Part Four. Rambling Through the Gardens & Estates of Kent, England.

The British film-maker, Derek Jarman, created a tiny, breath-takingly beautiful garden in the inhospitable environment around Prospect Cottage, his home on the shingle beach at Dungeness. Photo courtesy of garden designer, Anne Guy. www.anneguygardendesigns.co.uk

The British film-maker, Derek Jarman, created a tiny, breath-takingly beautiful garden in the inhospitable environment around Prospect Cottage, his home on the shingle beach at Dungeness. Photo courtesy of garden designer, Anne Guy.
http://www.anneguygardendesigns.co.uk

March 2014. Behind the making of every garden there’s a Story. But, interesting stories alone don’t make for interesting gardens. Only in those rare instances when a compelling story is joined with idiosyncratic inspiration, and then honed by deep design expertise, does a world-class garden spring forth.

Although it’s a rare bird who can create a fine garden, the rest of us don’t need formal training in landscape architecture in order to recognize that a garden IS indeed fine. All a garden-goer needs to do is to pay attention: Phone OFF! Senses OPEN! When a garden’s elements work in concert to satisfy us completely — when what we see, and hear, and smell, and touch and taste seem of a piece — we know we’re on a speck of soil where, for at least a little while, there’s harmony between our animal and spiritual selves, and Mother Nature.

All of the significant gardens that I’ve written about over the past several years have begun as playgrounds for the very rich. But Derek Jarman’s tiny plot on Kent’s barren, southern seashore — which during his truncated lifespan had already gained renown among garden-lovers — shows us how modest means, combined with clear poetic vision, horticultural-smarts, and an endless supply of beach-rock, CAN result in a world-class garden.

On August 7, 2013, day four of Kent-Exploring with my wonderful Blue Badge Guide Amanda Hutchinson ( http://www.southeasttourguides.co.uk ) and our Mercedes-Master Steve Parry ( http://www.snccars.co.uk ) , we traveled to Rye, an ancient seaside town, and to Leeds Castle, yet another romantic, moated fortress. We also we visited a couple of hugely influential English gardens, which represent opposite poles of horticultural showing-off, as practiced by two of the Bad Boys on the English gardening scene….both of them gentlemen who let it be known how little they cared about the conventional methods of planting gardens. Derek Jarman’s Prospect Cottage is haiku: a spare little plot that shows how driftwood and stone and rusted iron can be transformed into eloquent backdrops for scrappy, beach-tolerant plants. Christopher Lloyd’s Great Dixter is epic: a sprawling demonstration of one plantsman’s passionate determination to make gardens that included all of the plants he loved—regardless of color, texture, scale, or native habitat. Join me now, as our Kent-travels continue:

Our destinations on Wednesday, August 7, 2013.

Our destinations on Wednesday, August 7, 2013.

Destination #1: Great Dixter House & Gardens Great Dixter Drive Northiam Near Rye East Sussex TN31 6PH Open from April through October, Tuesday through Sunday, 11AM—5PM Telephone: 01797-252878 Website: http://www.greatdixter.co.uk

 Christopher Lloyd’s gardens at Great Dixter surround his House, a rambling structure that grew larger, over the centuries. The original structure, built in the mid 15th century, was expanded when an early 16th century yeoman’s house from a nearby town was moved onto the site. In 1912, the architect Edwin Lutyens was hired by Christopher Lloyd’s father, Nathaniel Lloyd. Lutyens restored and further expanded the house, and, more importantly, laid out terraces and walls and paths which provided the framework for the gardens around the House which today’s visitors to Great Dixter continue to enjoy. Image courtesy of Great Dixter Charitable Trust

Christopher Lloyd’s gardens at Great Dixter surround his House, a rambling structure that grew larger, over the centuries. The original structure, built in the mid 15th century, was expanded when an early 16th century yeoman’s house from a nearby town was moved onto the site.
In 1912, the architect Edwin Lutyens was hired by Christopher Lloyd’s
father, Nathaniel Lloyd. Lutyens restored and further expanded the house, and, more importantly, laid out terraces and walls and paths which provided the framework for the gardens around the House which today’s visitors to Great Dixter continue to enjoy. Image courtesy of Great Dixter Charitable Trust

For students of 20th century garden-history, the gardens at Great Dixter are equal in fame to those at nearby Sissinghurst. Just as Vita Sackville-West’s prolific writing about her gardens had made them known to the world, so had Christopher Lloyd’s decades of book and article writing about Great Dixter garnered legions of fans. Having on the previous afternoon braved the coach-mobs at Sissinghurst, I anticipated equally crowded conditions at our morning’s first stop, and so approached Great Dixter in a quietly resigned frame of mind. Silly me…. Amanda had arranged for us to arrive at Great Dixter prior to opening time, and thus well before the herds of other garden-tourists would be tumbling out of their busses. And the iffy weather was also on our side. Heavily-clouded skies, which looked as if they were considering dumping serious wetness, would discourage all but the most dedicated of garden-trompers.

....always nice to have a sign declaring "You Are Here!" Having cleared THAT up, we began our explorations of Great Dixter's gardens.

….always nice to have a sign declaring “You Are Here!” Having cleared THAT up, we began our explorations of Great Dixter’s gardens.

Map in hand (you'll have noticed that I do love my maps), Amanda and I entered the gardens, where planted beds still adhere to the framework established in 1912 by Edwin Lutyens. The contents of those various sections of the gardens are MUCH changed since that time. Christopher Lloyd once said: "I couldn't DESIGN a garden. I just go along and CARP!" We're about to see what his carping yielded...

Map in hand (you’ll have noticed that I do love my maps), Amanda and I entered the gardens, where planted beds still adhere to the framework established in 1912 by Edwin Lutyens. The contents of those various sections of the gardens are MUCH changed since that time. Christopher Lloyd once said: “I couldn’t DESIGN a garden. I just go along and CARP!” We’re about to see what his carping yielded…

My first view of the Meadow Garden, alongside the walk toward the front of the House. Christopher Lloyd’s mother, Daisy, taught him how to garden, and instilled in him her love of meadow gardening, in particular.

My first view of the Meadow Garden, alongside the
walk toward the front of the House. Christopher Lloyd’s mother, Daisy,
taught him how to garden, and instilled in him her love of meadow gardening, in particular.

As Christopher Lloyd explains, in his GUIDE TO GREAT DIXTER: “Your first sight, on entering the front gate, is of two areas of rough grass, either side of the path to the house. These, and a number of other, similar areas scattered through the garden, bear witness to my mother’s love of this kind of meadow gardening. They are not just plots of grass that we gave up mowing for lack of labour; but were intended from the first.” The meadows “contain a rich assortment of plants that enjoy growing in turf and the grass is not cut until all its contents have completed ripening and shedding their seed. The poorer the soil, the richer the tapestry.”

The seasons unfold, and various flowers emerge from under the turf. Thousands of wild daffodils, and snakeshead fritillaries burst into bloom. Early purple, green winged, twayblade, and spotted orchids emerge. Tall spikes of blue camassia sway in the wind.

Twayblade Orchid. Image courtesy of Lisa Culp.

Twayblade Orchid. Image courtesy of Lisa Culp.

Wild Daffodils

Wild Daffodils

Snakeshead Frittillaries

Snakeshead Frittillaries

Camassia Quamash

Camassia Quamash

Christopher Lloyd died in 2006, at the ripe age of 84. Per his obituary in THE GUARDIAN: “One of six children, Lloyd was born at Great Dixter, into a strictly-run household, where no smoking or drinking was permitted. His father, Nathaniel Lloyd, came from a comfortably off middle-class family in Manchester and his mother, Daisy Field, was reputedly a descendant of Oliver Cromwell. Nathaniel had bought Great Dixter in 1910, and commissioned Edwin Lutyens to restore and add to its 15th century buildings. Lutyens also set out the framework of the garden as an array of formal spaces, which still exist today. Nathaniel died in 1933, leaving the 450-acre estate to his formidable widow.” In 1954, Lloyd, who had been working as an assistant lecturer in science and botany at Wye College, returned to the family home. “He started a nursery, specializing in clematis and uncommon plants. Sharing their enthusiasm for gardening, mother and son continued to develop the gardens and encourage visitors until Daisy died in 1972. The house and garden then became the property of Christopher and his niece Olivia.”

“In 1957, after experimenting with Dixter’s long border, Christopher wrote his first book, THE MIXED BORDER, propounding the revolutionary idea of combining shrubbery and herbaceous border.” Then followed many more books, as Lloyd also produced a 42-year-long run of weekly articles for COUNTRY LIFE.

“As a result of Christopher’s writing, Great Dixter is the most documented of gardens, its most celebrated feature being the immense mixed border, measuring 210 feet long by 15 deep, planned for midsummer, but in reality extending from April to October. More recently, bored by his celebrated but diseased rose garden, he announced that roses were ‘miserable and unsatisfactory shrubs.’ Encouraged by his protégé and head gardener Fergus Garrett—but to the alarm of gardening cognoscenti—he created a tropical garden. Occasionally referred to as ‘the ill-tempered gardener,’ Christopher did not suffer fools gladly.”

As Polly Pattullo added to that remembrance: “He enjoyed communicating his radical views. On a March visit, he pointed out a startling display of pale blue and baby pink hyacinths under a bush of orange-stemmed spiraea; he chuckled and told us that his old friend Beth Chatto had commented that this colour scheme ‘jarred.’ But Christopher’s aim was not to shock—he wanted to stimulate the sometimes precious world of gardening.”

These portions of the House date from the 15th and early 16th centuries.

These portions of the House date from the 15th and early 16th centuries.

To the right of the front entry porch is the Great Hall, which has been restored to look very much as it did when it was built in the mid 15th century. The Hall is one of the largest surviving timber-framed halls in England (measuring 40 feet by 25 feet, and 31 feet high). Image courtesy of Great Dixter Charitable Trust.

To the right of the front entry porch is the Great Hall, which has been restored to look very much as it did when it was built in the mid 15th century. The Hall is one of the largest surviving timber-framed halls in England (measuring 40 feet by 25 feet, and 31 feet high). Image courtesy of Great Dixter Charitable Trust.

A cross-section of a building similar to Great Dixter's ancient Hall. Image courtesy of Great Dixter Charitable Trust.

A cross-section of a building similar to Great Dixter’s ancient Hall. Image courtesy of Great Dixter Charitable Trust.

A jungle of potted flowers and plants flanks the front entry.

A jungle of potted flowers and plants flanks the front entry.

Detail of half-timbered wall, over the front entry porch.

Detail of half-timbered wall, over the front entry porch.

Detail of window-bay, over front entry porch

Detail of window-bay, over front entry porch

In the Solar Garden, by the front of the House, a virtuoso display of the use of annual plants, in this case the humble snapdragon, took my breath away. Per Lloyd: “Annuals and tender bedding plants feature prominently throughout the gardens, but they are not often seen in obvious beds of their own cut off from other features. For example, the largest single area of bedding, next to the old bay tree facing the front of the house is backed by a swathe of white Japanese anemones. They flower from late July to mid-October and provide a suitable backdrop for any coloured bedding I choose to plant in front of them, and this varies with every year. Bedding allows you the swiftest opportunities to experiment, and, if it goes wrong, the defects can quickly be obliterated. This bedding is changed twice or even three times a year.”

The gorgeous crescent of crimson and salmon colored snapdragons, in the Solar Garden, with the Oast House, and the Great Barn to the rear.

The gorgeous crescent of crimson and salmon colored snapdragons, in the Solar Garden, with the Oast House, and the Great Barn to the rear.

A closer look at the Snaps!

A closer look at the Snaps!

We proceeded into the Barn Garden

We proceeded into the Barn Garden

Lloyd’s GUIDEBOOK describes his Barn and Oast House: “The barn, with its long, tiled roof reaching quite near to ground level, on the garden side, is characteristic of this part of the Weald. It is supposed to be contemporary with Dixter itself. The oast house, with its three kilns, was built about 1890, and hops from the nearby hop garden were dried in it up to 1939.”

In the Barn Garden

In the Barn Garden

The Barn Garden surrounds the Sunk Garden, which as a pool at its center.

The Barn Garden surrounds the Sunk Garden, which has a pool at its center.

Lloyd’s chatty GUIDEBOOK continues: “The Sunk Garden is surrounded by the Barn Garden. My father was responsible for the design and making of the Sunk Garden, originally lawn, then dug up for vegetables during the First World War; after which my father said ‘Now we can play.’ The Barn Garden has the merit of giving a good view across the Sunk Garden, wherever you may be standing. About half the floor of the Sunk Garden is deliberately kept clear of plants, by the use of herbicides.” SO….shameless use of herbicides! My natural-gardening-self recoiled, but was slightly reassured by Lloyd’s assertion that, nevertheless, “the gardens are a veritable bird sanctuary, rich in suitable nesting sites for many species.”

The Sunk Garden, with the Great Barn

The Sunk Garden, with the Great Barn

The Pool, in the Sunk Garden

The Pool, in the Sunk Garden

In the Sunk Garden, luxuriant blooms....from some of the few rose bushes that Lloyd allowed to remain at Great Dixter.

In the Sunk Garden, luxuriant blooms….from some of the few rose bushes that Lloyd allowed to remain at Great Dixter.

More lush plantings, in the Sunk Garden

More lush plantings, in the Sunk Garden

Walkway between the Sunk Garden and the Great Barn border.

Walkway between the Sunk Garden and the Great Barn border.

Profusions of pastels, in a corner of the Barn Garden

Profusions of pastels, in a corner of the Barn Garden

The grand sweep of the Great Barn's roof

The grand sweep of the Great Barn’s roof

The view from the southern end of the Sunk Garden, into the Wall Garden. Note Lutyen's careful detailing of the arch and steps.

The view from the southern end of the Sunk Garden, into the Wall Garden. Note Lutyen’s careful detailing of the arch and steps.

Lutyens embedded tiles, above his arch

Lutyens embedded tiles, above his arch

Architect Edwin Lutyens (born 1869, died 1944)

Architect Edwin Lutyens
(born 1869, died 1944)

Lloyd described his Wall Garden as “a rectangle of walls which cause destructive wind eddies and vortices. The protection they afford is largely in the imagination.”

View from the Wall Garden, toward the Oast House

View from the Wall Garden, toward the Oast House

Some plant-combos, in the Wall Garden

Some plant-combos, in the Wall Garden

As with the front entry to the house, the Wall Garden is decorated with potted flowers.

As with the front entry to the house, the Wall Garden is decorated with potted flowers.

Within the Wall Garden is a terrace, with a pebble mosaic of Christopher Lloyd's two beloved dachshunds, Dahlia and Canna. The stones for Canna's eye and nose were acquired from Derek Jarman's rock-garden, at Prospect Cottage, in Dungeness.

Within the Wall Garden is a terrace, with a pebble mosaic of Christopher Lloyd’s two beloved dachshunds, Dahlia and Canna. The stones for Canna’s eye and nose were acquired from Derek Jarman’s rock-garden, at Prospect Cottage, in Dungeness.

Christopher Lloyd and Canna. Image courtesy of Great Dixter Charitable Trust.

Christopher Lloyd and Canna. Image courtesy of Great Dixter Charitable Trust.

We headed back toward the Solar Garden, and the front of the House

We headed back toward the Solar Garden, and the front of the House

Oh No! OTHER PEOPLE had begun to arrive! This is a view through the side of the front entry porch.

Oh No! OTHER PEOPLE had begun to arrive! This is a view through the side of the front entry porch.

