Saturday, 23 July 2016

Perch Hill

After my brief foray into Kent to visit Sissinghurst Castle and Gardens; I could not let the opportunity slip to see Perch Hill Farm - the home of the TV gardening presenter Sarah Raven and her husband Adam Nicholson - a grandson  of Harold Nicholson.

Perch Hill only opens to the public several times a year.

The Sat Nav took us down a lane, that narrowed to the point where I was beginning to have grave doubts about its reliability to direct us through the East Sussex Weald. Fortunately before it became a mere dirt track or we ended up in a farmyard, (as has happened on many occasions back home), a small sign directed us into a field to park in for Perch Hill Open Day.
I was reminded instantly of our “Christmas in the Barn” events at Lucinda’s where we negotiate narrow lanes, (made even more treacherous in snowy conditions) and there is all the fun of parking in the field above the tennis courts. Even in sunny Sussex, (currently not so sunny) this field at Perch Hill was not immune to the churned up mud, seen copiously spattering the Audis, BMWs and Range Rovers that had already bagged their parking spot.

Perhaps it was the weather, (rain was forecast after lunch - and the morning although dry, was dull and grey), but I found my first impression of Perch Hill disappointing.
I accept that the month of June was a particular woeful one for us gardeners – the elements have created havoc in the majority of gardens throughout the UK. So it is possible that the garden at Perch Hill was suffering unduly from this unseasonal weather.

The foxgloves lining the lane were nearly over and therefore not nearly as spectacular as shown in the brochure.

Compared to the exuberance of the gardens at Sissinghurst, the gardens at Perch Hill appeared to lack character.

The other side of the hedge from the field we parked in was a small wildflower meadow. After the meadows at Sissinghurst, this meadow did not have the same impact and looked more like an overgrown farm field with a path cut through it.

The first garden was the cutting garden, which obviously is for business purposes. Wind and rain had battered it and many of the plants were past their best, 

but to be perfectly honest I felt it did not quite live up to the photos in Sarah Raven’s catalogue or the clips that I had seen of it on Gardener’s World. Despite the weather the crowds had flocked to the open day, and groups of visitors blocked the narrow paths, making photographs difficult.

A sense of wild abandonment was missing in this garden and it made me think of Mr Production’s perfect plot – beside my own ramshackle and overgrown allotment; very organised, efficient and productive but a little uninspiring!  

The same was true of the vegetable gardens, both alongside the cutting garden 

and in front of the glasshouses. I confess though that it was impossible to pass through the vegetable garden without surreptitiously plucking and sampling a tantalisingly ripe full pea pod; almost as irresistible as the apple that was supposed to have tempted Eve!

Across the farm lane from the cutting garden, the farmhouse was under renovation and so areas of the garden were roped off. 

After the protracted renovation project I had finally completed last year, I felt some sympathy towards Ms Raven and her husband; knowing how difficult it is to juggle everything at once when a building project demands so much time and attention.

I saw Adam Nicholson on several occasions, striding towards the farmhouse after being summoned by the builders, but not so stressed that he could not exchange pleasantries with a few of the crowd that swarmed around his gardens. Sarah Raven was present too, but more aloof than her husband during the time I was there.
Given the on-going renovations, the farmhouse garden was in good condition. The builders must have been on their best behaviour when it came to taking care around the plants. Unlike in my own garden - when during the building work, the digger driver mercilessly and needlessly tore a large mature Philadelphus out of the ground by its root ball, pulverising it to death before I could yell at him to stop.

As the morning moved on, the cool, dismal weather drove the visitors indoors to the glasshouse and barn for refreshments. The chatter and humidity persuaded me that the quieter environment of the dimly lit barn was preferable and we sat at a long table, watching a small blue tit twittering and flitting about in the rafters above us as we drank our coffee.

At the back of the farmhouse
 and the barn is the Oast house, 

where Sarah Raven and her family lived before they moved to Sissinghurst.

The garden of the Oast House 
- full of height and interest, was a delight and appealed to me a lot more than other parts of the garden.

However it was at the side of the Oast House

 that I found a picturesque scene that captivated me completely and made our trip worthwhile.

The most delectable and enviable little Shepherd’s Hut 

in an Orchard!

Hmmmm!! Irrepressible ideas raced through my mind.... Oh, if only the garden at La Petite Maison was bigger, surely there is somewhere, somehow, that I can incorporate a Shepherd's Hut….

Sunday, 10 July 2016

Sissinghurst; (A Whistle-stop Tour)

Kent is said to be "The Garden of England!" 

My Mum is from Kent and I retain many happy memories of long walks through the Kent countryside with family; across fields and along narrow lanes - the sun always shining. Where my lovely Aunty G found a small birds nest cradling a tiny speckled blue egg, tucked deep in the leafy hedge; and later as we rested and sat in the sunshine below the hedgerow she taught me how to whistle through a blade of grass.

Sadly those days are gone, but I have increasingly longed to return to Kent and in particular to visit Sissinghurst; the former home of Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicholson.

As usual events appeared to conspire against it, (I shall gloss over the
details), but eventually although late in the day, only a short time before the official closing time and albeit a little stressed, we arrived - possibly the only place in the whole of the UK where the sun was actually shining. 

Although I had never visited Sissinghurst before, the surrounding Kent countryside was every bit as beautiful as I remembered.

 I was captivated by the wildflower meadow 

that has been planted in front of the Oast Houses.

A well and

a floral display marked the entrance to the castle

which leads through to a courtyard and on to the rose garden,

where I was transported to a rose lovers heaven 

and roses in every colour imaginable draped themselves over every wall, climbed through trees and tumbled through every bed and border.

Vita wrote about her vision for "a tumble of roses, and honeysuckle, figs and vines,"

and declared herself to be "drunk on roses". I understood how she felt as I wandered through this garden with it's sense of wild abandonment.

Vita relished the colours, scent, form and beauty of the old roses; and wrote,

"If you were born with a romantic nature, all roses must be crammed with romance,

 and if a particular rose originated on an island the romance must be doubled, for an island is romantic in itself."

Steps down to a brick path lined with ferns and softened with "mind your own business" and to a doorway in the wall 

brought us through


the White Garden:

and then to the quaint South Cottage.

To the North of the garden beside the castle

is The Priest House  

which dates from the Tudor period.

The Tower, 

built in the 1560s  

was once a prison (during the Seven Years War in the period 1756 - 1763).

Here Vita has left her mark and it is still possible to view Vita's personal study, although unfortunately no photographs were allowed.

The view from the top was breathtaking (as was the freshening wind), 

spanning the surrounding panorama of the Kent countryside 

and the garden rooms below.

In the surrounding farmland (a working farm), were sheep 

- the woolliest and most picturesque I have ever seen,

sleeping in the shade of a tree; 

their bodies a mound of fluffiness in the grass.

Further along the lane, the vegetable garden was a lot more organised and productive than my somewhat recently neglected allotment.

A boathouse

stands above a moat  

- all that remains of a small moated manor house (that was originally a Saxon pig farm)

and at the corner of the moat a gazebo.

Walking past the gazebo and along the moat, the path led down to the outer edge of the estate, 

to The Lake

around which we walked briskly, rather at odds with the tranquil and relaxed ambience, conscious of the clock ticking and the imminent end to our whirlwind visit to the wonderful Sissinghurst.