Days OutFeatured

A Garden for All Seasons

No matter what time of year, come rain, shine or snow, Kent’s glorious gardens are bursting with awe-inspiring beauty. 

Pashley Manor Gardens

Early spring means thoughts of winter are set aside as the first buds burst. Fragile flowers announce the start of a new year of growth alongside candy-floss blossoms with pretty petals that dance upon the wind, when they begin to fall from the branch all the promise of the gardening year ahead will be encapsulated in the further new, cheerful blooms of late spring. These months give way to early summer: beautiful flowers, fresh foliage and longer warmer days combine to make the loveliest of times spent outdoors. Midsummer madness brings warm sunny hours and burgeoning borders reaching peaks of perfection. As summer draws to a close, time sets borders ablaze with the rich hues of autumn, as the flower garden moves into a new and thrilling season. Winter arrives to mark the end of another glorious year in Kent’s gardens, a season no less beautiful than those that came before, with glittering frosts that ice over lakes and ponds and white icing-like snow which falls to create scenes so idyllic they could decorate a Christmas card.

Scotney Castle

A county that truly warrants its Garden of England title, Kent is awash with gardens of all shapes, sizes and styles open all year round for guests to marvel at. From grand country houses with rambling grounds and manicured lawns to newer gardens that have taken inspiration from far away continents, there’s plenty of variety in Kent. Whether desiring inspiration for your own garden, or simply in need of perusing a beautiful outdoor space, Kent is certain to have the garden you’re looking for. Let insideKENT take you through the year ahead, a journey exploring the county’s most majestic gardens. 

Belmont House

Spring 

Perhaps nothing is more welcome in the garden than the first sightings of spring flowers to mark the end of the darker days of winter. A wonderful place to spot the early bloomers such as crocuses and daffodils in the early months of spring is Emmetts Garden in Sevenoaks. These give way to pretty bluebells that cover the woodland floor with a blanket of blue and purple hues. Of course, it is daffodils that announce the arrival of spring. Whether in the wild or in the garden, their assertive trumpets capture the imagination and bring cheer to the bleakest of days. One of the best places to witness daffodils of Wordsworthian glory is Hever Castle, where each year 70,000 daffodil bulbs are set to bloom.

Hever Castle

Early April will see swathes of crocuses, narcissi and daffodils, which can also be enjoyed at Hole Park in Cranbrook, where there is also a pretty ‘Camelia Walk’ with shade-loving hellebores takes walkers down a path flanked by flowering cherry trees. Before the bluebells take centre stage, the meadows and woodland floor are a sea of primroses and dainty blue scillas. Magnificent mature magnolia trees will also be flowering throughout the gardens and woodlands. Spring is also the perfect time to visit the Great Comp Garden in Sevenoaks, which erupts into bloom with swathes of magnolias, azaleas and rhododendrons, underplanted with large drifts of hellebores and spring bulbs. 

Rhododendrons and azaleas also come in abundance at Doddington Place Gardens’ woodland garden – a spectacle for May and June. Doddington is also home to a large Edwardian rock garden with pools, a formal sunk garden with herbaceous borders, and a flint and brick folly. Extensive lawns and avenues are framed by impressive clipped yew hedges and many fine trees.

Doddington Place Garden

A time of blossoming fruit trees, one of Kent’s best gardens to visit in spring is the garden of Winston Churchill – Chartwell. With delicate pink and white cherry and apple blossoms in the orchard and bountiful blooms of magnolia trees framing the approach to the house, this is one garden not to miss at this time of year. This year, Chartwell are taking part in the national Festival of Blossom (April 22-30) when local community groups will create blossom benches in the garden decorated with origami paper flowers. There will also be a collaborative art project making origami blossoms to hang from the pergola on the terrace lawn.

View of the house from the garden in May at Chartwell, Kent.

One of the most stunning arrays of late spring is the tulip. Pashley Manor’s spectacular Tulip Festival (April 19 – May 3) sees this garden carpeted with over 48,000 tulips, creating supremely stunning scenes. Over 100 varieties of tulip are planted in colour-themed garden ‘rooms’ throughout the grounds and in pot displays. Visitors can wander from elegant displays of white lily flowered and palest cream classic tulips planted around an old brick terrace to the open space of sweeping herbaceous borders covered in a riot of reds and oranges surrounded by tendrils of bronze fennel, or romantic soft pink peony flowered blooms cloistered between red brick walls and pleached pear trees. Yet more tulips are on display as cut flowers in the Bloms Bulbs marquee. Bloms, winners of 69 Chelsea gold medals, are on hand throughout the festival to share their knowledge of these beautiful bulbs and to take orders from those inspired by the spectacle.