Detail of the house. Note that even the ROOF provides a place for plants to root themselves. This portion of the house was added by Edwin Lutyens in 1912.

Detail of the house. Note that even the ROOF provides a place for plants to root themselves. This portion of the house was added by Edwin Lutyens in 1912.

I doubt that either Dahlia or Canna ever scared anyone away.

I doubt that either Dahlia or Canna ever scared anyone away.

Chimneys and gables of the 1912 Lutyens addition

Chimneys and gables of the 1912 Lutyens addition

We've entered the Peacock Topiary Garden...a wild and wooly place!

We’ve entered the Peacock Topiary Garden…a wild and wooly place!

Beginning in 1912, Lutyens instructed that yew topiaries be planted in several areas of the garden. And yew hedges were also established. Per Lloyd: “Most of the garden design was by Lutyens; it always seems fluid, never stodgy. The yew hedges are sometimes curved, making a change from straight lines.”

The plantings in the Peacock Topiary Garden are so dense that the towering topiaries become nearly invisible.

The plantings in the Peacock Topiary Garden are so dense that the towering topiaries become nearly invisible.

While in the Peacock Topiary Garden I began to understand how radical Lloyd’s approach to gardening was. Having inherited a well-established and tidy set of formal gardens, all nicely ornamented with by-that-time mature topiaries, he began to inject chaos into those serene environments. Shrubs and annuals and perennials and biennials jostle for position. Towering, spiky mulleins, clearly self-sown (and which I ruthlessly extract from my own gardens), block paths that have been made intentionally narrow. This part of the garden is a place that enforces the touching and sniffing of plants, which caress each passer-by. Trailing nasturtiums wind themselves up and through dense growths of yew. The positioning of the plants around the topiaries seems willy-nilly, but, upon further study, harmonies—or contrasts—of color and texture and scale become apparent. There’s clearly INTENTION at work here: we’re seeing the fruits of an extremely restless-gardening-mind. These horticultural acrobatics provide much food for thought, but they’re often exhausting. Nope….don’t visit Great Dixter if you’re in need of relaxation!

A view of the 1912 wing of the house, from the Peacock Topiary Garden

A view of the 1912 wing of the house, from the Peacock Topiary Garden

A more Dramatic View, from the Peacock Topiary Garden. Image courtesy of Great Dixter Charitable Trust.

A more Dramatic View, from the Peacock Topiary Garden. Image courtesy of Great Dixter Charitable Trust.

A central path through the Peacock Topiary Garden leads toward an arch, which serves as entry to the High Garden.

A central path through the Peacock Topiary Garden leads toward an arch, which serves as entry to the High Garden.

Trailing nasturtiums are climbing up the topiaries

Trailing nasturtiums are climbing up the topiaries

Flowers run WILD, in the Peacock Topiary Garden

Flowers run WILD, in the Peacock Topiary Garden

A veritable junge, amid peacock topiary

A veritable junge, amid peacock topiary

Paths in the Peacock Topiary Garden are intentionally narrow. One brushes up against everything that grows there.

Paths in the Peacock Topiary Garden are intentionally narrow. One brushes up against everything that grows there.

We're about to pass into the High Garden, which is east of the Peacock Topiary Garden.

We’re about to pass into the High Garden, which is east of the Peacock Topiary Garden.

The High Garden , and then the Vegetable Garden, are the most utilitarian parts of Great Dixter. Compost is aged here, and stock for the on-site Nursery is grown, along with multitudes of vegetables. Espaliered fruit trees flank flower borders.

In the High Garden, compost piles. This stuff is the Black Gold of which serious gardeners dream. Notice that the compost piles also serve as homes for vigorous squash plants.

In the High Garden, compost piles. This stuff is the Black Gold of which serious gardeners dream. Notice that the compost piles also serve as homes for vigorous squash plants.

Fragrant sweet peas, in the High Garden.

Fragrant sweet peas, in the High Garden.

More flowers, in the High Garden

More flowers, in the High Garden

A view of the house, from the High Garden

A view of the house, from the High Garden

The Vegetable Garden

The Vegetable Garden

We then wended our way toward the extensive gardens that are behind the house.

We then wended our way toward the extensive gardens that are behind the house.

Early in the day, the gardeners toiling at Great Dixter outnumber the visitors.

Early in the day, the gardeners toiling at Great Dixter outnumber the visitors.

Taking a last look over our shoulders at the Peacock Topiary Garden, we're about to enter the Long Border, at its almost-mid-point.

Taking a last look over our shoulders at the Peacock Topiary Garden, we’re about to enter the Long Border, at its almost-mid-point.

Per Lloyd: “Dixter’s a high maintenance garden; I make no bones about that. It is effort that brings reward. There are many borders and much work goes into them. Labour saving ground cover is not for me. It you see ground cover, it’s there because, first and foremost, I like it. The borders are mixed, not herbaceous. I see no point in segregating plants of differing habit or habits. They can all help one another.”

“I have no segregated colour schemes. In fact, I take it as a challenge to combine every sort of colour effectively. I have a constant awareness of colour and of what I am doing. Many plants in this garden are self-sown and they often provide me with excellent ideas. But I do also have some of my own!”

“Fergus Garret and I work hand in glove and he is as fertile in making suggestions for change and improvement as I am.”

“The Long Border’s season of interest is principally aimed at a mid-June to mid-August period, but in fact extends from April to October. It is my belief that no gaps, showing bare earth, should be visible from late May on. The effect should be a closely-woven tapestry. I do not at all mind bringing some tall plants to the border’s front, so long as an open texture allows the eye to see past them. Conversely, channels of low growth can be allowed, at times, to run to the back of the border. For all the work that goes into it, I want the border to look exuberant and uncontrived. Self-sowers, like verbascums and Verbena bonariensis, help toward this.”

Even in winter, the Long Border is lovely. Image courtesy of Great Dixter Charitable Trust.

Even in winter, the Long Border is lovely. Image courtesy of Great Dixter Charitable Trust.

Just below the Long Border: a Meadow, which is south of the Orchard.

Just below the Long Border:
a Meadow, which is south of the Orchard.

A bamboo grove has recently been planted in the Orchard....let's see how long it is until the Orchard has become a bamboo forest.

A bamboo grove has recently been planted in the Orchard….let’s see how long it is until the Orchard has become a bamboo forest.

The immense Long Border extends along the northern edge of the Orchard. This mixed border, which measures 15 feet deep by 210 feet long, is the garden's most celebrated and labor-intensive feature.

The immense Long Border extends along the northern edge of the Orchard. This mixed border, which measures 15 feet deep by 210 feet long, is the garden’s most celebrated and labor-intensive feature.

Waves of color, along the Long Border.

Waves of color, along the Long Border.

Here's a view of the Long Border, in early June. Image courtesy of Great Dixter Charitable Trust.

Here’s a view of the Long Border, in early June. Image courtesy of Great Dixter Charitable Trust.

And a Long Border view, in mid-July. Image courtesy of Great Dixter Charitable Trust.

And a Long Border view, in mid-July. Image courtesy of Great Dixter Charitable Trust.

A Jolt of Orange, on the Long Border

A Jolt of Orange, on the Long Border

Contrasting textures, in the Long Border

Contrasting textures, in the Long Border

In the Long Border, as everywhere else at Great Dixter, tall plants are often placed at the front of garden beds, thus breaking the conventional rules of what to plant, and where.

In the Long Border, as everywhere else at Great Dixter, tall plants are often placed at the front of garden beds, thus breaking the conventional rules of what to plant, and where.

A relatively tranquil section of the Long Border

A relatively tranquil section of the Long Border

The Long Border, near the house

The Long Border, near the house

The Long Border, at the house

The Long Border, at the house

The border at the Lower Terrace, to the rear of the house

The border at the Lower Terrace, to the rear of the house

At the house-end of the Long Border, Edwin Lutyens built a series of circular steps and terraces, which lead down to the Orchard.

At the house-end of the Long Border, Edwin Lutyens built a series of circular steps and terraces, which lead down to the Orchard.

A view up Lutyens' Circular Steps. Atop the dry stone wall, Red Valerian flowers keep things colorful. Image courtesy of Great Dixter Charitable Trust.

A view up Lutyens’ Circular Steps. Atop the dry stone wall, Red Valerian flowers keep things colorful. Image courtesy of Great Dixter Charitable Trust.

Detail of dry stone wall, at the Circular Steps.

Detail of dry stone wall, at the Circular Steps.

Plantings on the Circular Steps

Plantings on the Circular Steps

From the Circular Steps, one path leads toward the Exotic Garden (where Lutyens originally planted a rose garden).

From the Circular Steps, one path leads toward the Exotic Garden (where Lutyens originally planted a rose garden).

A view of the rear of the house, from the bottom of the Circular Steps.

A view of the rear of the house, from the bottom of the Circular Steps.

Paths are mown through the tall grass of the Orchard. This entire area is underplanted with Spring-blooming flower bulbs.

Paths are mown through the tall grass of the Orchard. This entire area is underplanted with Spring-blooming flower bulbs.

Along the outer edges of the Meadow and Orchard, borders are filled with large-scaled plants.

Along the outer edges of the Meadow and Orchard, borders are filled with large-scaled plants.

We enter the Exotic Garden, an area which Lutyens had designed as a formal, rose garden. When disease overtook the roses, Christopher Lloyd and his head gardener Fergus Garrett enthusiastically dug up the ailing bushes, and replaced them with tropical plants, many of which actually survive England's winters.

We enter the Exotic Garden, an area which Lutyens had designed as a formal, rose garden. When disease overtook the roses, Christopher Lloyd and his head gardener Fergus Garrett enthusiastically dug up the ailing bushes, and replaced them with tropical plants, many of which actually survive England’s winters.

Of all Christopher Lloyd and Fergus Garrett’s changes to the gardens at Great Dixter, none gave them as much pleasure as their erasure of the formal rose gardens that had been designed by Lutyens. Lloyd wrote: “We created a late summer- to-autumn garden for tropical effect, though many of the best foliage plants are quite hardy. This has been a lot of fun. For colour, we are mainly using dahlias and cannas. There is a haze of purple from purple self-sowing Verbena bonariensis. A white, August-September flowering shrub, Escallonia bifida, is usually besieged by butterflies. The banana, Musa basjoo, is a hardy Japanese species.”

The loopy but charming juxtaposition of giant tropical plants, with the 16th century wing of the house.

The loopy but charming juxtaposition of giant tropical plants, with the 16th century wing of the house.

I kept thinking that the Exotic Garden really needed to have some wild parrots living among the banana plants.

I kept thinking that the Exotic Garden really needed to have some wild parrots living among the banana plants.

The Exotic Garden

The Exotic Garden

A view of the Exotic Garden, from the old cow shed that Lloyd called "The Hovel."

A view of the Exotic Garden, from the old cow shed that Lloyd called “The Hovel.”

Along the edge of the Exotic Garden, masses of annual flowers seem to extend up onto the roof of the Hovel.

Along the edge of the Exotic Garden, masses of annual flowers seem to extend up onto the roof of the Hovel.

And, for a complete change of pace, along the other side of The Hovel is the Topiary Lawn.

And, for a complete change of pace, along the other side of The Hovel is the Topiary Lawn.

This is what the Topiary Lawn looked like in 1918, when Christopher Lloyd's mother Daisy presided over a much-tidier Topiary World. Image courtesy of Great Dixter Charitable Trust.

This is what the Topiary Lawn looked like in 1918, when Christopher Lloyd’s mother Daisy presided over a much-tidier Topiary World. Image courtesy of Great Dixter Charitable Trust.

Lloyd called the yew topiaries on the Topiary Lawn his “coffee-pots.” The Lawn—–now more a meadow—is enclosed by high hedges of olive green holm oak, and by a line of closely planted ash trees.

We're in the middle of the Topiary Lawn, looking back toward the rear of the house.

We’re in the middle of the Topiary Lawn, looking back toward the rear of the house.

A view of the Oast House, from the Topiary Lawn.

A view of the Oast House, from the Topiary Lawn.

A path mown through the Topiary Lawn, toward a large bench. The roof of the Nursery Sales Shed is visible, to the left.

A path mown through the Topiary Lawn, toward a large bench. The roof of the Nursery Sales Shed is visible, to the left.

The abstract forms of hedges, and house.

The abstract forms of hedges, and house.

On that cloudy morning, even the view from Great Dixter’s parking lot was inspiring. Yes, this is my first Sheep-Picture of the Day. Steve Parry advised me that the small brick building in the field is called “A Lookerer’s Hut,” another name for a Shepherd’s Hut.  Shepherds were called  "Lookerers."

On that cloudy morning, even the view from Great Dixter’s parking lot was inspiring. Yes, this is my first Sheep-Picture of the Day. Steve Parry advised me that the small brick building in the field is called “A Lookerer’s Hut,” another name for a Shepherd’s Hut. Shepherds were called “Lookerers.”

I don’t think of Christopher Lloyd as a garden designer. Instead, I regard him as the weaver of enormous, outdoor tapestries. Plants of all descriptions were the warp and weft of his gardening life. With a craftsman’s eye, he combined colors and textures. And with a stage-designer’s cunning, he juxtaposed plants of drastically-differing sizes, and then positioned them contrarily… anything to add some drama and sizzle to each part of his garden. Formal rose bushes, all together in rows? Bah! Why not some towering Japanese banana plants instead…with a few dahlias thrown in, just to keep the traditionalists pacified. Lloyd was not an artist who sought to create gardens that paid homage to the spirit of the landscape. Rather, his inward-looking gardens are almost brain-maps; illustrations of the feverish workings of the mind of a born horticulturalist. So what if the beautiful borders that he devised would need obsessive and skilled tending? Lloyd unapologetically made gardens that required massive quantities of labor; after all, he had the time and wherewithal. Now that Christopher Lloyd and his two pooches are gone, his gardens are still just as needy, but apprentice gardeners from around the world throng to Great Dixter, where head gardener Fergus Garrett puts them to good use as he teaches them how to throw planting-inhibitions, and plants’ seeds, into the wind.

Destination #2: The Mermaid Inn Mermaid Street Rye East Sussex TN31 7EY Phone: 01797-223065 Website: http://www.mermaidinn.com

Since lunchtime approached, Amanda had scheduled our next stop to be at the Mermaid Inn, in the ancient town of Rye.

The Mermaid Inn is on Mermaid Street, in the hilltown of Rye. In the early 1700’s the Mermaid Inn was used as a meeting place by the notorious smugglers known as the Hawkhurst Gang, who were seen there, “carousing and smoking their pipes, with loaded pistols on the table before them…and no magistrate daring to interfere.” Happily, when Amanda and I eventually enjoyed our lunch in the bar, there were no smugglers to be seen.

The Mermaid Inn is on Mermaid Street, in the
hilltown of Rye. In the early 1700’s the Mermaid Inn was used as a meeting place by the notorious smugglers known as the Hawkhurst Gang, who were seen there, “carousing and smoking their pipes, with loaded pistols on the table before them…and no magistrate daring to interfere.” Happily, when Amanda and I eventually enjoyed our lunch in the bar, there were no smugglers to be seen. Image courtesy of RYE, by Ann Lockhart.

Steve dropped us off at the foot of Mermaid Street, and Amanda and I began our hike up the rough, cobbled roadway. Rye is a strictly flat-shoes-with-good-traction place! Don’t even think about approaching it without proper footwear.

Map of the Town of Rye, in East Sussex, England.

Map of the Town of Rye, in East Sussex, England.

