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Lullingstone Castle's World Garden reopens with Our Lord’s Candle flowering on cue

Right on cue for opening day, Our Lord’s Candle, a desert yucca, has flowered for the first time in 26 years in the World Garden at Lullingstone Castle, in Eynsford.

The flame-like spike of vanilla-coloured flowers (Hesperoyucca whipplei subsp. parishii) reaches 17ft. From the night it started to bloom, horticulturalist Tom Hart Dyke saw the plant put on 2ft of growth in 24 hours, writes Lesley Bellew.

Tom Hart Dyke watches Our Lord's Candle soar into the sky at Lullingstone
Tom Hart Dyke watches Our Lord's Candle soar into the sky at Lullingstone

Tom, 44, whose family has lived at Lullingstone Estate since 1361, said: “It was like watching a rocket taking off into the sky. I am so thrilled that visitors to the garden, which re-opens today will be able to see it in the Mexican plant border.”

Plant hunter Tom created the World Garden from drawings made during a nine-month kidnap ordeal in the Colombian jungle in 2000; now he has a unique collection of plants from around the globe, sourced from donations, purchases and seed collected on Tom’s plant hunting expeditions across six continents.

From the Australia bed to the US and Asian displays, Tom says the garden has ‘never looked so good’.

He said: “We have had the most exceptional spring, with temperatures as good as California, so the plants from the US, Mexico, South America and the southern hemisphere are looking magnificent. The cacti have never looked so good – we give them lashings of water.

Cacti are doing well in this summer heat, says Tom Hart Dyke
Cacti are doing well in this summer heat, says Tom Hart Dyke

“During lockdown I was gardening on my own for three months, working 6am to 10pm without any distraction so in many ways the garden has never had so such time spent on it.

As well as looking after the plants I’ve improved all of the labelling – man-influenced hybrids and cultivars have the classic black labels and other colours represent the continents.”

Tom, who has been adding rare and important botanical plants to the collection since opening in 2005 now can’t wait for the public to admire his labours.

He said: “My mother Sarah and our volunteers are all ready for visitors to arrive from Friday.

Our opening will be with the warmest of welcomes and within all of the new guidelines.

“Every gate will be open; we will direct visitors on a suggested garden and polytunnel route so social distancing rules can be maintained throughout. We want everyone to enjoy themselves and feel relaxed and we’ve put up a lovely takeaway refreshments bar in the marquee so visitors can sit on the lawn with their drinks and snacks where there’s plenty of space, so everyone feels comfortable. They can also take a nice walk around the lake.

Oriental lillies in the World Garden at Lullingstone
Oriental lillies in the World Garden at Lullingstone

“There’s so much to see at this time of the year and the garden borders are bursting with colour from alstroemeria and dahlias to agapanthus and canna lilies. The yucca, of course, is the highlight in the World Garden where families can have plenty of fun travelling around each continent.”

In ‘Australia’ visitors can find the Dinosaur Tree (Wollemi Pine), it’s the oldest tree in the world and close-by is the planet’s rarest gum tree, Eucalyptus morrisbyi, a graceful species that Tom collected in south east Tasmania.

Kids will love the carnivorous pitcher plants, the mirror border and Colin the Cobra while the Psoralea glandulosa, from Chile, smells like B.O. and opposite is the sweet-smelling pineapple bush (Argyrocytisus battandieri) which originates from Morocco.

A garden visit is rarely complete without a call into to the plant nursery which will be open with about five outdoor tables. Payment will only be accepted by debit or credit card to avoid the handling of cash.

And, if you like to be one of the first to own a new cultivar, be quick to order the wonderful new Salvia ‘Dad’s Brown Trousers’, Guy Hart Dyke’s Sage, a seedling raised by Tom. The pale peachy flowered salvia with dense bright green foliage was featured in the recent Plantfinder publication and will be exclusively on sale at the World Garden from August. It was named after Tom’s father Guy, who passed away in 2018. Tom said: “Dad loved to wear his old khaki trousers in the garden so it’s a plant name that’s special to our family.”

The World Garden opens on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and Bank Holiday Monday until October 31 from noon to 5pm. Assistance dogs only.

Admission prices: Adult £9, child £4.50 (five to 15 yrs), senior citizens £7.50, family tickets £20 (2 adults & 2 children or 1 adult & 3 children).

Visit lullingstonecastle.co.uk

For more gardens opening up across Kent click here.


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