The Secret Gardens of Sandwich. The Salutation.

traditional long borders and Lutyens house

The long borders towards the house

The Salutation in Sandwich, Kent is probably best known as being the home to Steph and Dom of ‘Gogglebox’ fame.  However it is also home to the most marvellous garden, the bones of which were laid out by Gertrude Jekyll to compliment the Edwin Lutyens house, built between 1911-1912.

brick path and tropical planting

the tropical entrance to the gardens

The gardens, which are open to the public are known as the ‘Secret Gardens of Sandwich’, presumably because one would not expect to find such lushness in the middle of a town, albeit one of the best preserved medieval towns in England.  Since opening in 2007, the gardens have been the inspiration and delight of Steve Edney,  Head Gardener.  Steve has the dream job of many gardeners, having effectively been given a free rein to manage the gardens at his will.

tropical planting

tropical planting

The garden is a ‘plant-lover’s paradise’ and is created in a series of rooms, following the original garden layout.  The entrance to the garden is a tropical delight, with bamboo and palm trees complimented by colourful perennials.  I was rather taken with the fun element of the ‘squirting cucumber’ plant spilling over the brick pathway.  A native plant from warmer climes, the ripe fruits ‘squirt’ their seeds at opportune moments, mainly taking visitors by complete surprise!

Squirting Cucumber plant

Catching you by surprise! The low-lying sneaky Squirting Cucumber!

The brick path, lined with a plethora of colour leads to the small lecture room which also serves as a DIY tea room, the walls of which are lined with photographs and information on the gardens.

brick path with flower borders

Original and re-laid brick paths

Dahlias feature heavily in late-summer.  The Salutation gardens have a great collection of over 300 cultivars and each year a Dahlia Festival is held in September with talks, tours and demonstrations.

dark stemmed dahlias at The Salutation

glorious dark-stemmed dahlias in the vegetable garden

The Salutation holds a collection of around 100 dark-stemmed dahlias and in addition they cultivate new varieties.  The dahlias are planted mainly in the vegetable plot, providing a splash of colour amongst the edibles.  Further dahlias are planted in a long border nearer the house.

Dahlia bed at the Salutation

Dahlias galore!

The main part of the garden is laid out in traditional style, following the original layout.  Long borders, a pond and a series of ‘rooms’ lead the visitor around towards the house.  A wild flower meadow, complete with bee hive sits beside a poplar walk and Steve reports that bats roost in the ancient poplars.

Dahlia 'Weddington Pink'

Dahlia ‘Weddington Pink’.

Beside the house, a formal lawn is flanked with beds planted mainly in shades of red and this lawn is virtually an extension of the house since it leads to a terrace.  A further garden is planted in mainly yellow shades to compliment the Ginkgo Biloba tree which produces buttery yellow leaves in autumn.

The White garden, traditionally laid out with box topiary in-filled with white flowering plants is currently undergoing a tranformation and will eventually become the ‘black and white garden’ as Steve and his team introduce dark stems and leaves – sounds interesting!

copper pumpkin sculptures

Copper pumpkin sculptures by Emily Stone

Sculptures are placed throughout the garden which are available to purchase.  Artist Emily Stone creates animals and plants from copper and I particularly liked the copper pumpkins which were amusingly placed in the vegetable plot!

Dahlia 'Paradise City' at Salutation Gardens

Dahlia ‘Paradise City’

Also available to purchase are plants which have been raised by the team of gardeners.  There is a tiny visitor’s centre and gift shop, all manned by a very friendly team.  As The Salutation also offers bed and breakfast, it is a great excuse for a weekend away!

Dahlia 'Show and Tell' at The Salutation

Giant Dahlia ‘Show and Tell’


Hauser and Wirth Garden at Durslade Farmhouse, Somerset

Hauser and Wirth garden and gallery at Brunton in Somerset is so achingly modern and on trend that it an unexpected find in the middle of Somerset. A short detour from the A303 it is certainly worth a visit, especially to break a journey en-route to the West Country.

Durslade’s Farmhouse forms part of a group of Grade II listed farm buildings that date back to as early as the mid 1700s and was taken over by Hauser and Wirth in 2012 when they received planning permission to convert the derelict farm into something quite different.


Today, Durslade’s Farm is a ‘World Class’gallery and multi-purpose arts centre’  featuring innovative exhibitions of contemporary art. Behind lies the ‘Oudolf Field’ designed for the gallery by landscape architect Piet Oudolf. The area has a signature Oudolf appeal and at the time of our visit in mid-July the planting was beginning to take on its midsummer finery. Continue reading

Overbeck’s, Salcombe, Devon

Overlooking the Salcombe estuary, Overbeck’s is a National Trust property, built in 1913 and was formerly a convalescent home for injured soldiers. The house was bought by Otto Overbeck in 1928 and left to the National Trust in 1937 following his death.