We're at the base of Mermaid Street, and it feels like rain's about to pour down upon us.

We’re at the base of Mermaid Street, and it feels like rain’s about to pour down upon us.

We began a fast trot toward the upper reaches of the town. Halfway up Mermaid Street, we took a right turn, which led us to Watch Bell Street.

This is the Old Bell, on Watch Bell Street. From 1377 onward, a bell has always been hung here, to warn Rye's citizens that invaders are approaching. The current bell has, happily, never been rung in times of trouble. Engraved upon it: "Thomas Lester Made Me, 1740." Lester was the Master Founder of the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, in London. In 1752, this company also cast America's original Liberty Bell. They also made Big Ben, for the Palace of Westminster.

This is the Old Bell, on Watch Bell Street. From 1377 onward, a bell has always been hung here, to warn Rye’s citizens that invaders are approaching. The current bell has, happily, never been rung in times of trouble. Engraved upon it: “Thomas Lester Made Me, 1740.” Lester was the Master Founder of the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, in London. In 1752, this company also cast America’s original Liberty Bell. They also made Big Ben, for the Palace of Westminster.

And now, a digression: This is the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, in London. In continuous operation since 1570, the Foundry is Britain's oldest business. 32/34 Whitechapel Road, London, E1 1DY. www.whitechapelbellfoundry.co.uk. Photo courtesy of Anne Guy.

And now, a digression: This is the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, in London. In continuous operation since 1570, the Foundry is Britain’s oldest business. 32/34 Whitechapel Road, London, E1 1DY.
http://www.whitechapelbellfoundry.co.uk.
Photo courtesy of Anne Guy.

We're still in London, at the Whitechapel Bell Foundry. Here are some of their exquisite creations. Photo courtesy of Anne Guy.

We’re still in London, at the Whitechapel Bell Foundry. Here are some of their exquisite creations. Photo courtesy of Anne Guy.

Watch Bell Street

We’re back now to Rye, and to Watch Bell Street.

As we lingered by the Old Bell, we looked southward toward the English Channel, out over the marshy lowlands that surround Rye. Amanda asked me to imagine that those green expanses had once been the shallows of Rye Bay.

A late 17th century painting of Rye, which shows the town perched on a rocky outcrop, and surrounded by marshy fields where vast herds of sheep grazed. Image courtesy of the Rye Museum Association.

A late 17th century painting of Rye, which shows the town perched on a rocky outcrop, and surrounded by marshy fields where vast herds of sheep grazed. Image courtesy of the Rye Museum Association.

By the middle of the 15th century, constant erosion of East Sussex’s coastline had drastically changed the contours of the land, and the channel of the River Rother, which flowed directly to Rye, had greatly narrowed. Rye, which from 1066 onward, had become a major port and trading center, was now inland.

Ann Lockhart’s guide to the town, “RYE,” nicely summarizes the history of Rye and the Cinque Ports. “The Confederation of the Cinque Ports has its roots in the 11th century and originally consisted of the five ports of Dover, Hastings, Hythe, Romney and Sandwich. Rye and Winchelsea has been included as ‘limbs’ of Hastings by 1189, and were made full members in 1336. The Confederation was formed as a means of mutual protection and for the benefit of trade. Approved by Royal Charter, certain rights and privileges were conferred on the ports in exchange for services to be rendered to the Crown. These included supplying ships and men for a set number of days per year, and in times of trouble. “

Cinque Port Coat of Arms

Cinque Port Coat of Arms

BUT….despite official Charters, and trade agreements, by the early 14th century, as soon as King Edward I had introduced a tax on the export of wool, the liveliest portions of Rye’s economy began to depend upon smuggling. So vigorous was the subterranean economy that nearly everyone living in Rye somehow cooperated with the smugglers, and this tax-avoidance went on for hundreds of years, until the 19th century, when the abolition of many of the duties, along with reforms instituted by the Customs Service, finally killed smuggling’s profitability.

Further along Watch Bell Street, we came upon this beautiful, stone building, which is the oldest structure in Rye. Originally built as a monastery, in 1307 it was denounced by the Pope for housing monks and nuns on the same premises (egad), and so became a private residence. It was one of only a few of Rye's buildings that survived the French razing of the town, in 1377.

Further along Watch Bell Street, we came upon this beautiful, stone building, which is the oldest structure in Rye. Originally built as a monastery, in 1307 it was denounced by the Pope for housing monks and nuns on the same premises (egad), and so became a private residence. It was one of only a few of Rye’s buildings that survived the French razing of the town, in 1377.

Across Watch Bell Street from the old monastery, and behind this stone wall, is the Churchyard and burying ground of St.Mary the Virgin.

Across Watch Bell Street from the old monastery, and behind this stone wall, is the Churchyard and burying ground of St.Mary the Virgin.

The Churchyard is on the highest part of Rye's Conduit Hill. Image courtesy of Ann Lockhart.

The Churchyard is on the highest part of Rye’s Conduit Hill. Image courtesy of RYE. by Ann Lockhart.

Directly opposite the Churchyard on Watch Bell Street are these ancient buildings, which date from the 15th century.

Directly opposite the Churchyard on Watch Bell Street are these ancient buildings, which date from the 15th century.

Historic buildings are marked with this beautiful medallion.

Historic buildings are marked with this beautiful medallion.

At the far end of Watch Bell Street, we found The Ypres Tower, which dates from 1250. Henry III built this as a defense against invaders. Clearly, it didn't work...certainly not when the French breezed into town, in 1377. Over the centuries, this has been used as a prison, a courthouse, a monastery, and a private residence.

At the far end of Watch Bell Street, we found The Ypres Tower, which dates from 1250. Henry III built this as a defense against invaders. Clearly, it didn’t work…certainly not when the French breezed into town, in 1377. Over the centuries, this has been used as a prison, a courthouse, a monastery, and a private residence.

Another look at The Ypres Tower

Another look at The Ypres Tower

On the far side of The Ypres Tower, we looked out over the River Rother. The view from this point has changed considerably over the years. During the threat of the Spanish Armada in 1588, the high tide would have filled a large estuary, with wide open sea beyond. After the French sacked the town in 1377, sea-facing cannons were mounted on this spot.

On the far side of The Ypres Tower, we looked out over the River Rother. The view from this point has changed considerably over the years. During the threat of the Spanish Armada in 1588, the high tide would have filled a large estuary, with wide open sea beyond. After the French sacked the town in 1377, sea-facing cannons were mounted on this spot.

If we'd climbed down to the bottom of Conduit Hill, this would have been our view of Rye, from the narrow channel of the Rother River. The steeple of the Church of St.Mary the Virgin is at the center of the town. Image courtesy of Ann Lockhart.

If we’d climbed down to the bottom of Conduit Hill, this would have been our view of Rye, from the narrow channel of the Rother River. The steeple of the Church of St.Mary the Virgin is at the center of the town. Image courtesy of RYE, by Ann Lockhart.

Adjacent to the Church of St.Mary the Virgin is the Water House (or Cistern), which was constructed in 1735.

Adjacent to the Church of St.Mary the Virgin is the Water House (or Cistern), which was constructed in 1735.

Plaque on the Water House

Plaque on the Water House

A narrow street, near the Church

A narrow street, near the Church

Rye's elegant Coat of Arms (3 lions, joined with 3 ships),  on a grille over a house door.

Rye’s elegant Coat of Arms (3 lions, joined with 3 ships), on a grille over a house door.

Rain IS coming. A very murky look at the front entry of The Church of St.Mary the Virgin.

Rain IS coming. A very murky look at the front entry of The Church of St.Mary the Virgin.

What the Church looks like, in more clement weather. Image courtesy of Been There Done That.

What the Church looks like, in more clement weather. Image courtesy of Been There Done That.

Had the day been sunny, a Church-Tower-climb would have been in order. Here's the view over Rye, from the Church tower. Image courtesy of Ann Lockhart.

Had the day been sunny, a Church-Tower-climb would have been in order. Here’s the view over Rye, from the Church tower. Image courtesy of RYE, by Ann Lockhart.

Near to the Church, where Market Street meets West Street, is Lamb House. Henry James lived here, from 1898, until his death, in 1916.

Near to the Church, where Market Street meets West Street, is Lamb House. Henry James lived here, from 1898, until his death, in 1916.

American-born author, Henry James. Painting by John Singer Sargent.

American-born author, Henry James. Painting by John Singer Sargent.

The tantalizing garden wall, at Lamb House.

The tantalizing garden wall, at Lamb House.

I'd had NO idea that Henry James---who, when he's in good form, is one of my favorite authors---had spent the final and most artistically productive years of his life in Rye. Since Lamb House was closed on that Wednesday, I've already made plans with Amanda for us to actually get inside it, during my next trip to England, which will be very soon...this coming June.

I’d had NO idea that Henry James—who, when he’s in good form, is one of my favorite authors—had spent the final and most artistically productive years of his life in Rye. Since Lamb House was closed on that Wednesday, I’ve already made plans with Amanda for us to actually get inside it, during my next trip to England, which will be very soon…this coming June.

I peered through Lamb House's parlor window, and got a glimpse of these French doors, which lead to the private garden (yes...I'll photograph that, when I'm back in Rye).

I peered through Lamb House’s parlor window, and got a glimpse of these French doors, which lead to the private garden (yes…I’ll photograph that, when I’m back in Rye).

Yet another treasure, managed by England's National Trust. While at Lamb House, Henry James wrote his two greatest, late-career novels: THE WINGS OF THE DOVE (published in 1902), and THE GOLDEN BOWL (published in 1904).

Yet another treasure, managed by England’s National Trust. While at Lamb House, Henry James wrote his two greatest, late-career novels: THE WINGS OF THE DOVE (published in 1902), and THE GOLDEN BOWL (published in 1904).

THE WINGS OF THE DOVE takes place in London nd in Venice...two of my favorite cities. Read it: under its polite surface, a gritty novel lurks.

THE WINGS OF THE DOVE takes place in London and in Venice…two of my favorite cities. Read it: under its polite surface, a gritty novel lurks.

THE GOLDEN BOWL is long, challenging slog...but worth the effort. Attack its 568 pages during a sleepy August...that's the month during which I've most enjoyed this story of betrayal, love, and sacrifice.

THE GOLDEN BOWL is a long, challenging slog…but worth the effort. Attack its 568 pages during a sleepy August…that’s the month during which I’ve most enjoyed this story of betrayal, love, and sacrifice.

We're at the top of Mermaid Street, about to head downhill to the Mermaid Inn, which is the ivy-covered building on the right hand side of the Street. Starvation had set in...'twas time for LUNCH.

We’re at the top of Mermaid Street, about to head downhill to the Mermaid Inn, which is the ivy-covered building on the right hand side of the Street. Starvation had set in…’twas time for LUNCH.

Yet another of Rye's charming homes, across the Street from the Mermaid Inn.

Yet another of Rye’s charming homes, across the Street from the Mermaid Inn.

The Mermaid Inn. Some of the timbers of the Inn were taken from ships that had been disassembled. For those so-inclined (which I'm NOT), the Mermaid Inn is reputed to be one of the most-haunted buildings in England. Of the Inn's 31 bedrooms, 6 are said to be plagued by ghostly visitors.

The Mermaid Inn. Some of the timbers of the Inn were taken from ships that had been disassembled. For the occultly-inclined (which I’m NOT), the Mermaid Inn is reputed to be one of the most-haunted buildings in England. Of the Inn’s 31 bedrooms, 6 are said to be plagued by ghostly visitors.

The Mermaid Inn, which was rebuilt in 1420, stands on cellars that were constructed in 1156. During medieval times, the Inn brewed its own ale, and charged a penny a night for lodging.

The Mermaid Inn, which was rebuilt in 1420, stands on cellars that were constructed in 1156. During medieval times, the Inn brewed its own ale, and charged a penny a night for lodging.

The Mermaid Inn, on a sunny day. Image courtesy of Ann Lockhart.

The Mermaid Inn, on a sunny day. Image courtesy of RYE, by Ann Lockhart.

Passage leading to the Courtyard, at the Mermaid Inn.

Passage leading to the Courtyard, at the Mermaid Inn.

After our Mermaid Inn lunch----which was very tasty---we headed down Rye's High Street, toward Hilder's Cliff, and the Landgate.

After our Mermaid Inn lunch—-which was very tasty—we headed down Rye’s High Street, toward Hilder’s Cliff, and the Landgate.

Our soggy view from Hilder's Cliff, over the Town Salts, and the River Rother.

Our soggy view from Hilder’s Cliff, over the Town Salts, and the River Rother.

At the northeast corner of Rye is the Landgate, one of four gateways that were built in 1329, when a great wall was erected around the perimeter of the town. The Landgate is the only gate that's survived. Originally, its two towers had pointed roofs, and a pitched roof was over the arch.

At the northeast corner of Rye is the Landgate, one of four gateways that were built in 1329, when a great wall was erected around the perimeter of the town. The Landgate is the only gate that’s survived. Originally, its two towers had pointed roofs, and a pitched roof was over the arch.

The Rye Coat of Arms, on the base of the Landgate.

The Rye Coat of Arms, on the base of the Landgate.

Plaque on Rye's Landgate.

Plaque on Rye’s Landgate.

Our little Rye-Tour ended, we passed through the Landgate, and found Steve waiting patiently for us!

Our little Rye-Tour ended, we passed through the Landgate, and found Steve waiting patiently for us!

Just as the Rye Town Guide promises, a return trip is inevitable. I'll report about my upcoming visit to Lamb House in a future Armchair Traveler's Diary. Image courtesy of Ann Lockhart.

Just as the Rye Town Guide promises, a return trip is inevitable. I’ll report about my upcoming visit to Lamb House in a future Armchair Traveler’s Diary. Image courtesy of RYE. by Ann Lockhart.

Before our next garden stop — Derek Jarman’s Prospect Cottage on the shingle beach at Dungeness — Amanda and Steve agreed that I should see a bit of the vast, 100-square-mile expanse of fabled Romney Marsh, which was where the liveliest smuggling activities on England’s southern coast occurred. The outlaws are long gone: the Marsh is now populated largely by sheep.

The view from Rye---there's our Ypres Tower again---across the River Rother, and out over the great expanses of Romney Marsh.

The view from Rye—there’s our Ypres Tower again—across the River Rother, and out over the great expanses of Romney Marsh.

Map of Romney Marsh, and the Shingle Beach at Dungeness

Map of Romney Marsh, and the Shingle Beach at Dungeness

A gull's-eye view of Romney Marsh, and the English Channel

A gull’s-eye view of Romney Marsh, and the English Channel

A motorist's-eye view of Romney Marsh, from a rare straightaway, and on a sunny day.

A motorist’s-eye view of Romney Marsh, from a rare straightaway, and on a sunny day.

Steve began to thread his way along the narrow roads that wind through the Marsh. Hundreds of small, drainage ditches — called “sewers” —snake across the lowlands–and roads usually follow those ditches….however circuitous their paths. The heavy overcast made it impossible for me to use the sun’s position to judge our direction, so I forgot about backseat driving, and simply gawked at the eerie landscapes, while I imagined smugglers, skulking about under similarly leaden skies, as they moved their cargoes of wool. I rolled down my window, and heard cacophonies of bird-calls echoing. Clearly, if you’re into either sheep-or-bird-watching, Romney Marsh is the place to be. I can imagine that, at a future and quieter time of my traveling-life, I’ll stay for a few nights in Rye, so that I can spend my days, rubber-booted and sloshing about in the Marsh, with camera and binoculars in hand.

