What a glorious late August weekend we chose to visit the garden of England. Kent is so often overlooked as merely a channel tunnel and ferry terminal, and yet this beautiful Eden is resplendent in the finest farmland, hop fields and orchards with quintessential villages abound. Purposely ditching the SatNav, we relied on the good old-fashioned AA map of Great Britain and navigated our way through tranquil backwaters bearing gorgeous names such as Pett Bottom, Patrixbourne and Bladbean.
THE CUTEST BED AND BREAKFAST AND A GOOD PLACE TO EAT
We stayed near Canterbury in tiny Pheasant Cottage, a treasure of a bed and breakfast tucked away in such narrow lanes we would struggle to find it again I’m sure! Supper in achingly trendy ‘Salt’ in Canterbury was a delight and the sort of restaurant we always hope to stumble across – enthusiastic and smiley staff, a chalk-board menu and a no-hurry atmosphere. Before dinner we walked through the grounds of the magnificent cathedral and were thrilled to see a glorious magnolia grandiflora in bloom.
The end of August can sometimes yield tired and over-blown gardens, with many flowering borders having ‘gone over’ but the gardens we visited last weekend bore such brilliance it was hard to believe we were in late summer.
Walmer Castle in Deal is a great adventure for all visitors, oozing history and beauty with cannons, a moat, a castellated walkway and glorious gardens to explore. This English Heritage site was built in the mid 1500s by Henry VII as a coastal fortress and later, in the early 1700s became the rural retreat for the Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports.
Outside, the castle gardens are wonderful, and we really enjoyed exploring. The grassed moat is a fertile oasis with figs, hydrangeas and other flowering shrubs rising triffid-like against the castle walls. A wooden walkway takes the visitor down into the actual moat which you can walk around in its entirety, whilst gazing up at the high castle walls.
The wide ‘broadwalk’ herbaceous borders burst with late-summer colour against the imposing backdrop of giant and undulating cloud-like yew hedging. The nearby kitchen garden is a riot of colour with seasonal jewel coloured dahlias overlooking regimented rows of vegetables and nearby soft fruits and espaliered apples and pears. Victorian greenhouses enable you to walk through their selection of beautifully tended plants ranging from tomatoes and aubergines to tender succulents and plants more suited to a Mediterranean climate. A croquet lawn invites the visitor to stop a while to play a traditional game, whilst the tranquil Queen Mother’s garden, created in honour of her 95th birthday boasts a rectangular pool surrounded by lawn and quiet benches set into clipped hedging. The garden continues with woodland walks and it is certainly a place to take the time to enjoy.
A SPOT OF LUNCH IN DEAL
Although there is a café at Walmer, we decided to explore nearby Deal in search of the perfect spot to find lunch. The newly refurbished Clarendon Hotel on the unspoilt seafront has a small café, the ideal place for coffee and a generous panini. The pleasant staff made our quick stop all the more pleasurable and they even invited us to take a tour of their newly decorated on-trend charcoal-grey bar.
THE SECRET GARDENS OF SANDWICH
The other garden we were lucky enough to visit was in the historic riverside town of Sandwich. The rebranded ‘Secret Gardens of Sandwich’ lie behind The Salutation, a luxury bed and breakfast establishment housed in a grade 1 listed Lutyens house with gardens originally designed by Gertrude Jekyll. It’s fair to say that these glorious organic gardens are no longer a secret, given away by the enormous banner boasting ‘the home of Gogglebox’s Steph and Dom’ and inside, shopping opportunities are maximised with a plant and gift shop, tea room and £7 entrance fee. The gardens attract a reputed 30,000 visitors a year although mysteriously we had never heard of them and only happened across them via the NGS yellow book!
DAHLIAS GALORE AND MORE
The beautifully restored garden was looking good in its late-summer finery. An original brick path lined with expansive borders draws the visitor around the garden towards the neatly ordered vegetable garden, with rows of summer vegetables, espaliered fruit and riotous dahlias. A largish pond complete with tiny island is host to a slightly sinister looking crocodile sculpture and further sculptures await the visitor as they tour the remainder of the garden. The main borders were clearly designed to frame the beauty and symmetry of the house and are looking fabulous for late summer with plenty of colour. Further gardens lead off the towering poplar walk, the Spring garden being fenced off to protect visitors from bees, housed in two hives on the lawn. The gentle yellow garden overlooks a Georgian cottage within the grounds whilst the bowling lawn is bordered with fiery seasonal planting. At the time of our visit there was an event taking place on the terrace of the house, the guests loudly enjoying an afternoon ‘to the manor born’. With rooms available on a bed and breakfast basis, this beautiful garden and house can be enjoyed by everyone, if only for a night!
FISH AND CHIPS ON THE BEACH
Our afternoon continued with a tour along the coast, finishing at Whitstable, a picturesque old fashioned seaside town, famous for its oyster beds and restaurants. We enjoyed fish and chips at dusk on the beach, heaving with day trippers and holiday makers. Despite the crowds it was good to see people of all generations enjoying a traditional day by the sea and the local restaurants and oyster shacks certainly benefited too.
Kent is so easily accessible thanks to the M2, M25 and M26 and now we have whetted our appetite with a taste of the area we shall be returning soon, hopefully to catch the Dahlia festival at The Salutation in early September.