13 – 16 July 2018 – Historic Houses & Gardens of Kent & Sussex – Tour with ‘Tailored Travel’

A personal snapshot of the tour!

 Twenty two Gardening Club members and friends enjoyed sunshine every day on their tour, visiting some seven historic houses and gardens in Kent and Sussex.

Our first stop was Standen House, near East Grinstead – a beautiful home nestling in the Sussex countryside with views over the High Weald.  Standen is one of the most complete examples of Arts and Crafts workmanship full of William Morris textiles.  The delightful 12 acre hillside garden has ‘rooms’ each with a distinct character as well as a vegetable garden and paths leading into the woodlands.

This oasis set us up for our tour but never take peace and calm for granted – our coach broke down before we had even left Standen!  Thankfully our spirits were restored with yet another cup of tea and piece of cake and soon a replacement coach arrived. The driver was really pleased to transport us as he had spent the whole day collecting under fives  from every school in the county(!) to a special event!  Eventually we reached our hotel, right on the sea front in Eastbourne – it wasn’t long before some of our number sped into the sea and enjoyed a swim. I was told that it was exhilarating!

The next day we visited Herstmonceux – who knew that the Castle operates as an international study centre for Queen’s University in Kingston, Canada? Many students visit every year to study in this tranquil setting. Our guide Bryan, enthusiastically showed us around the spectacular Castle – a relentless stream of words uttered forth giving a potted history of Herstmonceux and the surrounding area interspersed with jokes delivered so fast that I hadn’t understood the first one before Bryan was into the next one!   Nothing new there then my husband would say! Much more interesting were the seven themed gardens!

One of my favourites was the  Magic garden where you were advised to be careful not to climb on the logs as you may frighten the fairies! Did you know that the favourite form of transport for fairies is the dragonfly because they keep  the fairy bodies very steady when flying!  And yes, we did see many dragonflies ………………

In the rose garden, our more sharp-eyed members spotted the magnificent display of the scarlet trumpet vine, campsis radicans, happily twining itself through a multitude of yellow roses.  I spent most time in the Shakespearean garden – full of plants mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays or sonnets.  Each plant boasted a plaque bearing a quotation. I chose just one example for you, dear reader, the myrtle.

Mirtus communis”  spoken by Euphronius, Ambassador to Antony

I was of late as petty to his ends

As did the morn-dew on the myrtle leaf to his grand sea.

Antony and Cleopatra Act 3 Scene 12

Ironically the garden plaque showed the wrong reference so after scouring the play I found the right one!  Letter to Herstmonceux?

Another unexpected interesting feature not to be missed was the display of several Zimbabwean statues looking quite at home amongst the trees and ferns of the English countryside.

On to Bateman’s – a compulsory visit for us as this was the home of Rudyard Kipling whose daughter, Elsie, bought Wimpole Hall and bequeathed it to the National Trust. To Kipling, Bateman’s was a ‘solid squire’s residence – alive with ghosts and shadows and with rooms dark, comfortable and creaky’ – we agreed.  Sorry – another poem…..

‘Oh, Adam was a gardener, and God who made him sees

That half a proper gardener’s work is done upon his knees,

So when your work is finished, you can wash your hands and pray

For the Glory of the Garden, that it may not pass away!’

..so said Rudyard Kipling in his iconic poem, ‘Glory of the Garden’, inspired in part by his own efforts to create a garden for his children to play in and his family and friends to enjoy.  We did enjoy the gardens, though the borders were probably at their best a month or so earlier.  Of particular interest was the rose garden with the lily pond – we were amused at the story that the initials F.I.P. written beside names in the family’s visitors’ book, records those unfortunate guests who “Fell In the Pond”.

Our third day began with a visit to Brighton PavillIon built in three stages as a seaside retreat for George, Prince of Wales, who became the Prince Regent in 1811.  Although there was evidence of much restoration taking place, we appreciated the audio tour which ensured that we did not miss any of the important points of interest.  We also, appreciated the ornate building redesigned in Indian style by John Nash, the sumptuous rooms within especially the  banqueting room with its spectacular chandelier and the music room with walls decorated in the chinoiserie style supported by painted dragons.

There was just time to saunter along the prom’ and the pier and gaze at the hundreds of people enjoying a sunny day on the beach.

