Blakenham Woodland Garden is a delightful combination of traditional English woodland and many exotic trees, shrubs and flowers planted over a period of 50 years.

From snowdrops, early daffodils and drifts of bluebells to rare magnolias and camellias the garden offers an ever-changing pattern of colours and scents throughout spring and early summer.

Blakenham Woodland Garden is near Ipswich in Suffolk, just a short drive from the A14 and A12 trunk roads.

History of the Garden

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John Hare, MP for Sudbury and Woodbridge bought the wooded hill next to his house in 1951. He had wanted it for years. He set about doing what he had long dreamed of, clearing brambles and nettles and creating glades and paths through the bluebells. He discovered that, unusually for the area, which is surrounded by old chalk pits, the soil in his own wood was "green sand" which allowed him to plant all kinds of acid loving plants like azaleas,rhododendrons and magnolias, most of which fare miserably in alkaline soil.

In the rough and tumble of a busy and successful political career, the garden was his solace and his refuge.

He swapped and traded with gardening friends as all good gardeners do.

He hunted down precious specimens. It is more than likely that the 20ft x 20ft. cornus [ Either C. 'Eddies White Wonder' or C.'Ormonde'] came from Kew where his good friend Sir George Taylor was director.

When he left politics in 1982 John Hare became Viscount Blakenham and Treasurer of the R.H.S. This allowed him to spread the net of his acquisitions ever wider. The garden is a map of his relationships. Tracing your way round the wood, these erodiums came from his good friend and neighbour the great Suffolk plantsman Oliver Wyatt. That rhododendron came from the great garden at Bodnant belonging to George Aberconway, with whom John Blakenham shared a more competitive relationship. He would very much have liked to be Chair of the R.H.S. himself, but Lord Aberconway was not inclined to move over. Other rhododendrons and azaleas came from Sir Eric Savill who directed the gardens at Windsor.

When John Blakenham died in 1982 the garden was made into a charitable trust in order to ensure the survival of his remarkable collection. 

The Garden Today

The next generation has brought new interests and directions. Michael Blakenham, who died in 2018 was a life long environmentalist and was Chairman of the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew as well as Chairman of the RSPB He increased the stock of unusual specimens and bought many rare and sometimes even unnamed trees and shrubs at Kew auctions. His wife is an artist and potter and is closely connected with Maggies Centres, an innovative family of cancer caring centres, now springing up all over the United Kingdom. Her interest is in creating an atmosphere with light and shade, layered texture, and surprise in which people can feel happy and enchanted.

The new management of the garden tries to strike a balance between what is cultivated and what is wild. The natural ground cover of the woodland floor is allowed to make its own decisions as much as possible. It is a difficult balance to strike. Sometimes it looks as if the battle has been completely lost or won, depending how you look at it, to wilderness.

The birds sing blithely in the branches above bluebells and then campion and foxgloves in their turn. Magnolias and cornus, azalea and roses flourish. There seems nothing particularly incongruous with their sharing the stage with exotics like bamboo and phormium and other rarities collected in recent Kew expeditions overseas. The profusion of planting is interspersed with Chinese rocks, rustic huts and hybrid sculpture benches from which to enjoy the turn of another path. At the heart of the wood is a surprise. Within a serendipitous circle of tall sycamores a tilting grass landform spirals down into a chalk plug hole. Even the badgers have their own dell. It is never dull, even after the exuberance of spring has passed and summer has moved on to late summer when there is little in flower but calming shades of green and alternating light and shade.