Pashley Manor Gardens

Perhaps the most famous gardener that called Kent home was Vita Sackville-West who transformed Sissinghurst Castle Garden into one of Britain’s greatest. The epitome of the English garden, visitors can now explore its series of garden rooms, each filled with different planting schemes and unique designs. Heralded for its beauty and diversity, the garden is a result of the creative tension between the exuberant planting of Sackville-West and her husband, Harold Nicolson’s formal design. Spring sees gorgeous magnolias – early guests will spot huge white flowers, and a few weeks later, the dark, dusky pink ones will be on show. Late April also sees the bluebells rise up and in May irises encroach blessing the garden with their intense colours of violet and blue. 

Rhododendrons at Hole Park

Summer

Sissinghurst Castle Garden is also celebrated for its roses, which come into bloom in early summer. Bursting with colour fragrance and romance, witness a ‘tumble of roses and honeysuckle, figs and vines’. You’ll also see evidence of Harold’s keenness for strict geometry in the circular-shaped hedge, or rondel, at the west end of the garden. Another Kentish gem with a glorious rose garden is Godinton House near Ashford, which sees a stunning mix of shrub roses and herbaceous planting. Godinton is also home to an Italian garden with statuary, Mediterranean planting and gentle fountain make a perfect place to sit on a warm day. The large walled garden encloses a mesmerising display of delphiniums and fruit trees have been planted along the walls with beds of cutting flowers and vegetables laid out in front of a new Victorian-style greenhouse.

Salvias at Great Comp

Roses are a heralded addition to Walmer Castle Gardens, and of particular importance are the Queen Mother patio roses that make a bright show in the Queen Mother’s Garden, who was once Lord Warden of the castle. In the meadow, wild flowers including pyramid orchids, common spotted orchids and blue scabiosa can be seen nestled in the long grass. During summer, the kitchen garden is in full production with a spectacular offering of soft fruit, vegetables and flowers. Some produce is grown in the glasshouse including tomatoes, peppers and aubergines. A permanent display of houseplants, cacti and succulents can also be admired here.

Another famed lady gardener that planted roses in Kent was Victorian actress Ellen Terry, who resided at Smallhythe Place in Tenterden. A result of her love of the plant, Smallhythe has over 50 varieties of rose including the Ellen Terry. The rose garden puts on a colourful show throughout late spring and summer, with many varieties still in bloom into early autumn. This area sits next to the old wildflower bed, which was sown to capture Ellen’s humble yet wild nature.

Smallhythe Place

Another spectacular summer visit is Lullingstone Castle’s World Garden. A garden which began with dangerous beginnings, gardener Tom Hart Dyke pays homage to the amazing achievements of Victorian and Edwardian plant hunters here, who brought back the plants and flowers we now cherish and grow in the UK.

Autumn and winter

One of the most comprehensive and exciting collections of salvias in Europe grows at Great Comp with extravagance and warmth, and, as summer draws to a close, ornamental grasses in great variety punctuate the colourful borders and combine beautifully with the myriad colours of late autumn. However, one of the best places in Kent to say farewell to the summer is Riverhill Himalayan Gardens in Sevenoaks. Open until the end of October, the gardens are simply wonderful in autumn – sunflowers and dahlias fill the walled garden beds and the pottager is alive with late blooms and vegetables. As the air turns cooler, Riverhill’s trees change through yellow and orange to fiery red. Their acers are also a ruby-red sight to behold, as are the unruly gourds and squash that scale the walls amongst the red leaves of the Virginia creeper.

Hever Castle in Autumn

Another garden that embraces all the glory of autumn is Belmont House near Ashford. Home to a walled garden that sits beneath the shadow of a charming clock tower, Belmont’s long borders contain a wide variety of plants both annual and perennial. The combination of these borders with climbers, a more formal rose bed and walls covered with wisteria ensures there is interest throughout the year. In autumn and winter, the pinetum remains a picturesque variety of trees including blue atlas cedar, Mexican white pine, brewer spruce and coast redwood amongst others. 

If it’s autumn colours you’re craving, Penshurst Place is set ablaze with golden leaves of burnt orange and red, a glorious backdrop to this medieval marvel whose gardens are among the oldest in private ownership. Autumn sees acers provide a stunning display through the spectrum of oranges and reds, while the leaves on the gingko biloba transform into a gorgeous golden yellow. However, for those that love flowers, late May to early June is not to be missed. Penshurst’s 100-metre long peony border erupts into colour, showcasing four different hues of beautiful pink peonies.

Italian Garden at Penshurst Place

One of the earliest flowering plants is of course the snowdrop. Ightham Mote is one of Kent’s best places to witness this little winter bloom.Throughout February, an estimated 5,000 of these magical winter flowers put on their display, marking the end and beginning of a year in the garden.

Daffodils blooming in the orchard at Ightham Mote, Kent

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