A Visit to the Secret Garden: On Finding Something New on Your Doorstep

I’ve been living in Norwich for a while now, yet there are still places I have never visited. One of them, until recently, was the Plantation Garden. Although I used to live around the corner, and still within walking distance, I somehow had never gotten round to visiting this mysterious local attraction.

The place is by no means easy to find. Its nickname, the Secret Garden, is certainly well-deserved. Off a busy road, nested between a cathedral and a hotel car park, the only indication of its entrance is a small sign. Otherwise the path looks like someone’s driveway and walking down it feels like trespassing. Last week, on a particularly hot day, I decided to overcome my inhibitions and keep going.

The path leads to an iron gate and a sign with the gentle encouragement to drop the entrance fee in the honesty box. Walk around a small wooden shed and you enter the garden proper: a bathtub-shaped piece of land that feels like it belongs in Alice in Wonderland. Never mind the garden is surrounded by busy roads, it feels like a haven of tranquility, to throw in a cliché. Even if one of its neighbours was practising his drum skills during my visit.

The foundations of the garden were laid during the nineteenth century by local businessman Henry Trevor. Back then rich people occasionally did nice things with their money rather than just squandering it on expensive knickknacks, I suppose. Trevor built his very own Victorian horticultural dream: a garden with exotic plants, a greenhouse, and a rustic bridge.

Although the garden fell into disrepair after World War II, it has since been restored by a small army of passionate volunteers. The society welcomes new members, and I’m seriously considering becoming one, if only to support the wonderful work they do.

For the garden, it must be said, is amazing. From the enormous moss-encrusted gothic fountain to the rare tulips blooming everywhere, there’s beauty in every corner. I have no green fingers whatsoever and should not be trusted to keep any type of plant alive, let alone rare tulips, but I know a nice spot when I see one and will definitely return.

Sure, the garden is not very big and Norwich certainly has more eventful attractions to offer. But for me its tranquility is part of its appeal. After my visit I felt like I’d spent a few hours on a different planet, rather than in a garden mere minutes from where I live. I’ll be back, if only for the midsummer outdoor cinema the society promises to organise on its website. Why not join in?

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