffering from ME. Fiona did the design for the new garden. She has now made a complete recovery from ME (something which happens very rarely) and is able to manage the garden herself, which is an inspiration to those of us who are still ill with it!

  6. A reminder here. Planned a visit while spending a day in Colchester last year but ran out of time.

    Must go back to Beth's place too as have not been there for a while.

    Great photos.

  7. What a lovely garden indeed and you have good reason to return.