Published: 00:01, 08 December 2017
There’ll be plenty of puckering up at Penshurst Place this Christmas – and it’s mostly down to one man.
Head gardener Tony Wiseman and the gardening team at the estate near Tonbridge have been busy harvesting the mistletoe growing there throughout November.
The plant is a parasite and grows on trees across the estate, particularly the apple and oak trees.
Tony, 42, who has been head gardener at Penshurst for six months, after being promoted from assistant head gardener, has mixed feelings about the plant, which adorns the house during the winter weddings which take place there while it is closed to the public, but which is also a pest to gardeners.
The traditional mistletoe with its white berries, is female, so the male of the species is not of use in decorations, but both sexes grow in abundance throughout, and need to be removed regularly or they can damage their host.
It’s quite a project for the team, who can really roll their sleeves up once the gardens close to the public for the season at the start of November.
“I wanted to come into the historic sector,” said Tony, who had previously been based in Northern Ireland with wife Rachel and their two children.
“There are more gardens in Kent than there are in the whole of Northern Ireland, I think! Penshurst is as a family home, and has the balance between being an attraction, an events place, and a historic garden. It has all those elements. We have 80,000 visitors coming in. It keeps it interesting.”
Tony has regular meetings with owners Lord and Lady De L’Isle, who are involved with the 11-acre gardens’ constant progress. “For me it is a big part of what we do here. It is a private house and a private garden.”
Harvesting mistletoe is part of the winter projects for the team, when you might think the gardeners can ease off.
“It’s all the fiddly things in the summer, but once you get into the winter, it’s all the heavy stuff,” he said. “You can get really stuck in and because we’re closed from November 1 to February half term, if you want to make a mess of things, that’s the time to do it.”
Mistletoe from the gardens is used it to decorate the Baron’s Hall for weddings and the biggest bunch in the Baron’s Hall is a whopping metre across. It is also used in wreaths and decorations and the vast majority goes to charity. It’s also a family operation as the handmade Christmas wreaths sold in the shop are made by Tony’s wife.
There’s also been the small project of creating the Narnia-style grotto, which is a sell-out each year, and is lined with dozens of Christmas trees and strewn with petals from the candy floss trees which grow on the estate and keep their sweet scent for some weeks.
THE GIFT SHOP
There’s a festive feel throughout December at Penshurst.
The Christmas gift shop, which is open from 10.30am each day, is stocked with hand-packed hampers, estate-grown mistletoe, local produce and present ideas. There is late-night shopping on Wednesdays until 7pm until Wednesday, December 13. There is free parking and disabled access.
The Porcupine Pantry will be serving festive fare and sweet treats, and there is a pop-up art display including some works featuring the house and gardens. Handmade wreaths cost £25 and come in a range of designs.
Penshurst Place and Gardens can be found at Penshurst, Tonbridge, TN11 8DG. To find out more, visit penshurstplace.com or call 01892 870307.
The house and gardens, which featured in the BBC's The Silkworm, may be shut for the winter, but visitors can still enjoy the countryside around it.
Penshurst Place has two free-to-access estate walks, which can be tried any time of year. The Parkland Walk and the Riverside Walk are marked with numbered and colour-coded signs and start and finish in the visitor car park. You can, if you need to, pick up a trail maps at the gift shop for 50p.
While out walking, you can stop and see the plaque commemorating the ancient Sidney Oak tree, which is believed to have been on the estate for more than 1,000 years until it died last year.
Its place in history is marked by the plaque and also one of its saplings, which had self-seeded, and which now grows alongside where the original oak stood.
The oak would have been in situ since before the medieval manor house was built and certainly stood watch during the period the estate was owned by Henry VIII.
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