Per the Royal Society for Protection of Birds ( http://www.rspb.org.uk ) , “The Romney Marshes are a very important area for farmland birds, owing to the presence of key species: grey partridges, corn buntings, turtle doves, tree sparrows, yellow wagtails and lapwings. In addition, there are populations of other red-listed [endangered] species, including skylarks, yellowhammers and linnets.”

Grey Partridge

Grey Partridge

Yellow Wagtail

Yellow Wagtail

Linnet

Linnet

This church, St. Thomas Becket, is in the “lost village” of Fairfield, one of nearly a dozen villages, with fabulous names like “Snave,” “Shorne,” “Buttdarts,” and “Orgarswick,” which have disappeared from the Marsh, over the past 600 years.

St.Thomas Becket Church, in the lost village of Fairfield, on Romney Marsh. This medieval church was often surrounded by flooded fields, and thus only reachable by boat. The building was reconstructed in 1912.

St.Thomas Becket Church, in the lost village of Fairfield, on Romney Marsh. This medieval church was often surrounded by flooded fields, and thus only reachable by boat. The building was reconstructed in 1912.

Flocks of sheep, in the fields surrounding St.Thomas Becket Church.

Flocks of sheep, in the fields surrounding St.Thomas Becket Church.

....yet another bit of English-Sheep-Heaven for Nan! Romney Marsh has its own breed of sheep.

….yet another bit of English-Sheep-Heaven for Nan! Romney Marsh has its own breed of sheep.

Per Wikipedia’a handy entry on Romney Marsh Sheep: “The economy and landscape of Romney Marsh was dominated by sheep. Improved methods of pasture management and husbandry meant the marsh could sustain a stock density greater than anywhere else in the world. The Romney Marsh sheep became one of the most successful and important breeds of sheep. Their main characteristic is an ability to feed in wet situations; they are considered to be more resistant to foot rot and internal parasites than any other breed.” Here are some other-day views of the Marsh, taken by photographers who’ve posted their pictures to the web:

Another photographer's view of St.Thomas Becket Church

Another photographer’s view of St.Thomas Becket Church

Stuart Black's dawn photo of St.Thomas Becket Church

Stuart Black’s dawn photo of St.Thomas Becket Church

Destination #3: Church of St. Augustine. On Straight Lane, just off the A259 Road Broookland, Kent Postcode district TN29

Our next stop in the Marsh was the village of Brookland—population about 400— where the main attraction is the Church of St. Augustine. Again, Wikipedia has done all of my thinking for me (which I appreciate…sometimes I need to rest my brain.): “The parish of Church of St.Augustine has the unusual, if not unique, feature of an entirely wooden spire being separate from the body of the Church. Popular myth is that the steeple looked down at a wedding service to see such a beautiful bride marrying such an unpleasant groom that it jumped off the church in shock. A more popular story is that one day a virgin presented herself to be married and the church spire fell off at the unusual occurrence. In fact, it is separate as the weight cannot be supported by the marshy ground.” Thank-YOU Wikipedia…which reminds me: Each year when Wikipedia asks me to contribute some money to support their site, I do so gladly….and so should you!

Brookland's Church of St.Augustine, with its separate steeple. The 3-stage, "Candle-Snuffer" configuration of the steeple is the result of several additions to the original, 13th century bell-cage.

Brookland’s Church of St.Augustine, with its separate steeple. The 3-stage, “Candle-Snuffer” configuration of the steeple is the result of several additions to the original, 13th century bell-cage.

It's exactly 2:25PM, and we're about to enter the Church of St.Augustine through the wooden porch that was added in the 14th century.

It’s exactly 2:25PM, and we’re about to enter the Church of St.Augustine through the wooden porch that was added in the 14th century.

The main portion of the Church of St.Augustine was built in 1250. The box pews were added in 1738. This is still a functioning Anglican parish.

The main portion of the Church of St.Augustine was built in 1250. The box pews were added in 1738. This is still a functioning Anglican parish.

The round, lead Font dates from the 12th century.

The round, lead Font dates from the 12th century.

The Font is decorated with 12 panels showing the signs of the Zodiac, which are accompanied by images of the typical labors of each month.

The Font is decorated with 12 panels showing the signs of the Zodiac, which are accompanied by images of the typical labors of each month.

The much-trodden floor tiles of the Church of St.Augustine

The much-trodden floor tiles of the Church of St.Augustine

The Church of England has a LONG MEMORY. Here's a list of the Vicars of Brookland, from 1249 to the present.

The Church of England has a LONG MEMORY. Here’s a list of the Vicars of Brookland, from 1249 to the present.

And what would England be without her Tea Towels! This is displayed in the Church of St.Augustine, and I'm sorry none were for  sale.

And what would England be without her Tea Towels! This is displayed in the Church of St.Augustine, and I’m sorry none were for sale.

Destination #4: Derek Jarman’s garden at Prospect Cottage On Dungeness Road. Dungeness, Kent Postcode district TN29

Derek Jarman was an English film director, stage designer, painter, gardener and author (born 1942, died 1994). This is the front cover of the last book that Jarman wrote, before his untimely demise from AIDS. Image courtesy of Estate of Derek Jarman.

Derek Jarman was an English film director, stage designer, painter, gardener and author (born 1942, died 1994). This is the front cover of the last book that Jarman wrote, before his untimely demise from AIDS. Image courtesy of Estate of Derek Jarman.

How now, should I describe this next, and most important stop, of our day? When the maker of a garden is long gone, and where no organization has thereafter stepped in to restore and maintain those gardens, a student-of-gardening is posed with a challenge to her imagination. Almost-lost gardens such as Derek Jarman’s are places which, in many ways, cannot become REAL until historical knowledge is gained, and then merged with present-day sensation…..sensation which can only be acquired by BEING on the site of the garden in question.

The garden that Derek Jarman made is, in many respects, NOT what we expect an English garden to be; certainly the grounds at Prospect Cottage do not look like they belong in Kent, aka “The Garden of England.”

And the garden that exists today at Dungeness is NOT truly Jarman’s garden, because Derek has been dead and gone for 20 years.

Further, the current owners of Prospect Cottage are private folks, who have NOT opened the grounds around their home to the garden-loving Public.

RedPoppyWatercolor

All a visitor to the shingle beach at Dungeness can do now is to linger conspicuously ( because IN-conspicuousness is impossible: there’s not a tree or hedge growing anywhere on the headland of Dungeness. ) on the shoulder of Dungeness Road, as she tries to gawk politely at the garden, which though faded, is still recognizably Jarman’s creation. To get a closer look, a bold soul might walk around what seem to be the edges of the property, but since Jarman’s former garden is unconstrained by fencing, it’s hard to know at what point one has begun to trespass.

So…considering all these NOTS, there’s explaining to do:

Unless we travel to Dungeness, and stand on the rocky beach, and feel the sharp particles of grit that are borne against our faces by the constant wind; unless we walk along the village’s single road, and realize that, apart from the crunching of our feet on the gravel, the only sounds we hear come from the breeze and surf, and from the seabirds who soar overhead; unless we stand and gaze at the rusted fishermen’s shacks which are scattered along the beach, and then squint our eyes to focus upon the hulking gray mass of the distant Nuclear Power Station which serves as the backdrop for every other built thing in Dungeness…until we’ve done these things, we cannot begin to appreciate why Dungeness worked so powerfully upon Derek Jarman’s imagination.

There’s not much of a There THERE at Dungeness. The first sight that greets the traveler is the Pilot Inn, an unprepossessing, fork-in-the-road-restaurant that dishes up what Jarman considered to be “simply the finest fish and chips in all England.”

The Pilot Inn, Dungeness, Kent

The Pilot Inn, Dungeness, Kent

Dungeness has an otherworldly feel. With one of the largest expanses of shingle in Europe, it is classified as Britain’s only desert. The British military has long used the beach and marshes there for training exercises; to this day, DANGER AREAS are marked. And despite the safety risks posed by the Dungeness Nuclear Power Station (waste hot water from the Station is pumped into the sea), multitudes of birds and insects flourish there, along with more than 600 types of plants. In fact, a fistful of conservation designations have been conferred upon what at first glance seems a Godforsaken place: it’s a National Nature Reserve, a Special Protection Area, a Special Area of Conservation, and the Site of Special Scientific Interest (or NNR; SPA; SAC; and SSSI, for those who prefer acronyms).

Aerial view of Dungeness

Aerial view of Dungeness

View of Dungeness, from the top of its old lighthouse

View of Dungeness, from the top of its old lighthouse

The shingle beach at Dungeness, on a day that was sunnier than ours....

The shingle beach at Dungeness, on a day that was sunnier than ours….

Alexander Pope (born 1688, died 1744) popularized the ancient Roman notion of Genius Loci…the idea that a garden should always exist in harmony with its setting. He admonished:

“Consult the genius of the place in all; That tells the waters to rise, or fall; Or helps th’ ambitious hill the heav’ns to scale, Or scoops in circling theatres the vale; Calls in the country, catches opening glades. Joins willing woods, and varies shade from shades, Now breaks, or now directs, th’ intending lines; Paints as you plant, and, as you work, designs.”

My dear friend, the British garden designer Anne Guy, has told me this about Prospect Cottage: “I have to say that Jarman’s garden is my most favourite garden ever. Its simplicity, and its homage to genius loci results in a true work of art and understanding that’s quite unsurpassed by wealth and ‘taste’ of the classic gardens. Also its remoteness and strange proximity to the Dungeness power station…I could go on for hours!”

Anne Guy, garden designer, at work.

Anne Guy, garden designer, at work.

Consider this. You’re not-yet-old. You’ve just been given a death sentence. Do you put on your bathrobe and retreat into a dark room? Or do you go outside, and with your remaining energies begin to consider all the things under the sun that you might still gracefully accomplish?

LizardWatercolor

This was Jarman. In 1986, when he was 45, Derek was diagnosed as HIV positive; which, in those early days of the AIDS crisis, meant that he would die soon, and painfully. Instead of hiding his condition, Jarman spoke openly about it. Knowing that his failing health could no longer sustain his frenetic, London-based life as a painter, and director of stage-plays, and of films and music-videos, Jarman traveled to Dungeness, which is literally one of the quietest places in England. He bought a fisherman’s cottage—a house with jolly, varnished black walls and bright yellow window frames that he’d long admired—and prepared to leave life with as much dignity as he could summon: perhaps he’d paint a bit, and do some writing. Those low-keyed activities would have to suffice…

PinkPoppyWatercolor

From childhood, Jarman had been a gardener, but making a garden at Prospect Cottage had never been part of his Last-Act-Script. However, almost by accident, a garden began to form around his cottage. Jarman’s daily walks along the shingle beach yielded treasures that appealed to his artist’s eye. Piles of polished stone, shards of tide-scoured flint, bundles of bleached driftwood, and twisted lengths of rebar began to accumulate outside his front door. Almost without thought Jarman began to arrange his stones in patterns on the ground, and to stake newly-planted beach-roses with the driftwood, and to barricade tender plants behind the curlicues of rusted metal. The detritus of Dungeness had began to act upon Jarman’s Artist-Self.

In his creative endeavors, Derek Jarman had never shied away from controversy; his films dwelled upon themes of sexuality and violence. When I set myself the task of writing about any garden made by an author, or filmmaker, I do my homework. I read the author’s writings, and watch the director’s films.

Jubilee

As I prepared for this Derek Jarman Chapter of my Travel Diary, I sought out Jarman’s most famous films (JUBILEE is supposed to be the UK’s first punk movie, but watching Adam Ant “act” was more than I could endure) and music-videos (see if you can tolerate watching ANYTHING with the Pet Shop Boys….) . I confess that, when it comes to drama, I prefer less histrionic acting than that favored by Jarman, so I stopped watching Jarman’s filmed work. I turned instead to Jarman’s little book about his Garden, and in those elegantly written pages, which are supplemented by Howard Sooley’s beautiful photos, I became acquainted with the clear-sighted artist and thoughtful man who Derek Jarman surely must have been.

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There’s no need for me to paraphrase Jarman’s history of the creation of his garden. When you’re done with my article, buy his book, and you’ll gain a gardening-friend (DEREK JARMAN’S GARDEN. Published by Thames & Hudson. ISBN# 978-0-500-01656-5 ). Because the gardens that remain at Prospect Cottage are mere echoes of those which Jarman made, one could argue that, these days, a trip to Dungeness is pointless. But Jarman’s book, though lovely, does not begin to explain how the barren expanses of Dungeness make one FEEL. On the shingle beach, life seems stripped to its essentials. The very absence of visual and aural clutter cleanses the soul, and clears the deck for fresh ways of thinking.

GardenVisit.com, which can always be depended upon for a good summary, describes Jarman’s garden as: “postmodern, and highly context-sensitive; a complete rejection of modernist design theory. Jarman disliked the sterility of modernism; he despised its lack of interest in poetry, allusion and stories; he deplored the techno-cruelty exemplified in Dr. D.G.Hessayon’s ‘How to be an expert’ series of garden books. Jarman’s small circles of flint reminded him of standing stones and dolmens. He remarked that ‘Paradise haunts gardens, and some gardens are paradise. Mine is one of them. Others are like bad children, spoilt by their parents, over-watered and covered with noxious chemicals.’ ”

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Now, please join me for a look at what Prospect Cottage looked like last August, as a bitter wind blew and rain spattered. After this brief, gray-day look at Jarman’s gardens, I’ll brighten things considerably with photos from Jarman’s own book, taken when his garden was in its prime. And, finally, I’ll share pictures taken on sunny days by Anne Guy, during her visits to Dungeness, in July of 2005 and 2006, when Jarman’s gardens were still nearly as gorgeous as they’d originally been.

Sign for the National Nature Reserve, directly across the road from Derek Jarman's garden, on August 7, 2013.

Sign for the National Nature Reserve, directly across the road from Derek Jarman’s garden, on August 7, 2013.

The single beach, across the road from Prospect Cottage, on August 7, 2013.

The single beach, across the road from Prospect Cottage, on August 7, 2013.

Fishermen's huts on the shingle beach, across from Prospect Cottage, on August 7, 2013

Fishermen’s huts on the shingle beach, across from Prospect Cottage, on August 7, 2013

My first view of Prospect Cottage, on August 7, 2013

My first view of Prospect Cottage, on August 7, 2013

Prospect Cottage, on August 7, 2013

Prospect Cottage, on August 7, 2013

Prospect Cottage, on August 7, 2013

Prospect Cottage, on August 7, 2013

View from Prospect Cottage's garden or the Dungeness Nuclear Power Station, on August 7, 2013

View from Prospect Cottage’s garden toward the Dungeness Nuclear Power Station, on August 7, 2013

Next, pictures of Jarman’s garden during his lifetime; all taken by Howard Sooley, for the book DEREK JARMAN’S GARDEN:

Derek in his back garden. When he arrived at Prospect Cottage he observed "it looked impossible: shingle with no soil supported a sparse vegetation." Image courtesy of Estate of Derek Jarman.

Derek in his back garden. When he arrived at Prospect Cottage he observed “it looked impossible: shingle with no soil supported a sparse vegetation.” Image courtesy of Estate of Derek Jarman.

Fennel, and poppy seed heads....two of the things in Jarman's garden which the hoards of hungry rabbits didn't consume. Image courtesy of Estate of Derek Jarman.

Fennel, and poppy seed heads….two of the things in Jarman’s garden which the hoards of hungry rabbits didn’t consume. Image courtesy of Estate of Derek Jarman.

