Gravetye Manor, on the Kent/Sussex border was built in 1598 and is a fine example of Elizabethan architecture. It was bought in 1885 by William Robinson, an early advocate of the naturalistic planting style that has since been copied in gardens across the world. During his time at Gravetye, Robinson created the sloping gardens to enhance the natural beauty of the surroundings. He strived to plant the garden in a joyous mix of perennnials to give a ‘wild’ effect and he also cleverly used ground cover plants to disguise bare soil. A contemporary of Gertrude Jekyll, Robinson was influenced by the Arts and Crafts movement and went on to write two books which are still in print today; ‘The English Flower Garden’ and ‘The Wild Garden’.
Head gardener Tom Coward arrived in 2010 from Great Dixter and under his careful guidance, William Robinson’s design has been restored and improved. Working with hotel owners Jeremy and Elizabeth Hosking, Tom and his team of gardeners have replenished and replanted neglected areas to bring the garden back to life. The result is an outstanding and splendid riot of colour and texture that really enhances the stone house without detracting from the beautiful views across the valley beyond.
The garden is approached via the side of the house where stone steps lead to a sunny courtyard garden, planted with billowy hydrangeas, huge marshmallow-pink Dahlias and spiky, spidery Cleome, with lower level planting being filled with Perovskia ‘Blue Spire’ and dainty pink Diascia.
A stone archway leads to the main garden where the visitor is greeted by a formal lawn surrounded by generous beds overflowing with towering Cardoons, deep purple spires of Salvia ‘Amistad’, bright pink Dahlia ‘Magenta Star’, bronze-leaved Canna lillies and velvet-orangey flames of Salvia ‘confertiflora’ amongst many other plants. Splashes of white annual Cosmos have been used in a painterly way by Tom to highlight areas within the borders.
The garden slopes up from the main lawn where layer upon layer of planting smothers the hillside. Erigeron daisies decorate the stone steps that lead up to a croquet lawn and as one climbs the steps the planting becomes more woody and shrubby. The overall effect is like an oil painting, with blobs of colour and texture stretching across the hillside.
I was lucky enough to visit the garden with photographer Clive Nichols. Unfortunately, although this remarkable garden is not open to the public, overnight guests or those with a lunch reservation may book a guided tour which is available for £25 per person. To book, telephone 01342 810567.