We had gone up to Norfolk for a weekend and stopped at one of the National Trust properties there. The choice had been random as I didn't know any of those in the area. But, according to the description in the NT's guide book, it seemed a good spot for the children to run around and let off steam and for me to see a new park. Well, it surely was. One of those unexpected pleasures that make you want to sing with joy. Whilst the guidebook did mention a rhododendron collection, I hadn't paid much attention as the entry was in the "Outdoors" section - along with nature reserves, coastal beauty spots etc., rather than manor houses and their gardens.
And then I happily and almost deliriously skipped from one bush of blazing yellow or orange azaleas to the next red, pink or white rhododendron and couldn't believe my luck that I had stumbled upon such unexpected treasure at the perfect time of year. Unlike the view from the look-out, at ground level they were all at their best, with thousands and thousands of perfectly formed blooms.
20 hectares of rhododendron, the earliest plantings dating from around 1850, flank the main approach drive to the house according to Sheringham Parks own guide book. Once there were at least 65 species and hundreds of named varieties. And yet, Sheringham Park isn’t famed for them in the first place, but for (same source) “the most complete and best preserved example of a park and house designed by the great landscape gardener Humphrey Repton (1752 – 1818).” Humphrey Repton of the ‘before and after’ drawings in his Red Books, marketing his design ideas to prospective clients. Along with William Kent and ‘Capability’ Brown the most prominent figure in the English Landscape Park Movement. Apparently, Repton even considered Sheringham his most favourite work of all.
It surely is incredibly beautiful: out of the rhododendron woods you come to a sweeping drive, with the house and stables visible at the end, tucked in at the foot of a wooded hill. In the distance you’ll see the sea, framed by trees, and in front there are gentle waves of green turf densely sprinkled with golden buttercups. Happy children wallowed in them, mine included. With not a cloud in sight, it seemed all truly serene and Arcadian – just as intended, I guess. But I wonder: did Repton plan for the millions of buttercups or did they simply appear by chance? It's unlikely yet if he did, I’ll declare him not just a master but a genius.