Jarman's back garden, with the Dungeness Nuclear Power Station in the not-too-far-distance. Image courtesy of Estate of Derek Jarman.

Jarman’s back garden, with the Dungeness Nuclear Power Station in the not-too-far-distance. Image courtesy of Estate of Derek Jarman.

Opium Poppy in Jarman's garden. Image courtesy of Estate of Derek Jarman.

Opium Poppy in Jarman’s garden. Image courtesy of Estate of Derek Jarman.

Jarman watering in the seeds in his raised beds, where he grew herbs and vegetables. Image courtesy of Estate of Derek Jarman.

Jarman watering in the seeds in his raised beds, where he grew herbs and vegetables. Image courtesy of Estate of Derek Jarman.

Rusted rebar and an old garden hoe are used as sculpture in Jarman's garden. Eroded beach rocks become jewels, as they're threaded onto the hoe tines. Cotton lavender plants frame the sculpture. Image courtesy of Estate of Derek Jarman.

Rusted rebar and an old garden hoe are used as sculpture in Jarman’s garden. Eroded beach rocks become jewels, as they’re threaded onto the hoe tines. Cotton lavender plants frame the sculpture. Image courtesy of Estate of Derek Jarman.

Fragments of scrap metal and red poppies punctuate a sweep of beach rock. Image courtesy of Estate of Derek Jarman.

Fragments of scrap metal and red poppies punctuate a sweep of beach rock. Image courtesy of Estate of Derek Jarman.

California poppies with sea kale, in a forest of driftwood. Image courtesy of Estate of Derek Jarman.

California poppies with sea kale, in a forest of driftwood. Image courtesy of Estate of Derek Jarman.

And finally, instead of thousands more of my words, Anne Guy’s eloquent photographs of Derek Jarman’s gardens, taken during her visits to Dungeness, in July of 2005, and 2006.

The front of Prospect Cottage, from across the road. Photo by Anne Guy

The front of Prospect Cottage, from across the road. Photo by Anne Guy

The view toward the shingle beach, from the front yard of Prospect Cottage. Photo by Anne Guy.

The view toward the shingle beach, from the front yard of Prospect Cottage. Photo by Anne Guy.

Prospect Cottage. Photo by Anne Guy.

Prospect Cottage. Photo by Anne Guy.

Prospect Cottage. Photo by Anne Guy.

Prospect Cottage. Photo by Anne Guy.

Prospect Cottage. Photo by Anne Guy.

Prospect Cottage. Photo by Anne Guy.

Prospect Cottage. Photo by Anne Guy.

Prospect Cottage. Photo by Anne Guy.

Derek Jarman's garden. Photo by Anne Guy.

Derek Jarman’s garden. Photo by Anne Guy.

Derek Jarman's garden. Photo by Anne Guy.

Derek Jarman’s garden. Photo by Anne Guy.

Derek Jarman's garden. Photo by Anne Guy.

Derek Jarman’s garden. Photo by Anne Guy.

Prospect Cottage. Photo by Anne Guy.

Prospect Cottage. Photo by Anne Guy.

Derek Jarman's garden. Photo by Anne Guy.

Derek Jarman’s garden. Photo by Anne Guy.

Prospect Cottage. Photo by Anne Guy.

Prospect Cottage. Photo by Anne Guy.

Prospect Cottage. Photo by Anne Guy.

Prospect Cottage. Photo by Anne Guy.

Derek Jarman's garden. Photo by Anne Guy.

Derek Jarman’s garden. Photo by Anne Guy.

Derek Jarman's garden. Photo by Anne Guy.

Derek Jarman’s garden. Photo by Anne Guy.

Derek Jarman's garden. Photo by Anne Guy.

Derek Jarman’s garden. Photo by Anne Guy.

Derek Jarman's garden. Photo by Anne Guy.

Derek Jarman’s garden. Photo by Anne Guy.

Derek Jarman's garden. Photo by Anne Guy.

Derek Jarman’s garden. Photo by Anne Guy.

A telephoto view of the Dungeness Nuclear Power Station, taken from Derek Jarman's garden. Photo by Anne Guy.

A telephoto view of the Dungeness Nuclear Power Station, taken from Derek Jarman’s garden. Photo by Anne Guy.

Derek Jarman's garden. Photo by Anne Guy.

Derek Jarman’s garden. Photo by Anne Guy.

Derek Jarman's garden. Photo by Anne Guy.

Derek Jarman’s garden. Photo by Anne Guy.

Derek Jarman chose his favorite portions a John Donne poem, and had the words affixed to the wall of Prospect Cottage. Photo by Anne Guy.

Derek Jarman chose his favorite portions of a John Donne poem, and had the words affixed to the wall of Prospect Cottage. Photo by Anne Guy.

The Sun Rising by John Donne “Busy old fool, unruly sun, Why dost thou thus, Through windows and through curtains, call on us? Must to thy motions lovers’ seasons run? Saucy pedantic wretch, go chide Late schoolboys and sour ‘prentices, Go tell court-huntsmen that the King will ride, Call country ants to harvest offices; Love, all alike, no season knows, nor clime, Nor hours, days, months, which are the rags of time. Thou, sun, art half as happy as we, In that the world’s contracted thus; Thine age asks ease, and since thy duties be To warm the world, that’s done in warming us. Shine here to us, and thou art everywhere; This bed thy centre is, these walls thy sphere.”

With his garden and home, Derek Jarman made a final, joyful noise. Photo by Anne Guy.

With his garden and home, Derek Jarman made a final, joyful noise. Photo by Anne Guy.

Prospect Cottage is an uncompromising place…and almost intimidating in its simplicity. Perhaps its power of place comes from the fact that Derek Jarman’s gardens were made as he savored Life and conversed with Death. And lately, as I’ve been thinking about my August visit to Dungeness, a memory about something which has nothing to do with gardens has become persistent. One morning in the spring of 2006, as my complex, ambitious and creative father Elwyn Belmont Quick accepted that the illness which he’d bravely fought was about to kill him, I brought just-baked bread to his hospital bed. I broke open the warm loaf, spread it with sweet butter, and fed it to him. He took a bite, and then smiled the happiest smile I’d ever seen him make. “Nan,” he said, “We have everything we need.” As I now appreciate the way in which Derek Jarman—yet another restlessly inventive person—used the simplest of materials, scavenged on the shingle beach, to make his own little paradise, I’m certain that, as he positioned driftwood and arranged beach rocks and broadcast wildflower seeds, he must also have thought, “Yes, I have everything I need.” Bread and Butter, or Sunshine and Stone? Whichever combination makes us happy, we should try to remember that the smallest blessings are our greatest treasures, in the end.

Destination #5: Leeds Castle
Ashford Road
Maidstone, Kent ME17 1PL

Open year-round.
Hours: Daily, 10:30AM– 4:30PM
Phone# 01622-765400
Website: http://www.leeds-castle.com

Since 1119, Leeds Castle has perched upon an island in the River Len.  Over the past 900 years, the castle has been greatly expanded. It began as a Norman stronghold, and has since been the private property of six of England’s medieval queens; and a palace used by Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon. After 1552, the castle passed into private ownership, and was owned successively by the Culpeper, Fairfax and Wykeham Martin families. In the early 20th century the Castle became the retreat of Olive, Lady Baillie, an Anglo -American heiress. Image courtesy of Leeds Castle.

Since 1119, Leeds Castle has perched upon an island in the River Len. Over the past 900 years, the castle has been greatly expanded. It began as a Norman stronghold, and has since been the private property of six of England’s medieval queens; and a palace used by Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon. After 1552, the castle passed into private ownership, and was owned successively by the Culpeper, Fairfax and Wykeham Martin families. In the early 20th century the Castle became the retreat of Olive, Lady Baillie, an Anglo -American heiress. Image courtesy of Leeds Castle.

After the extreme excitement of our Day (because visiting the gardens of people like Christopher Lloyd and Derek Jarman sets my brain abuzz), ‘twas time for me to stop pondering theories of garden design. Now I’d decompress with a visit to a nice, soothing castle, where I’d do nothing more taxing than mindlessly ogle a beautiful and ancient building! See how jaded a week of Kent-touring can make a traveler? That I could consider seeing Leeds Castle, which is one of the most-visited historic sites in England, to be a relaxing and relatively-normal occurrence shows how wonderfully spoiled Amanda’s tour-guiding had made me. (Which is why, Gentle Reader, during this coming June, I’ll once again be putting myself into the expert hands of Amanda and Steve…as we explore places in Kent that we didn’t get to last August.)

At 4PM, Steve delivered us to the Main Entrance, and then Amanda and I set off at a fast clip toward the Castle itself, which is a fair distance from the Entrance. Amanda and I are both tall ladies, and so, happily, our long strides matched. Join us for a photo-album tour, as we explore yet another of Kent’s moated-jewels.

Map of the grounds at Leeds Castle

Map of the grounds at Leeds Castle

The Estate at Leeds Castle was nearly self-sufficient.

The Estate at Leeds Castle was nearly self-sufficient.

We trotted past the area named "The Duckery," which at first glance looked far like a "Goosery." Lady Baillie loved birds, and asked her garden designer, Russell Page, to develop this pretty area of parkland into a welcoming environment for waterfowl.

We trotted past the area named “The Duckery,” which at first glance looked far like a “Goosery.” Lady Baillie loved birds, and asked her garden designer, Russell Page, to develop this pretty area of parkland into a welcoming environment for waterfowl.

...but then a couple of Ducks made an appearance, so a "Duckery," things would remain.

…but then a couple of Ducks made an appearance, so a “Duckery,” things would remain.

White Swans joined the feathered-throng.

White Swans joined the feathered-throng.

The approach to Leeds Castle, with one of the Estate's omni-present Black Swans. Lady Baillie was the first person to import black swans from their native Australia to the United Kingdom. Image courtesy of Leeds Castle.

The approach to Leeds Castle, with one of the Estate’s omni-present Black Swans. Lady Baillie was the first person to import black swans from their native Australia to the United Kingdom. Image courtesy of Leeds Castle.

We passed the remains of the Barbican, an outer fortification that was created in the 1280s. The Barbican served as an initial line of defense for the bridge crossing the moat to the gatehouse. In addition to protecting the Castle bridge, the Barbican contained locks which controlled the water levels of the moat. In dangerous times, the river could be flooded to prevent access to the Castle.

We passed the remains of the Barbican, an outer fortification that was created in the 1280s. The Barbican served as an initial line of defense for the bridge crossing the moat to the gatehouse. In addition to protecting the Castle bridge, the Barbican contained locks which controlled the water levels of the moat. In dangerous times, the river could be flooded to prevent access to the Castle.

We approach the Gatehouse, part of the original 12th century stronghold, which was then enlarged by Edward I in 1280.

We approach the Gatehouse, part of the original 12th century stronghold, which was then enlarged by Edward I in 1280.

Amanda leads the way, over the stone bridge which leads to the Gatehouse. This bridge would originally have been a wooden drawbridge.

Amanda leads the way, over the stone bridge which leads to the Gatehouse. This bridge would originally have been a wooden drawbridge.

We passed through the arch of the Gatehouse onto the New Castle's large, oval lawn. The New Castle, which replaced a succession of buildings on this site, was built in the 1820s.

We passed through the arch of the Gatehouse onto the New Castle’s large, oval lawn. The New Castle, which replaced a succession of buildings on this site, was built in the 1820s.

But what I most wanted to see was the oldest part of Leeds Castle, the Gloriette. To get there, Amanda led me along a waterside path.

But what I most wanted to see was the oldest part of Leeds Castle, the Gloriette. To get there, Amanda led me along a waterside path.

We passed a lead rainspout marked with a black swan: the symbol of Leeds Castle.

We passed a lead rainspout marked with a black swan: the symbol of Leeds Castle.

This helpful diagram, as we made our way to the Gloriette.

This helpful diagram, as we made our way to the Gloriette.

Dead ahead: the multi-storey Bridge Corridors, which lead to the Gloriette, on the right.

Dead ahead: the multi-storey Bridge Corridors, which lead to the Gloriette, on the right.

Another view of the Bridge Corridors. During Norman times, a wooden drawbridge was here. Later on, the massive, multi-storey bridge appeared. The Bridge Corridors that we use today were reconstructed in the 19th century. Image courtesy of Leeds Castle.

Another view of the Bridge Corridors. During Norman times, a wooden drawbridge was here. Later on, the massive, multi-storey bridge appeared. The Bridge Corridors that we use today were reconstructed in the 19th century. Image courtesy of Leeds Castle.

The massive foundation walls of the Gloriette.

The massive foundation walls of the Gloriette.

The Gloriette (the right-most building), which is built on its own little island, was constructed in the late 13th century for Eleanor of Castile, on the site of the original Norman keep. The Gloriette consists of a central courtyard, a great hall and other ceremonial rooms on the ground floor, and a series of apartments on the upper two floors. Image courtesy of Leeds Castle.

The Gloriette (the right-most building), which is built on its own little island, was constructed in the late 13th century for Eleanor of Castile, on the site of the original Norman keep. The Gloriette consists of a central courtyard, a great hall and other ceremonial rooms on the ground floor, and a series of apartments on the upper floor. Image courtesy of Leeds Castle.

Floor Plan of the Gloriette's Ground Floor. Image courtesy of Leeds Castle.

Floor Plan of the Gloriette’s Ground Floor. Image courtesy of Leeds Castle.

In the Queen's Room, named for Henry V's French wife Catherine de Valois, Queen Catherine's coat of arms decorates the hearth.

In the Queen’s Room, named for Henry V’s French wife Catherine de Valois, Queen Catherine’s coat of arms decorates the hearth.

Delicately-detailed windows in the Queen's Room look out over the moat.

Delicately-detailed windows in the Queen’s Room look out over the moat.

The Queen's Gallery is the most dramatically-situated room in the Gloriette, and has broad views in two directions, across the water. Image courtesy of Leeds Castle.

The Queen’s Gallery is the most dramatically-situated room in the Gloriette, and has broad views in two directions, across the water. Image courtesy of Leeds Castle.

Inside the Queen's Gallery.

Inside the Queen’s Gallery.

A window in the Queen's Gallery.

A window in the Queen’s Gallery.

The Fountain Court, the Gloriette's central courtyard, is an enchanting space. The courtyard dates from the 1280s. Cisterns were installed beneath it, to which water was supplied from springs in the Park.

The Fountain Court, the Gloriette’s central courtyard, is an enchanting space. The courtyard dates from the 1280s. Cisterns were installed beneath it, to which water was supplied from springs in the Park.

Another view of the Fountain Court

Another view of the Fountain Court

The courtyard's gorgeous Fountain. (I wish people wouldn't throw coins in pools!)

The courtyard’s gorgeous Fountain. (I wish people wouldn’t throw coins in pools!)

Henry VIII's Banqueting Hall. This room was renovated for the visit of Henry VIII and his first wife Catherine, in 1520. They were en route for Dover, to embark for Henry's meeting with Francis I of France, which be called "The Field of the Cloth of Gold." On that little outing, Henry had an entourage of 3997 people, and his Queen dragged along 1175 additional helpers. Image courtesy of Leeds Castle.

Henry VIII’s Banqueting Hall. This room was renovated for the visit of Henry VIII and his first wife Catherine, in 1520. They were en route for Dover, to embark for Henry’s meeting with Francis I of France, which would be called “The Field of the Cloth of Gold.” On that little outing, Henry had an entourage of 3997 people, and his Queen dragged along 1175 additional helpers. Image courtesy of Leeds Castle.