We then spent a lovely afternoon at Parham House – an Elizabethan house full of treasures from the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries.  Even if you are not an embroidery fanatic, you could not help being impressed by the Great Bed in the Great Chamber with its wonderful embroidery, dating from the 16th century and probably sewn by Italian or French men(!). It is alleged that it was commissioned by Marie de Medici, the sister-in-law to Mary, Queen of Scots.  We were fascinated too by the Green Room with its portrait of Sir Joseph Banks – the great botanist who gave his name to the prestigious  RHS Banksian Medal which is awarded at our Annual Show.  Then, there was the 160ft Long Gallery where the Parham Troop of Yeomanry was drilled during the Napoleonic Wars!  Do visit this amazing house.

The more eagle-eyed might have spied splendid examples of the terrestrial orchid in a large bowl standing on the first landing and two more on the nearby window sill!   It was not flowering at the time but full of dramatic velvety red and dark green striped leaves. Check out this unusual plant – Ludisia the jewel orchid.

As if the house was not enough of a feast for the eyes, we then visited the amazing gardens consisting of beautiful Pleasure Grounds and a four-acre Walled Garden. It is certain that the Garden pre-dates the House – it is thought the land was first cultivated as far back as the 14th century by its owners, monks from the monastery of Westminster.   We were inspired by the long Blue and Gold border as well as the glasshouse full of colourful flowering plants  and the Exotic garden.  It comes as no surprise to learn that Parham’s Head Gardener, Tom Brown,  has been invited onto the RHS Herbaceous Plant Committee this year (reported in Parham’s Blog – July 2018)

Our last day…………….

Firstly we went to Sheffield Park, where we were lucky enough to see the ponds full of blooming waterlillies first planted by owner, Arthur Soames, early in the twentieth century.  (Have a look at the excellent RHS website for  a description of the annual Water Lily festival)  His chosen varieties still survive – for the enthusiasts these are hardy varieties in pink and yellow including Nymphaea ‘Gladstonia, N. ‘Mrs Richmond’ and N. ‘Escarboucle”. Specially installed in the Middle Lake for the recent festival, was a floating pontoon enabling visitors to get closer to the water lilies.

Meanwhile on Ten Foot Pond, we met up with a local couple,  obviously delighted with life.  We learned that they regularly visited the lake to feed the ducks and feared the worst when a regular pair disappeared for quite some time.  But today, the pair returned with a very, very young group of ducklings! So charming – many photos followed!  We left our new friends still ooing and aahing over the new brood.

Then just one more place to visit – Wakehurst, as our tour is coming to an end. After our long walks around Sheffield Park, we needed to gird our loins. (Do people still say that?  Look up the book entitled “The Illustrated Art of Manliness” where you will see illustrations for the way in which Hebrew men girded their loins by tucking up their tunic to get ready for battle with the Philistines!  Fascinating, but I digress).  Here we were at Wakehust,previously known as Wakehurst Place  There is a house and botanic gardens, owned by the National Trust and used and managed by the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew.  The garden includes walled and water gardens, a dell, wild flower meadows, a rock walk, woodland and wetland conservation areas.

However, with so llttle time available and with over 500 acres to explore, I decided to concentrate on visiting the amazing Millennium Seed Bank(MSB), in the Millennium Building opened in 2000.  With its labs and storage rooms on display through glass panels in this specially designed building, the MSB conserves seeds of thousands of plant species as an insurance policy against the dangers of extinction in the wild.  We are aware that already in the UK there are habitats vulnerable to changes in climate and human activity. But Wakehust scientists work with colleagues across the world.   An interesting film showed the action of scientists working in other countries to collect seeds from their native flora and sending them to the MSB.  On the day of our visit, there were un-opened parcels from Madagascar and Western Australia. Kew scientists at Wakehurst sort the seeds, clean and classify them and then conserve them.  As their brochure says “ Plants and fungi are crucial to our survival, not only for food, fuel, shelter and medicines but also for regulating our climate  and the environment we live in”. By working with scientists internationally, Wakehurst is contributing on a global scale to make the future a better place.

A wonderful end to a highly successful tour of Sussex and Kent for the Gardening Club.

MED July 2018

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