I've been in Suffolk, on the far eastern side of England.
Beautiful Suffolk, with cloudless blue skies full of shrieking swifts, endless fields of ripening, golden corn, stately trees marking horizons and hedgerows, and picture-postcard cottages straight off the lids of chocolate boxes.
|Picture postcard houses|
It was lovely to be there again - pottering in my parents' garden; listening to the church bells; visiting antique/vintage/junk shops with my sister; and whiling away scorching afternoons beside the open French windows, chatting with my mother over some gentle crochet.
Not to mention being almost entirely off-line.
Now I am back at home - to a rapturous welcome from Model Dog and the TeenQueen, it's true - but to the less enjoyable realities of normal life as well. My dear friend has been in a car smash and is in hospital with two broken ankles, the TeenQueen, in an enthusiastic but misplaced attempt to defend her home from canine intruders, has bitten another friend's lurcher, and the rain it raineth every day.
At lunchtime I rushed out to feed some roses and young blossom trees - a job best done in wet weather - and it was only as I changed into dry clothes afterwards that it dawned on me: a week ago this very afternoon, I was visiting one of the most beautiful gardens I have ever seen - the walled garden at Helmingham Hall.
How I wish I'd had my camera. My phone isn't the same thing at all. Apologies, Helmingham, for not doing you justice.
|Side view of Helmingham Hall|
It's not very far from my mother's village, but for some reason I've never been there before.
I shall certainly be going there again. In fact, I'm wondering if I might move in without them noticing.
There are several gardeners there, but I'm sure they could use an extra pair of hands, and I'd work very hard.
The Head Gardener, I was told, has been there for 50 years, since he was a boy.
And the lady of the house is a garden designer.
That shows too.
I'm sure the walled garden at Helmingham has always been a thing of beauty, but now it has reached the peak of perfection.
You have to walk around the lovely Tudor Hall to get to it - along the side of a moat on which water lilies drift lazily in the afternoon sunshine. At the end, a notice on the gate says something along the lines of 'For the sake of the deer, please keep this gate closed', and there is a half-wild, half-mown path with topiary hedges that entice you ever onwards.
Even then you only catch glimpses of the joys ahead.
Have you ever noticed that about the best gardens? They lure you bit by bit. Never is everything revealed at once, and just when you think you have arrived at the pièce de résistance, a path - or a doorway - or an arch cut into the hedge tells you that there is more - still more - to come.
So it is at Helmingham.
After the moat, the topiary hedges, and the casually thrown out lure of a dappled apple walk, finally you arrive in a walled enclosure, with trees, urns overflowing with white cosmos and lavender-edged flower borders that look like oil paintings, in which hide covered seats where you can sit out of the sun yet still smell the hot, sweet scent of roses.
But it's only the ante-room.
Huge pillars entwined with roses and topped with winged horses' heads mark the entrance to the actual walled garden. They hold massive wrought iron gates of which I am deeply jealous.
Although to be honest, it wasn't just the gates I lusted after.
Someone once said to me: 'One garden is much like another.'
Gardens are like books. They are all different, although some may fall into the same genre. I have seen gardens that leave you depressed, others that leave you unmoved. There are many that disappoint and many that surprise and delight. But the best of gardens take you to another place entirely, a place that I, for one, never want to come back from.
Inside its high, aged brick walls, Helmingham's rectangular garden is broken up geometrically. A central grass path is edged with wide herbaceous borders backed by fences, railings or obelisks supporting endless roses, clematis and other climbing beauties.
|The central path|
And at regular intervals there are other paths leading off to the sides.
Some of these are arched allées - covered with runner beans, or wisteria or sweet peas.
Sometimes there are just more grass paths, with more herbaceous borders.
And hidden away in between are long rectangular beds of vegetables, or cutting flowers, or lavender.
Set against the outer walls, in between the planting, are benches and amusing topiary specimens.
|The armchair so you can sit and watch your leeks grow|
And there are side gates - of which I'm also exceedingly jealous.
There is also the Coach House Tea Room serving delicious cakes to revive you for part two - the knot garden, the rose garden, and a newly planted garden with lots of trees...
Or maybe just a second, leisurely tour of the walled garden, where you can sit and watch the bees falling over each other to get at the veronica and the allium and the honeysuckle - and everything else. I've never seen so many bees in one place.
It was so hot last Wednesday that I was glad to slip out of the back gate for a moment in the shade, where a sort of secondary moat - or perhaps it was originally a carp pond - runs around the outside of the walled garden, dividing it from the Apple Walk and the Deer Park. It reflects the magnificent, graceful trees, and does what water always does. It brings heaven into the garden.
As if it wasn't there already.
|Behind the walled garden|
|Between the Apple Walk and the Walled Garden|
What else can I say? Except hie thee hence to Helmingham.
It's part garden, part oil painting, and part heaven.