A closer look at the mantle in Henry's Banqueting Hall

A closer look at the mantle in Henry’s Banqueting Hall

Bay windows in the Banqueting Hall. Prior to Henry's arrival, the narrow arrow-slits that had served as windows in the Hall were replaced with the generous expanses of glass that now overlook the moat.

Bay windows in the Banqueting Hall. Prior to Henry’s arrival, the narrow arrow-slits that had served as windows in the Hall were replaced with the generous expanses of glass that now overlook the moat.

The Gloriette's Chapel. A large, late 15th century tapestry depicting the Adoration of the Magi hangs above the altar. Image courtesy of Leeds Castle.

The Gloriette’s Chapel. A large, late 15th century tapestry depicting the Adoration of the Magi hangs above the altar. Image courtesy of Leeds Castle.

My view of the Chapel, in the gentle, late-afternoon light.

My view of the Chapel, in the gentle, late-afternoon light.

Hardware on a Chapel door.

Hardware on a Chapel door.

With little time to spare till closing time, Amanda and I skedaddled outside for a fast look at the gardens…which turned out to be nothing extraordinary, as compared to many of the other grand gardens we’d seen in Kent.

We entered the Culpeper Garden, which occupies the site that was long used for the Castle's kitchen garden. The Culpeper Garden is the creation of designer Russell Page (born 1906, died 1985), and takes its name from the family which owned the Castle in the 17th century.

We entered the Culpeper Garden, which occupies the site that was long used for the Castle’s kitchen garden. The Culpeper Garden is the creation of designer Russell Page (born 1906, died 1985), and takes its name from the family which owned the Castle in the 17th century.

On a terrace below the Culpeper Garden, overlooking the Great Water, is the Mediterranean-style Lady Baillie Garden, which was designed in 1999 by Christopher Carter.

On a terrace below the Culpeper Garden, overlooking the Great Water, is the Mediterranean-style Lady Baillie Garden, which was designed in 1999 by Christopher Carter.

Another view of the Lady Baillie Garden Terrace.

Another view of the Lady Baillie Garden Terrace.

The Lady Baillie Garden

The Lady Baillie Garden

Roses were swooning, by the sloping lawns of The Falconry.

Roses were swooning, by the sloping lawns of The Falconry.

Black Swans a-plenty, by the Great Water.

Black Swans a-plenty, by the Great Water.

I love those red beaks, with white stripes...but the swans were mighty crabby when they discovered that I had no bread crumbs for them.

I love those red beaks, with white stripes…but the swans were mighty crabby when they discovered that I had no bread crumbs for them.

Closing time at Leeds approached. Amanda and I strolled along the moat, to the rear of the Castle.

The side elevation of the Gatehouse.

The side elevation of the Gatehouse.

To the Left: the rear elevation of the Maiden's Tower (Nope....no actual tower there), which is a late-Tudor addition to the Castle. To the Right: the New Castle.

To the Left: the rear elevation of the Maiden’s Tower (Nope….no actual tower there), which is a late-Tudor addition to the Castle. To the Right: the New Castle.

Another look at the Gatehouse, and the non-towering Maiden's Tower. Image courtesy of Leeds Castle.

Another look at the Gatehouse, and the non-towering Maiden’s Tower. Image courtesy of Leeds Castle.

The rear elevation of the Maiden's Tower, with the New Castle 's towers visible.

The rear elevation of the Maiden’s Tower.

Continuing our walk around the moat, toward the back of the Island, we had this new view of the Gloriette (on the left), and the Bridge Corridors (center), and the New Castle (to the right).

Continuing our walk around the moat, toward the back of the Island, we had this new view of the Gloriette (on the left), and the Bridge Corridors (center), and the New Castle (to the right).

As the afternoon light darkened, Amanda and I began our walk back to Steve, at the Main Entrance. (Note: The long, low wall with the rounded protrusions that extends from the New Castle all the way to the Gatehouse is called a Revetment Wall. This wall has stood since the 13th century.)

As the afternoon light darkened, Amanda and I began our walk back to Steve, at the Main Entrance. (Note: The long, low wall with the rounded protrusions that extends from the New Castle all the way to the Gatehouse is called a Revetment Wall. This wall has stood since the 13th century.)

A duck's-eye view of Leeds Castle.

A duck’s-eye view of Leeds Castle. Image courtesy of Leeds Castle.

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I hope this little picture-ramble at Leeds Castle has calmed you…but perhaps…instead… you’re exhausted, and in need of a nap? Rest up…there’s one more Kent-article on the way. We’ll begin with a visit to the estate at Goodnestone Park, near Canterbury, where Jane Austen often visited with relatives. We’ll explore The Salutation Secret Gardens on the seaside, at Sandwich, which Edwin Lutyens designed with his gardening-partner, Gertude Jekyll. We’ll hit the beach and Walmer Castle, which is one of a chain of coastal artillery forts built by Henry VIII. Your stomach will growl, as I tell you about the perfect, Dover sole I ate at a restaurant that sits at the base of England’s famed, white cliffs along the English Channel. We’ll wander through The Pines, a perfect little garden that’s perched at the top of those white cliffs. And then we’ll head inland, to finish off our marathon-tour in the refined and sunny gardens at Godinton, in Ashford.

It's August 8, 2013, and we're at the Edge of England! These are the white cliffs of Saint Margaret's-at-Cliffe.

It’s August 8, 2013, and we’re at the Edge of England! These are the white cliffs of Saint Margaret’s-at-Cliffe.

Copyright 2014. Nan Quick—Nan Quick’s Diaries for Armchair Travelers.
Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express &
written permission from Nan Quick is strictly prohibited.

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Part Three. Rambling Through the Gardens & Estates of Kent, England.

The circular, late 14th century tower at Scotney Castle, near Royal Tunbridge Wells, in Kent. This is a close to fairy-tale as life ever gets.

The circular, late 14th century tower at Scotney Castle, near Royal Tunbridge Wells, in Kent. This is as close to fairy-tale as life ever gets.

February 2014.

On Tuesday, August 6, 2013 my meanderings through Kent continued, as I was led by extraordinary
Blue Badge Guide Amanda Hutchinson ( http://www.southeasttourguides.co.uk ),
and expertly driven to our destinations by Steve Parry ( http://www.snccars.co.uk ) .
By this, the third day of our travels, Amanda and Steve and I had settled into a jovial and comfortable companionship; it seemed as if we’d known each other forever. As we shuttled from place to place, we found more and more to laugh and to talk about, and whenever I’d express interest in something that Amanda hadn’t originally planned for me to see (Sheep Pastures—can’t get enough! Hedge-rowed Lanes—the narrower the better! Country Churches—bring ‘em on! Hop Farms—show me the Bines! And NO that’s not a typo: ”Bines” will soon be explained.), she and Steve would seamlessly weave an extra feature or two into the day’s itinerary. I realized my cohorts were determined that every one of my questions be answered; that every one of my enthusiasms be satisfied. And so our Tuesday included a grab-bag of Kent-Marvels, which seemed to encompass everything… from the Heavenly, to Hops.

Our destinations on Wednesday, August 6, 2013

Our destinations on Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The day began with sunshine…a fortunate thing, because bright light is needed to illuminate Marc Chagall’s sublime stained glass windows at tiny All Saints Church, in the hamlet of Tudeley.

Destination #1: All Saints Church
Five Oak Green Road
Tudeley
Near Tonbridge
Kent TN11 0NZ

Website: http://www.tudeley.org

The Church is open daily, from 9AM to 4PM, but since it’s a Real Church, when normal activities are underway (Sunday and Monday morning services, Saturday weddings, music festivals, etc., etc.) the Church is closed to tourists. Choose a mid-weekday-morning, like we did, and you’ll be fine.

All Saints Church at Tudeley is the only small church in the world to have all of its windows designed by Marc Chagall.

All Saints Church at Tudeley is the only small church in the world to have all of its windows designed by Marc Chagall. Image courtesy of All Saints Church.

Not until 1956, when Chagall was 70, did he begin to create stained glass windows, and most of those were made for European cathedrals. America has only two small installations of Chagall’s stained glass to admire: his tribute to Dag Hammarskjold is at the General Assembly Building of the United Nations, and his Rockefeller-commissioned windows decorate the Union Church, in New York State’s Pocantico Hills. Chagall’s most soaring expanses of stained glass are in Israel, France, Switzerland and Germany. But the only church in the world where ALL of the windows are by Chagall is tucked away in Kent’s countryside. Getting to All Saints isn’t straightforward…some satnavs can’t find the place. To avoid ending up in the middle of a field, visit the All Saints website, and download directions.

How to find All Saints Church in Tudeley, which, although near to Tonbridge, seems worlds and years apart.

How to find All Saints Church in Tudeley, which, although near to Tonbridge, seems worlds and years apart. Image courtesy of All Saints Church.

The village of Tudeley is ancient. Some historians claim the Phoenicians rowed their galleys up the River Medway to trade for the iron that was smelted there. But there’s no doubt that, by the time of the Roman occupation in 43 AD, forges were indeed built alongside the streams that stretched their fingers through the dense oak forests of the Kentish Weald. Traces of a Roman-era forge still remain, just a bit west of the Church. At the beginning of the 7th century, during the early days of Christianity in Britain, All Saints was one of only four churches in the Saxon kingdom of Kent; the current Tudeley Church is built upon the sandstone footings of a late Saxon period church. But the appeal of All Saints isn’t architectural. The building—which is nestled among apple orchards and hop-gardens and has endured centuries of demolition, rebuilding, and restoration— isn’t remarkable in appearance.

All Saints Church, glimpsed from the parking lot.

All Saints Church, glimpsed from the parking lot.

Use this side-entry when you visit...the front door is usually locked.

Use this side-entry when you visit…the front door is usually locked.

Chagall's largest piece, The Memorial Window, dominates the east wall.

Chagall’s largest piece, The Memorial Window, dominates the east wall.

View from the Burying Ground at All Saints Church. Those odd-looking, conical roofs are Oasts...about which MUCH more, in a bit.

View from the Burying Ground at All Saints Church. Those odd-looking, conical roofs are Oasts…about which MUCH more, in a bit.

All Saints is distinguished by Chagall’s 12 windows, which are on three sides of the main interior space. Those windows transform the humble church into a joyous and exalted place, and came into being because of a family’s great sorrow.

Per the All Saints Church Guide-booklet:

“It was the death in 1963 of a 21-year-old girl under tragic circumstances which led her family and friends to commemorate her name in a lasting and tangible form. Sarah Venetia d’Avigdor-Goldsmid was the eldest daughter of Sir Henry and Lady d’Avigdor-Goldsmid. In September of 1963 she and a companion were drowned in a sailing accident off the coast of Rye in Sussex. In her memory her family and many friends subscribed to the restoration of the interior of the church—a restoration which was designed to provide a setting of utter simplicity for the memorial window that [her father] commissioned Marc Chagall to design. It was when in Paris in the summer of 1961 that Lady d’Avigdor-Goldsmid and Sarah visited the Chagall exhibition at the Louvre. Both were enraptured by Chagall.”

The recollection of their daughter’s admiration of Chagall’s stained glass became the inspiration which eventually led to Chagall’s designs for every window in All Saints Church. In 1967, when Chagall visited the renovated Church for the dedication of his Memorial Window, he exclaimed: “It’s magnificent. “ Then he added: “It’s a very curious thing, but dead architects are the only ones I can work with!”

Chagall's Memorial Window, at All Saints Church, in Tudeley. The blue-ish light that's reflected against the walls around the lower portions of the window seems to splash real sea-spray into the air.

Chagall’s Memorial Window, at All Saints Church, in Tudeley. The blue-ish light that’s reflected against the walls around the lower portions of the window seems to splash real sea-spray into the air.

The humble interior of All Saints Church.

The humble interior of All Saints Church.

As an artistic genre, apotheosis follows certain conventions. The dearly departed is raised upwards by angels, and taken to a place of light and beauty and eternal life. Sometimes a prudent man—such as the Venetian, Barbaro– might commission an artist to paint an apotheosis…BEFORE he’s shuffled off his mortal coil. The existence of such a painting might serve as a suggestion, to the Higher Powers, when death actually comes:

Tiepolo's magnificent GLORIFICATION OF THE BARBARO FAMILY, which, prior to my discovering Chagall's Memorial to Sarah, was my most-favorite example of apotheosis art. Image courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Tiepolo’s magnificent GLORIFICATION OF THE BARBARO FAMILY, which, prior to my discovering Chagall’s Memorial to Sarah, was my most-favorite example of apotheosis art. Image courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

And sometimes a grateful nation gives a hint about what they’d like to have happen to an esteemed but now-departed leader:

An utterly charming APOTHESIS OF GEORGE WASHINGTON...who is the one politician I admire.

An utterly charming APOTHESIS OF GEORGE WASHINGTON…who is the one politician I admire.

But rarely has an apotheosis been presented in such a dramatic and emotional manner. In Chagall’s Memorial to Sarah d’Avigdor-Goldsmid, the moment of her death is re-enacted, and is followed by the image of her despairing mother. Chagall does not shy away from showing the horrible event; after which come time-lapsed scenes of grief, and of sorrow’s healing, and of everlasting souls. The Church’s Guide-booklet helps us to see how he does this:

“In a series of moving cameos we are drawn into the drama of this young girl drowned in the dark swirling waters of the sea. To the left, in the panel above the floating figure, the mother is seen cradling her two children; while at the lower edge a kneeling figure poignantly expresses the grief of the family and friends. From the turmoil of the sea the girl is being gently borne into calmer waters. A ladder reaches up to the figure of Christ. To the left of Christ there stands an angel figure waiting as though to herald the arrival of the new young souls; one of the girl’s two companions can already be seen at the top of the ladder: meanwhile at the foot the girl is seen preparing to mount the first rung in her ascent to the comforting arms of Christ.”

Chagall’s other Tudeley windows aren’t narratives: with his Main Window, he’d told the story that was most important. Here are some views of those companion-windows:

Window by March Chagall, at All Saints Church.

Window by Marc Chagall, at All Saints Church.

Window by Marc Chagall, at All Saints Church

Window by Marc Chagall, at All Saints Church

Windows by March Chagall, at All Saints Church

Windows by Marc Chagall, at All Saints Church

Window by Marc Chagall, at All Saints Church. Image courtesy of All Saints Church.

Windows by Marc Chagall, at All Saints Church. Image courtesy of All Saints Church.

Window by Marc Chagall, at All Saints Church. Image courtesy of All Saints Church

Window by Marc Chagall, at All Saints Church. Image courtesy of All Saints Church

Windows by Marc Chagall, at All Saints Church. Image courtesy of All Saints Church.

Windows by Marc Chagall, at All Saints Church. Image courtesy of All Saints Church.

Windows by Marc Chagall, at All Saints Church. Image courtesy of All Saints Church.

Windows by Marc Chagall, at All Saints Church. Image courtesy of All Saints Church.

Windows by Marc Chagall, at All Saints Church. Image courtesy of All Saints Church.

Windows by Marc Chagall, at All Saints Church. Image courtesy of All Saints Church.

Although I didn’t know it then, as Amanda and Steve and I left the Tudeley Church, groundwork had just been laid for further Chagall explorations. During the following week of my England-stay, my dear friends Anne and David Guy would spirit me far northward, to see Tate Liverpool’s exhibit of the earliest, and not-widely-known work of Marc Chagall….a plan they’d formed as a surprise for me. Per usual, Serious Synchronicity was afoot in my travel-life.

