Saturday, 13 June 2015

Hole Park Gardens

To Hole Park near Rolvenden this afternoon, ostensibly to have a good nosey around the gardens under the expert guidance of senior gardener Louise Nicholls, although today I was just as interested in the cake and company. I’ve had cause to observe in the past what a fantastic cadre of gardening folk congregate on Twitter (and lately, Facebook too – though perhaps I’m a little late to the party on that particular platform), and today I got to meet several of them in person. Happily, I can report that, once again, I found them just as friendly, supportive, and knowledgeable in real life as they are online. And to think, someone once said that social media was no good for gardeners.

A gathering of gardeners among the generously airy planting in the Millennium Garden

There are three species of newt found in Britain. Apparently, they all live in here
But first things first - the cake had to be earned, and the prospect of refreshment was held out before us by Lou as an incentive to keep us moving through the garden – a necessary cruelty, since as a group we displayed on more than one occasion an inclination to linger in a particular space, the better to appreciate it in all its fulness. However, the desire to tarry in any one spot being incompatible with the imperative to gain an overview of a large garden within a set period of time, we were kept moving.

Rocky pauses to fondle a geranium

The gardens at Hole Park cover 15 acres, laid out and planted in the inter-war years by the great grandfather of the current owner, and featuring many distinct garden spaces (“garden room” doesn’t seem an appropriate phrase when including lawns, meadows and woodland). These include a tropical border, a sunken Italianate garden sitting between two long herbaceous borders, a lawn with exquisitely pruned standard wisterias, the rockery, camellia walk, wildflower meadows (known as the Policy) and bluebell wood with a brick ice house, and a formal lawn complete with yew topiary, a pool with fountains and a stunning backdrop of the wealden landscape. I made a rough running tally of at least 15 separate spaces – though I’ve probably missed one or two – all bound together by miles of tightly clipped yew hedging and views out into the Kentish countryside. And to keep all of this in check – just two and a half full time staff, including head gardener Quentin Stark. This is bordering on feat of superhuman degree – although I did notice that Lou drinks an awful lot of coffee.

Lou, coffee mug in hand, demonstrating that at least the sundial doesn’t wobble
The estate occupies a position on the map almost exactly half way between Sissinghurst and Great Dixter, although I’m not entirely convinced how useful it is to make a comparison with either of these. In feel and ambiance, it seems to me to be more akin to the gardens of its other near neighbour, Scotney Castle, only without the single, breathtakingly romantic picture-postcard view (the picture postcard view here, from the front of the house with a windmill on the left and a monument on the right, harks back to an earlier age of landscape design). It possesses a similar rolling topography, the sudden, Rousham-like plunge of the land towards the water course in the valley – perhaps a much wilder interpretation of a picturesque landscape than the national trust property – after all, Hole Park is a much later garden. We were of course too late for the magnolias and the bluebells in the woods, but we caught the tail-end of the display of the azaleas and rhododendrons, again providing echoes of Scotney. There’s also a similar interplay between parkland and garden – the more intimate, enclosed spaces opening out onto wide lawns, with the Policy, the dell and the woodland beyond.

The gardeners do a fabulous job of tending the formal hedges, lawns and border in the vicinity of the house. But it’s in the less manicured areas where the magic really starts to happen, along the grassy paths mown through swathes of wildflowers, in the glades and rides in the woodland area, beneath a giant gunnera beckoning from the further side of a pond apparently filled with vichyssoise, and fringed with candelabra primulas. These are the places I want to come back to and explore.

The gunnera and Persicaria 'Red Dragon' framing the pond of leek and potato soup
The long-awaited cake, by the way, was excellent.

With thanks to Louise Nicholls for leading the day, Quentin Stark and Edward Barham and the AllHorts Facebook group for their support.

Lou is planning to trek to Machu Pichu next year on behalf of Marie Curie. Do visit her justgiving page if you’d like to make a donation in support.