When we last visited Hyde Hall it was a lovely summer day. There were sculptures using every variation of terrain and – of course – the glorious roses.
The first week of meteorological spring was not going to offer rose blooms but it did, after initial rain, give warm sunshine and a chance to appreciate how each shrub is structured and how dramatically the ramblers and climbers are trained. In addition there were spring flowers and the monumental rhododendrons and magnolias.
Perhaps the most intimate of RHS gardens, Hyde Hall stands exposed on what passes for a hill in Essex. On approach it is impressive, from the top dominant, surprising to those unfamiliar with the proverbial 'big skies' of East Anglia.
A path winds upward through Australasian planting, visible from the wheelchair route nearby. Pale, feathery grasses contrast with dense and dark pittosporum, with groupings of salix and fern further on. Under trees are spring bulbs: snowdrop, crocus and daffodil in clumps, with celandine, cyclamen and the seductive hellebores beyond.
The top garden opens from a gravelled area where complimentary transport terminates and individual mobility vehicles take over. The cafe has tables inside and out, both in full use on a day that had begun with rain but developed into warm spring sunshine. Toilets are well placed both here and in other areas.
Turning left you enter a formal garden with the library and reference centre beside rectangular beds with box hedging. Plentiful seating allows visitors to picnic with a view of the big pond. Although the gunnera were still under frost protection a salix was spectacular against an evergreen background. Walking around the delicate perfume of daphne in bloom was there to enjoy.
The winter rain had limited access to some lawn areas, although crocus were visible in the grass and in other areas mowing had begun. Views from here take in the Thames valley southward and, depending on route, the Chelmer valley northward or the lake below, where the paths – all wheelchair accessible – complete a circuit of 2.1 kilometres.
A different kind of sculpture was on display, with scarecrows as part of a schools' involvement initiative. There was a trail for children who could collect points from various sacks of straw as long as they also wrote the word on each label.
Like the roses, the vegetable garden was in early mode although a range of containers to facilitate home or school production had crops. Local fruit is a feature of the cafe and shop (at the entrance/exit) and its production was in evidence.
The dry garden – no joke even after the past winter – occupies the summit of the hill and shows how colour and plant variety can be found in such conditions. While colour may fade with sunlight there are bark and blooms to compensate.
There is a wealth of easily gained information for the keen gardener as well as plenty for the casual visitor to enjoy. Enjoyment leads to further interest as became clear at the sales area.
In common with Rosemoor, Wisley and Harlow Carr, Hyde Hall has a number of events all through the year. Some offer free admission. For anyone daunted by Chelsea there is even a flower show from 31July to 3 August.
To encourage sustainable transport there is even a 25% reduction in admission for visitors who can show a valid ticket from the local bus service. Altogether inviting and delightful, even without the roses.