Marc Chagall

Marc Chagall (1887–1985)

It’s taken me three-Kent-articles to get to my next subject: the distinctive, conical, pointed roofs that punctuate the horizons of southeastern England. But, from the first moment on that previous Saturday, when my train from London to Royal Tunbridge Wells had crossed into the Kentish Weald, I’d beheld buildings, the likes of which I’d never before seen…at least not in the flesh.

A typical Kentish-Scene, with the conical roofs of Oast Houses, piercing the sky.

A typical Kentish-Scene, with the conical roofs of Oast Houses, piercing the sky.

A lady from the late Middle Ages wears a HENNIN, a cone-shaped headdress...perhaps a subliminal inspiration for later, agricultural buildings?

A lady from the late Middle Ages wears a HENNIN, a cone-shaped headdress…perhaps a subliminal inspiration for later, agricultural buildings?

Steve and Amanda had, I suspect, chuckled at my ignorance about Kent’s omni-present Oasts, and thus about Hop Farming…hey, I’ve only intermittently been a beer drinker, and so haven’t spent time in life wondering about how Porter— the Kent-specialty….beautiful, brown, and aromatic — gets made. That morning, when Steve had picked us up at my hotel, he’d brought along a small library of books with vintage photos of Hop Farming in Action. It turned out that Steve has Hands-On-Hopping in his distant past: during his college years, he’d spent one September helping a friend whose family owned a hop farm, and so, as we arrived at The Hop Farm Family Park, the first of two days of a very-thorough-tutorial about All-Things-Hops began.

Destination #2: The Hop Farm Family Park
Maidstone Road
Between Beltring and Paddock Wood
Near Tonbridge, Kent TN12 6PY

Telephone: 01622-872068

Website: http://www.thehopfarm.co.uk

Unlike the Church at Tudeley, The Hop Farm is located at a major intersection, and is impossible NOT to find.

Unlike the Church at Tudeley, The Hop Farm is located at a major intersection, and is impossible NOT to find.

Set in the midst of acres of “amusements” (childrens’ rides, giant jumping pillows, and funhouses) at the Hop Farm Family Park there remains one of the best-preserved complexes of traditional Oast Houses in England. My companions led me on a fast walk around the majestic structures, as Steve explained the process of hop farming, and of hop drying.

At first, for a tyro like myself, understanding hop-growing and harvesting wasn’t easy. The best website overview of Hop-History is provided by http://www.hoppingdowninkent.org.uk . Here’s their helpful timeline:

1520: First English hop garden set up near Canterbury, in Kent.
1655: One third of the UK hop crop was produced in Kent
1722: A new beer, Porter, was brewed that was a combination of 3 beers. It used lots of hops and became popular, thus making the hop industry very wealthy.
1744: A law was passed saying that all bags or “pockets” of the dried hops sold had to be stenciled with the year, place, and grower’s name.
1875: Better, and larger-scale methods of training and stringing the fast-growing hop plants were developed.
1878: Hop farming reached its peak, with 77,000 acres of land in Kent under cultivation.

But so as NOT to put cart before horse (or oasts before bines), here first are pictures of actual hop-plants, taken on the morning of Wednesday, August 7th, when we visited the hop gardens at Sandhurst Vineyards and Hop Farm
( http://www.sandhurstvineyards.com ) . Hops grow rampantly in Kent’s fertile soil. Each April, their roots begin to send out vigorous vines, which are called Bines. By May, those lengthening bines are trained away from the soil,and up onto a series of permanent, and very high trellises, which are constructed of poles which support canopies of string or wire. Prior to the 1950s, when hop-picking machines began to be used…

How hops are tended today

How hops are tended today

…workers teetering atop stilts would walk between the rows of plants, and thread bines around the high wires, in a clockwise direction. These stilt-walkers were called “Stringers.”

A stilt-walking Stringer, circa 1950. Image courtesy of Hopping Down In Kent.

A stilt-walking Stringer, circa 1950. Image courtesy of Hopping Down In Kent.

Once the bines had had their tendrils wrapped around the wire, they’d continue to grow like gangbusters. Workers at ground level, who carried long, forked twigs of hazel wood (shades of Harry Potter!), would then use those sticks as wands, to push the drooping bines back, up and over the mesh of overhead wires. Steve, who in his youth wielded such a hazel-wand (he DOES look a bit wizardly, doesn’t he?), worked as a “Stroddler, “ but stroddling is also known as straddling, or heading….colloquial terms abound, from hop-field to hop-field.

Steve Parry, aka THE OLD STRODDLER HIMSELF, on August 7th, in the Hop Garden at Sandhurst.

Steve Parry, aka THE OLD STRODDLER HIMSELF, on August 7th, in the Hop Garden at Sandhurst.

Hop Bines, giving Jack's Beanstalk a run for its money. The Hop Garden at Sandhurst. Hop Bines customarily grow to be 15 feet tall.

Hop Bines, giving Jack’s Beanstalk a run for its money. The Hop Garden at Sandhurst. Hop Bines customarily grow to be 15 feet tall.

UN-ripe Hops, in early August. Hops are harvested in September, when their cones are fully-grown. After they're picked, they're dried, and then cooled in specially-built oast houses.

UN-ripe Hops, in early August. Hops are harvested in September, when their cones are fully-grown. After they’re picked, they’re dried, and then cooled in specially-built oast houses.

Amanda Hutchinson gamely provides human scale, in the Hop Garden at Sandhurst, on August 7th. Think of how much FUN it would be to walk down these paths on stilts!

Amanda Hutchinson gamely provides human scale, in the Hop Garden at Sandhurst, on August 7th. Think of how much FUN it would be to walk down these paths on stilts!

Per Hopping Down in Kent, “Hops begin to flower in July. Petals grow and form the cones. Inside these petals yellow lupulin glands form. It is these glands that give out the bitter taste. By September, the cones are ready to be picked from the bines.”

Until the late 1950s, each September, at harvest-time, multi-generational families of working-class Londoners moved, in masse, to the fields of Kent, where they set up camps. These tens of thousands of temporary laborers worked long hours, but most considered their month out of London to be holidays; sojourns which provided them with exercise, fresh air, serious-evening-partying, and extra money.

A Hop-Picking Family, in 1958. Image courtesy of Spitalfields Life.

A Hop-Picking Family, in 1958. Image courtesy of Spitalfields Life.

Hop Picking Rules. Image courtesy of Spitalfields Life.

Hop Picking Rules. Image courtesy of Spitalfields Life.

Pole Puller, circa 1950. Image courtesy of Spitalfields Life.

Pole Puller, with Brew in hand, circa 1950. Image courtesy of Spitalfields Life.

Now that we’ve seen the Hops Themselves, I’ll return us to the Oasts, at the Hop Family Farm.

We approach the largest complex of Oasts, at the Hope Farm Family Park, on August 6th.

We approach the largest complex of Oasts, at the Hop Farm Family Park, on August 6th.

Oast roofs consist of: Roundel, Hot Air Outlet, Wind Vane, & Cowl.

Oast roofs consist of:
Roundel, Hot Air Outlet, Wind Vane, & Cowl.

Five Oast roofs

Five Oast roofs

A full view of the Oast Houses at The Hop Farm Family Park

A full view of the Oast Houses at The Hop Farm Family Park

We're about to enter an Oast House

We’re about to enter an Oast House

A Cross-Section of a Kent Oast. Image courtesy of Hopping Down in Kent.

A Cross-Section of a Kent Oast. Image courtesy of Hopping Down in Kent.

Wikipedia’s Oast House entry sums things up nicely:

“An oast, oast house, or hop kiln is a building designed for drying hops as part of the brewing process. Oasts consist of two or three storeys on which the hops were spread out to be dried by hot air from a wood kiln at the bottom. The drying floors were thin and perforated to permit the heat to pass through and escape through a cowl in the roof which turned with the wind. The freshly picked hops from the fields were raked in to dry, and then raked out to cool before being bagged up and sent to the brewery. By the early 19th century the distinctive circular buildings with conical roofs had been developed in response to the increased demand for beer. Square oast houses appeared early in the 20th century, as they were found easier to build. Hops are today dried industrially and the many oast houses on farms have been converted into dwellings.”

What would ‘The Garden of England” be without its picturesque oasts…the vestiges of agricultural-glory-days? Today, only 3000 acres of Kent are still used to grow hops. Next time you enjoy some Porter, raise your glass to the Stringers and Stroddlers of times past.

Hops...transformed.

Hops…transformed.

Destination #3: Scotney Castle
Lamberhurst
Near Tunbridge Wells
Kent TN3 8JN

Open year-round, weather permitting, from 10AM to 5PM.

Phone: 01892-893820

Website: http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/scotney-castle/

Scotney Castle: a country house, romantic garden, and 14th century moated castle, on 770 acres of beautiful parkland, in Kent. My visit at mid-day on August 6th merely whetted my appetite. This is a place to which I shall certainly return. Image courtesy of The National Trust.

Scotney Castle: a country house, romantic garden, and 14th century moated castle, on 770 acres of beautiful parkland, in Kent. My visit at mid-day on August 6th merely whetted my appetite. Scotney is a place to which I shall certainly return. This is a view of the Old Castle, at dawn, in May. In the foreground, the upper reaches of the Quarry Garden are visible, where massed clumps of rhododendrons—the shrub most-favored by the Picturesque designers—bloom in shades of mauve, purple, rose and white. Image courtesy of The National Trust.

At Scotney Castle, we’re presented with the embodiment of the Picturesque in garden design. The contrast between the Medieval ruins of the Old Castle (which was built by Roger Ashburnham in 1378) and the sturdy Elizabethan-style sandstone walls of the New House ( which was constructed 459 years later) creates a perfect tension, as The Castle’s guidebook explains:

“From the early 18th century, British landscape gardeners had been creating gardens inspired by pictures, but by 1800 a reaction had set in. Critics like the Rev.William Gilpin considered the grassy vistas designed by ‘Capability’ Brown too smooth and tidy. They might be beautiful, but they were not PICTURESQUE: to resemble the best landscape painting, a garden needed drama, variety and rough edges. At Scotney, the plunging site, the mixture of sheltered quarry and open lawn, and the ragged silhouette of the Old Castle provided all three in abundance. “

“Scotney is not one, but two houses, united by art and nature. Surrounded by the moat at the bottom of the valley are the romantic ruins of the Medieval castle. At the top of the hill is the new house, built in 1837—43, for Edward Hussey III. The carefully contrived views between the new and old represent almost the last, and perhaps the most perfect, expression of the Picturesque landscape style.”

The expansive Estate that we enjoy today is the result of land consolidation which began in 1778, when Edward Hussey I purchased the property, with its ancient moated Castle, from the Darrell family, who’d lived there for the previous 350 years. Every generation of the Hussey family, whose motto is “I scarcely call these things our own,” has since put its own stamp on the grounds. Parklands have been filled with specimen trees, streams have been dammed, elegant terraces have been built near to the New House, and romantic gardens have been fashioned in the Quarry, and around the ruins of the Old Castle.

Map of the Grounds at Scotney Castle. Image courtesy of The National Trust.

Map of the Grounds at Scotney Castle. Image courtesy of The National Trust.

The New House at Scotney Castle was built in an Elizabethan-Revival Style, from 1837--1843. On the Entrance Front, a battlemented tower dominates. The walls are built with a striated, golden sandstone, which was dug from the quarry that's immediately below the House. Image courtesy of The National Trust.

The New House at Scotney Castle was built in an Elizabethan-Revival Style, from 1837–1843. On the Entrance Front, a battlemented tower dominates. The walls are built with a striated, golden sandstone, which was dug from the quarry that’s immediately below the House. Image courtesy of The National Trust.

After Edward Hussey I acquired Scotney, his family first lived in the Old Castle, but a malaise shrouded the ancient building. Edward Hussey committed suicide there, and his son Edward II survived for only another year. Edward’s widow Anne sensibly flew the coop, and took her surviving son, now named Edward III (why not recycle a perfectly good name, eh?) far away. Edward III, who loved gardens and architecture, never forgot Scotney, and when he came of age, he decided to return ….but not to the Old Castle, which had been tainted. As Edward III worked with his architect Anthony Salvin to build a New House, he rejected suggestions that he demolish the Old Castle. Instead, he began to consider how the Castle might be put to use as a backdrop for gardens. He whittled away at the ancient structure, keeping the oldest parts, and razing interior portions of a 17th century wing. Edward III ‘s idea of a painting-come-to-life inspired his creation of the most romantic-looking vistas within the grounds.

Since my interests tend toward gardens, and to TRULY old houses, we skipped a tour of the New House …after all, an English home built in 1843 must qualify as Merely Modern.

We bypassed the New House, and headed toward the little, arched gateway that's the Entrance to the Gardens.

We bypassed the New House, and headed toward the little, arched gateway that’s the Entrance to the Gardens.

We're inside! Our garden tour commences.

We’re inside! Our garden tour commences.

Behind the New House, on the Garden Front Terrace, this splendid vista of the Kent countryside unfolds.

Behind the New House, on the Garden Front Terrace, this splendid vista of the Kent countryside unfolds.

A Stone Kitten, on the Garden Front Terrace, with a view back toward the door to the Garden Lobby of the New House.

A Stone Kitten, on the Garden Front Terrace, with a view back toward the door to the Garden Lobby of the New House.

We're headed away from the New House, past a field where Green-Winged Orchids bloom in Springtime.

We’re headed away from the New House, past a field where Green-Winged Orchids bloom in Springtime.

Sign in the Orchid Field

Sign in the Orchid Field

As we left the Orchid Field, I noticed that Amanda had begun to wear an Atypically-Sly-Smile. Hmmm…thought I. What’s up? Our path
ended at a half-circle terrace, and as I glimpsed the ruins of a distant castle, at the foot of a steep slope, my jaw dropped. Amanda grinned even more broadly: she’d just opened the fairy-tale chapter of our day’s adventures.

The Bastion View, with the ruins of the Old Castle at the bottom of the valley.

The Bastion View, with the ruins of the Old Castle at the bottom of the valley.

A closer look at the Bastion View's balustrade. The Quarry Garden begins directly below the balustrade.

The light changed constantly, as clouds scudded across the sky. Here’s a closer look at the Bastion View’s balustrade. The Quarry Garden begins directly below the balustrade.

Before we headed downhill, we detoured past an ancient stone Chalice…

Ancient Chalice

Ancient Chalice

Detail of Chalice

Detail of Chalice

…and then inspected the remains of a drovers’ road, which was used for driving livestock on foot, from one place to another. This drovers’ road is ancient, dating back to Medieval times.

Ancient Drovers' Road, with the New House in the background.

Ancient Drovers’ Road, with the New House in the background.

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Sign by the Drovers’ Road

We then entered the Quarry Garden. As the Castle’s guidebook notes:
“When stone for the New House was removed and the quarry created, the fossilized remains of a ‘ripple bed’ were uncovered, dating from the Mesozoic geological era, when Scotney was on the shore of a great sea that stretched between England and Belgium. As the ocean tide receded, it left ripples on the sand, which became stone over millions of years.”

As mentioned, sandstone for the New House was quarried on site. The pit left by those excavations created a setting perfectly suited for a dramatic garden, where jagged rocks serve as a backdrop for flowering shrubs and trees, and luxuriant swathes of giant ferns.

The Quarry at Scotney, before it was transformed into a garden. Image courtesy of The National Trust.

The Quarry at Scotney, before it was transformed into a garden. Image courtesy of The National Trust.

