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Home Lifestyle Gardening Article
It’s that time of year when garden lovers open their gates for the National Gardens Scheme. There’s a bumper crop of new listings in the Yellow Book 2014, writes Lesley Bellew.
Gardens define the personality of their owners and this becomes even more apparent when a group of neighbours decide on a joint opening to raise funds for the NGS.
The Toys Hill group gardens all vary in style but enjoy one particular feature – the panoramic view across West Kent to Ashdown Forest – and each makes the most of the scenery where sheep and cows graze as the rolling farmland falls away into the distance.
There’s an immediate joie de vivre at The Meadow House, where the Seddon family’s garden is full-to-bursting with colour.
The garden opens like a fan from a pretty pale pink-washed 1930s property, the result of three decades’ thoughtful work to make the most of the idyllic setting.
Trees and hedging have been replaced by borders that are brimming with year-round colour.
“We always have something in bloom, we call it our plant of the week,” says Prue Seddon, whose abundance of energy and enthusiasm for her garden means she spends “many, many hours working outside” but she also makes time to enjoy the landscape.
“In the evenings it is lovely to sit by the rose garden and appreciate the view,” she said.
Visitors who wander along grass paths and across the lawn will able to do the same on the open afternoon.
Prue said: “As I child I loved to run along wide, grassy paths. My grandchildren love it, too. We got rid of all the terraces and it made such a difference to the garden.”
She added: “We chose Sunday, May 18 as we thought it would be about the best time for azaleas and rhododendrons but everything is so early this year. The wisteria, which grows against the house, was out in April so at this rate the rose garden will be in full bloom when we open.”
Neighbouring Old Farm Cottage has been carefully developed over the last 13 years by Lady Margaret Nolan.
“If anyone wants to know the names of plants they should ask Lady Nolan,” said Prue. “We are all keen gardeners but Lady Nolan is very knowledgeable.”
Lady Nolan revived the historic gardens laid out by Sir Harold Hillier at her former home Tanners, in Sevenoaks, and has acquired an appreciation of planting schemes through garden visiting and meeting many exceptional gardeners.
She started from scratch at Old Farm Cottage and has carefully created a garden with dozens of interesting specimens to give all-year interest.
Lady Nolan took advice from distinguished botanist, the late Sir Peter Smithers (the diplomat on whom Ian Fleming based his character James Bond) on her choice of 10 wisteria.
She said: “We corresponded after he invited my husband and myself to lunch with him and his wife in their lovely house on Lago di Lugano. Sadly, we only met him that once but true gardeners enjoy meeting other enthusiasts as well as exchanging plants and ideas.”
Sir Peter’s recommendations, from pink to purple and white should be in full glory on open day.
Lady Nolan was also inspired to plant magnolias by Maurice Foster, after visiting his 14-acre arboretum in Ivy Hatch, Sevenoaks. She said: “He has a wonderful garden and enthusiasm for collecting new and unknown plants from all over the world. His magnolias are superb.”
There are several specimens at Old Farm Cottage which originate from New Zealand, a country dear to Lady Nolan’s heart; her great-grandfather Sir Frederick Weld was the sixth Prime Minister in the mid-1860s.
Look out for sophora, New Zealand’s national tree, also known by the Maori name, whai. The seed was given to Lady Nolan by a head gardener in Auckland.
And do not miss llamas Guinevere, 27, and her daughter Merlin, 14, in the rear paddock.
At The Rushes, there will be even more livestock to amuse visitors. Here, Howard and Sally Jarvis keep pygmy goats Bertie, Mabel, Monty and Lucie.
“They are real characters so we will put up a hooped fence so people can say hello,” said Howard.
The people-friendly goats will be vying for attention with ornamental fowl on the natural spring-fed lake.
“The lake gives our garden a very different feel. Ours is a natural, wildlife garden and there will be lots for visitors to see,” said Sally.
“The lake is the highest of its kind in Kent but this winter, with all the rain, the water level rose so much we have been emptying it out,” said Howard, who is the “chief hedge-cutter and grass-mower” while Sally takes care of the rest of the garden.
Sally said: “The red camellia at the front has been amazing this year but will probably be over by the open day, which is a shame. We are hoping the Iceberg roses will be in bloom. Love-in-the-mist grows underneath and makes a lovely combination near the lake.
“We are looking forward to welcoming people here. It should be good fun.”
The Toys Hill group will be supported by friends in the village who will serve tea and cakes at Meadow House where there is parking in the paddock.
More details from the Yellow Book, available at all garden centres or visit ngs.org.uk
Other new openings for 2014 include
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