The steep and densely planted grounds overlook the beautiful Salcombe Estuary and are home to a great number of exotic species including palms, tree ferns and banana trees. Continue reading

Kew Gardens – a special evening.

The evening opening of the Great Broad Walk Borders, Kew

The opening of the Great Broad Walk Borders, Kew

Kew Gardens has long been a destination for garden visitors.  The magnificent Victorian Palm House is real draw, being the most important surviving example in the world and housing a vast array of exotic palms and ferns from around the globe. In addition the modern Princess of Wales conservatory features a staggering array of cacti, orchids and other species, recreating 10 climatic zones. The Orangery, built in 1761 serves as a magnificent cafe and the entire garden spans a staggering 300 acres.

The Orangery, Kew

The Orangery, Kew

Founded in 1840, the importance of Kew is not to be underestimated.  Housing more than 30,000 plant species, Kew also holds a library of over 750,000 books.  The gardens are too vast to take in on a single visit and even more so now that the new Great Broad Walk has been created.  At 320 metres long, the newly planted double herbaceous borders line the route of the original broad walk path, running through the centre of the gardens from the Orangery to the Palm House. Continue reading

Shere Open Gardens, June 2016



flowerpot men in Shere

Bill and Ben adorn a front garden in Shere, Surrey

A village gardens open scheme is a great way to take in several gardens in one afternoon, whilst enjoying a glimpse into the backyards of houses not usually open to the public.

Shere, near Guildford in Surrey is far from your typical Surrey stereotypical dormitory, since much of the village is still owned by the local manor and despite infill development manages to retain a certain quaint charm without being too ‘chocolate-box’. Continue reading

Arundel Castle Gardens

Green oak arches overlooking Collector Earl's Garden, Arundel Castle

Green oak arches overlooking Collector Earl’s Garden, Arundel Castle

It is a common misconception that Arundel Castle is ‘just a castle’ with perhaps a private garden, hidden from the snooping eyes of the tourist.  In fact this couldn’t be further from the truth and Arundel Castle gardens should be on every garden visitor’s ‘bucket list’.

The extensive grounds are dominated by the Hogwarts-style castle and nearby Cathedral. With gothic pergolas cleverly mimicking the arched windows of the castle, the rose garden ticks all the boxes for rose-lovers. Laid out in a uniform of 4 squares intersected with paths the rose garden makes a perfect start to the visitor’s experience of the castle gardens.


Beside the Fitzalan chapel, the lightness of the walled ‘white garden’ is a great foil for the dark stone walls of the chapel beyond. Here, the globes of Alium ‘Mount Everest’ and ‘Mont Blanc’ tower over ‘Iceberg’ and ‘Winchester Cathedral’ roses with spires of foxgloves and delphiniums bursting skywards beside frothy cosmos. Continue reading

Hall Place and Gardens, Bexley, Kent

'King's Beast' topiary at Hall Place, Bexley, Kent

‘King’s Beast’ topiary at Hall Place, Bexley, Kent

Hall Place first came to my attention whilst searching for a garden to visit in the Sidcup area.  Oddly, their website, whilst promoting all manner of family days out and a brief history of the Tudor manor house, gives no information on the garden other than the carrot of a photograph depicting curiously shaped topiary.  This was enough to spark an interest so we popped in to see if the garden showed any more promise.

Managed by the Bexley Heritage Trust, the Tudor house, dating from 1540 is set amidst gardens betwixt a busy main road and the (slightly less busy) river Cray.  Open to the public for a donation, the majority of visitors were families with children letting off steam beside the water. Continue reading

Lowder Mill, Haslemere

Lowder Mill near Haslemere, Surrey, open under the NGS.

Lowder Mill near Haslemere, Surrey, open under the NGS.

Tucked away down a quiet single track lane, Lowder Mill lies against an ambient Surrey landscape of lush fields and rhododendron woods.

With the now redundant millpond forming a backdrop against the pale brick wisteria clad house, water is the main feature of this garden, flowing abundantly along streams througout the garden whilst beside the millpond, visitors enjoy afternoon tea and home-made cakes. Continue reading

Chilworth Manor, Surrey

Wisteria at Chilworth Manor, Surrey

Wisteria at Chilworth Manor, Surrey

Lady Heald (1904-2004), huge supporter and former Chairman of the NGS and resident at Chilworth Manor for more than 40 years used to preside over her open garden days when the genteel Surrey manor opened its garden gates to the public.

Happily, the new owners of this gorgeous slice of England are following suit and Chilworth Manor garden, now refreshed and invigorated, welcomes visitors under the NGS open gardens scheme.

wisteria and roses grace a wall at Chilworth Manor

wisteria and roses grace a wall at Chilworth Manor

Approached via a sweeping drive, imposing stone gateposts mark the entrance to this property which has been used as a film location on numerous occasions. Continue reading