By August, the magnolias and azaleas and rhododendrons that fill the Quarry Garden are largely past bloom-time. In the dry heat of late summer, I could only imagine how lush the Quarry had looked, in Springtime.

In the Quarry Garden

In the Quarry Garden

Another look at the Quarry Garden

Another look at the Quarry Garden

Huge tree stumps, in the Quarry Garden. In England, Tree Stump Gardens are highly prized. To my American eyes, Stump Gardens are clearly an acquired taste....I'll work on that.

Huge tree stumps, in the Quarry Garden. In England, Tree Stump Gardens are highly prized. To my American eyes, Stump Gardens are clearly an acquired taste….I’ll work on that.

We left the Quarry Garden, and headed downhill, toward the Old Castle.

View toward the Old Castle

View toward the Old Castle

Bridge to the Old Castle

Bridge to the Old Castle

We cross the bridge over the Lily-Moat, which surrounds the Old Castle. The moat was formed when the small River Bewl was dammed.

We cross the bridge over the Lily-Moat, which surrounds the Old Castle. The moat was formed when the small River Bewl was dammed.

Our first up-close view of the Old Castle

Our first up-close view of the Old Castle

The garden designer Lanning Roper began in 1970 to remake the Old Castle's herb garden, which surrounds the carved Venetian well-head.

The garden designer Lanning Roper began in 1970 to remake the Old Castle’s herb garden, which surrounds the carved Venetian well-head.

Early morning, in Springtime, the wisteria is in its full glory. Image courtesy of The National Trust.

Early morning, in Springtime, the wisteria is in its full glory. Image courtesy of The National Trust.

Another view of the Venetian well-head

Another view of the Venetian well-head

A different view of the Herb Garden

A different view of the Herb Garden

Lush plantings in the Old Castle Gardens

Lush plantings in the Old Castle Gardens

A peek into the small garden that's contained inside the walls of the dismantled, 17th century wing of the Old Castle

A peek into the small garden that’s contained inside the walls of the dismantled, 17th century wing of the Old Castle

A peek OUT, from the same, small walled garden

A peek OUT, from the same, small walled garden

Inside the Old Castle's small, walled garden

Inside the Old Castle’s small, walled garden

Lawn behind the Old Castle

Lawn behind the Old Castle

A closer look at the magnificent tree on the Old Castle's Lawn

A closer look at the magnificent tree on the Old Castle’s Lawn

The walls of the Old Castle's 17th century wing, seen from the Lawn

The walls of the Old Castle’s 17th century wing, seen from the Lawn

Inside the small, walled Old Castle Garden

Inside the small, walled Old Castle Garden

Detail of Old Castle walls

Detail of Old Castle walls

Detail of Old Castle's sandstone...quarried on site.

Detail of Old Castle’s sandstone…quarried on site.

Dovecote behind the 14th century tower of the Old Castle

Dovecote behind the 14th century tower of the Old Castle

Detail of Dovecote...quite a Posh Perch for a Pigeon

Detail of Dovecote…quite a Posh Perch for a Pigeon

A view across the Moat, from behind the Old Castle's tower.

A view across the Moat, from behind the Old Castle’s tower.

Another view across the Moat, from the Old Castle

Another view across the Moat, from the Old Castle

We prepared to leave the Old Castle Gardens, via the bridge across the Moat

We prepared to leave the Old Castle Gardens, via the bridge across the Moat

Standing on the Chinese Bridge, we were afforded this spectacular view of the Old Castle.

Standing on the Chinese Bridge, we were afforded this spectacular view of the Old Castle.

We passed the gabled Boathouse, which is on the path that wends its way around the stewponds that surround the Isthmus where a sculpture by Henry Moore stands.

We passed the gabled Boathouse, which is on the path that wends its way around the stewponds that surround the Isthmus where a sculpture by Henry Moore stands.

The Isthmus

The Isthmus

THREE PIECE RECLINING FIGURE. 1977. By Henry Moore. Moore donated this piece, in memory of his friend, Christopher Hussey.

THREE PIECE RECLINING FIGURE. 1977. By Henry Moore. Moore donated this piece, in memory of his friend, Christopher Hussey.

Geese on the Isthmus, with rustic Chinese Bridge.

Geese on the Isthmus, with rustic Chinese Bridge.

From the path on the far side of the Moat, we had this view of the Old Castle.

From the path on the far side of the Moat, we had this view of the Old Castle.

A view toward the Old Castle Lawn, from across the Moat.

A view toward the Old Castle Lawn, from across the Moat.

We're behind the Old Castle, and headed toward the Ice House.

We’re behind the Old Castle, and headed toward the Ice House.

The Ice House was erected in 1841, and its roof is thatched with heather…which smells marvelous. The house hovers over a 13 foot deep pit, which was lined with straw. In wintertime, Ice was cut from the moat, and stored, and kept the Hussey family supplied with ice throughout the summer.

The tent-shaped Ice House is at the outer edge of the Moat, on the north-east corner.

The tent-shaped Ice House is at the outer edge of the Moat, on the north-east corner.

Ice House Sign

Ice House Sign

A view of the Old Castle, from near the Ice House

A view of the Old Castle, from near the Ice House

Yes, more Sheep. I do love 'em...but no, I don't eat lamb chops. These animals graze in a field with endless views of Kent's countryside in one direction, and spectacular view's of Scotney's gardens in the other direction.

Yes, more Sheep. I do love ‘em…but no, I don’t eat lamb chops. These animals graze in a field with endless views of Kent’s countryside in one direction, and spectacular views of Scotney’s gardens in the other direction.

See...the sheep DO have the Best View. This photo was taken from the sheep pasture. Image courtesy of The National Trust.

See…the sheep DO have the Best View. This photo was taken from the sheep pasture. Image courtesy of The National Trust.

After our garden-amble, I was delighted to learn that Scotney Castle’s grounds contain the National Trust’s only full-fledged hop farm. The Estate is also working toward complete self-sustainability: many of the buildings are already being heated by woodchips which are harvested on site.

The Castle's woodlands are being managed for sustainable fuel to feed the Scotney biomass boiler.

The Castle’s woodlands are being managed for sustainable fuel to feed the Scotney biomass boiler.

I look forward my next visit, when I’ll take time to better explore Scotney’s 770 acres, where wildlife abounds. I’ll admire the Estate’s flocks of sheep; herds of Sussex cattle; badgers; great crested newts (which are Britain’s largest and most threatened newts, for those of you who are salamander-watchers.); fallow and roe deer; and rare, brilliant emerald dragonflies. Ultimately, Scotney Castle’s voluptuous beauties speak for themselves; it’s a tranquil place, a place that soothes thoughts, and quiets speech. Whenever I feel frazzled by this interminable winter that we in the Northeast are currently enduring, I find myself returning to the pictures I took in August at Scotney. Gazing at the Old Castle—mirrored in a lily-filled moat—makes me serene, and I forget about the deep snow that lies, unmelted, outside of my windows.

My home in New Hampshire, on February 19, 2014

My home in New Hampshire, on February 19, 2014

Destination #4: Pashley Manor Gardens
Ticehurst
Near Wadhurst
East Sussex TN5 7HE

Open from April 1st until September 30th
Tuesday through Saturday, 11AM to 5PM

Phone: 01580-200888
Website: http://www.pashleymanorgardens.com

Pashley Manor Gardens, in East Sussex. Impeccably-planted gardens surround a Grade I timber-framed house, which was built in 1550, and enlarged in 1720. The gardens we see today were planted in 1981, on the bones of gardens which were begun in 1720. Image courtesy of Pashley Manor Gardens.

Pashley Manor Gardens, in East Sussex. Impeccably-planted gardens surround a Grade I timber-framed house, which was built in 1550, and enlarged in 1720. The gardens we see today were planted in 1981, on the bones of gardens which were begun in 1720. Image courtesy of Pashley Manor Gardens.

At many of the gardens I visited during my week-long ramble with Amanda and Steve, mention was made of the devastating changes wrought by the Hurricane of 1987. Tales about acres of trees felled, of rocks tumbled, and of soil eroded, were recounted by gardeners at Chartwell, and Great Comp, and Scotney Castle. Pashley Manor, which is just over the Kent border into East Sussex, suffered greatly during the 1987 storms when more than 1000 mature trees were destroyed. But, with her storms, Nature does her weeding, and so the owners of Pashley Manor, whose modestly-scaled borders had only just begun to be planted and expanded in 1981, came to regard their losses as blessings, and the tattered land as a canvas for a garden which could be much improved.

Angela and James Sellick explain: “Previously, the magnificent trees had formed a dense hedge around the garden, but now we have much better views over the surrounding countryside. The old Walled Garden seemed to contain beneath the brambles, weeds, tall grasses and nettles, nothing but tumbledown greenhouses and collapsed cold frames with their attendant shattered remains of flower pots and razor-sharp shards of glass. All these were dominated from outside the wall by large conifers grown for a long-past Christmas market, but fortunately these were blown down by the storm!”

“The series of picturesque and wild linked waterways seemed to constantly empty themselves; we wondered if we had taken on an insurmountable task. Very gradually, with enormous help and encouragement from the eminent landscape architect and author, Anthony du Gard Pasley, an old friend, we have worked our way out from the house, slowly uncovering a garden with great potential which has become one of the most handsome landscapes in Sussex.” In April of 2000, “Pashley was recognized by the Historic Houses Association … when it was voted Garden of the Year as the best HHA garden in the United Kingdom.”

Landscape Architect Anthony du Gard Pasley, who masterminded the gardens at Pashley Manor.

Landscape Architect Anthony du Gard Pasley, who masterminded the gardens at Pashley Manor.

We approach the Manor House

We approach the Manor House

Early afternoon had come, and my stomach was growling. Despite my curiosity about the Gardens, the first order of business had to be LUNCH ( I confess that I become crabby and irrational when I’m hungry ), and so I rejoiced at the deliciousness of the food that was served to us in Pashley’s Garden Room Café.

The Cafe's Terrace, which overlooks a broad lawn, and the Old Moat

The Cafe’s Terrace, which overlooks a broad lawn, and the Old Moat

In retrospect, as I recall the many meals I ate last August in England, I agree with SUSSEX LIFE MAGAZINE, whose food critic declared that Pashley has “arguably the best garden café in the country.” Our salad greens had just been harvested from the vegetable plots we’d strolled through. The zucchini (or Courgettes, as the English call them) on my plate had recently been cut from the vine. As I savored each bite, I could taste how tenderly Pashley’s gardeners had cared for their plants. Revived by veggie garden bounty, Amanda and I began our tour of the 11-acre Estate, where constantly-changing exhibits of whimsical pieces of sculpture add to the light-hearted atmosphere.

Plan of the Gardens at Pashley Manor. Image courtesy of Pashley Manor.

Plan of the Gardens at Pashley Manor. Image courtesy of Pashley Manor.

We begin our stroll through Pashley's Gardens

We begin our stroll through Pashley’s Gardens

Clouds temporarily darkened the day..but things soon improved. On the far hill is a sheep pasture.

Clouds temporarily darkened the day..but things soon improved. On the far hill is a sheep pasture.

At the base of the central path through the Herbaceous Border, this 8-foot-tall Lady exposes a shapely leg. Behind her is a Ha-Ha ditch, which keeps Pashey's flocks of sheep in their fields, and out of the Gardens

At the base of the central path through the Herbaceous Border, this 8-foot-tall Lady exposes a shapely leg. Behind her is a Ha-Ha ditch, which keeps Pashey’s flocks of sheep in their fields, and out of the Gardens

Per the Manor’s Guidebook, when the Pashley sheep are shorn, their fleece is then used as mulch, around the roots of the trees in the orchard. “The fleeces are then pinned down with hazel twigs. This was a traditional method of retaining moisture and preventing weed growth. The lanolin and nitrogen leach from the fleeces as they rot and feed the trees. This ancient method of mulching is also greatly appreciated by birds as it provides nesting material.” And the fruit of Pashley’s sheep is put to further use come winter, when the flower beds are “mulched with tons of Pashley’s own sheep manure.” Learning these things
has only increased my adoration for Sheep!

I waited for the clouds to disperse, and was rewarded with this delightful shadow.

I waited for the clouds to disperse, and was rewarded with this delightful shadow.

The lower reaches of the Herbaceous Borders and the Hot Gardens

The lower reaches of the Herbaceous Borders and the Hot Gardens

The Hot Gardens

The Hot Gardens

Another view of the Hot Gardens, in the Herbaceous Border section of the Garden. Image courtesy of Pashley Manor.

Another view of the Hot Gardens, in the Herbaceous Border section of the Garden. Image courtesy of Pashley Manor.

We enter the Walled Garden. The Walled Garden was established in 1720 and is historically listed in its own right. During WWII, while the House was a temporary home for soldiers from Canada and Poland, the gardens fell into disrepair.

We enter the Walled Garden. The Walled Garden was established in 1720 and is historically listed in its own right. During WWII, while the House was a temporary home for soldiers from Canada and Poland, the gardens fell into disrepair.

ABSTRACT DOVE, a marble by Ev Meynell, alights upon the main gate to the Walled Garden

ABSTRACT DOVE, a marble by Ev Meynell, alights upon the main gate to the Walled Garden

The Rose Garden, within the Walled Garden

The Rose Garden, within the Walled Garden

The Rose Garden

The Rose Garden

In the Rose Garden

In the Rose Garden

Every year, for 10 days in the Spring, Pashley Manor holds a Tulip Festival, when over 20,000 blubs--and about 100 different varieties of Tulips--burst into bloom. This photo shows a corner of the Rose Garden, during 2013's Tulip Festival. Image courtesy of Pashley Manor.

Every year, for 10 days in the Spring, Pashley Manor holds a Tulip Festival, when over 20,000 blubs–and about 100 different varieties of Tulips–burst into bloom. This photo shows a corner of the Rose Garden, during 2013′s Tulip Festival. Image courtesy of Pashley Manor.

Lilies in the Rose Garden

Lilies in the Rose Garden

Perfection....

Perfection….

A rather intimidating Lady in the Rose Garden

A rather intimidating Lady in the Rose Garden

A bronze Door to Nowhere, on the Rose Garden Wall

A bronze Door to Nowhere, on the Rose Garden Wall

The Potager (aka Kitchen Garden) is opposite the Rose Garden, and also within the Walled Garden. This is where many of the veggies I ate at lunch were grown.

The Potager (aka Kitchen Garden) is opposite the Rose Garden, and also within the Walled Garden. This is where many of the veggies I ate at lunch were grown.

The Potager

The Potager

A Glass House, in the Potager

A Glass House, in the Potager

Scarlet Runner Beans clamber up the Potager's brick wall, which was built in 1720.

Scarlet Runner Beans clamber up the Potager’s brick wall, which was built in 1720.

In the Potager, with Pashley's Head Gardener. I thanked him for the wonderful food he grows. The Rose Garden is in the background.

In the Potager, with Pashley’s Head Gardener. I thanked him for the wonderful food he grows. The Rose Garden is in the background.

Suddenly...I wanted to swim!

Suddenly…I wanted to swim!

This greenhouse, a survivor from mid-Victorian times, abuts the Swimming Pool Terrace

This greenhouse, a survivor from mid-Victorian times, abuts the Swimming Pool Terrace

Another statue on the Swimming Pool Terrace

Another statue on the Swimming Pool Terrace

In the Pool Garden, yet another sculpture, this one by Kate Denton. Billowing against the brick of one of the original Elizabethan-era walls is a huge shrub: Ceanothus 'Puget Blue,' which is evergreen, and in early summer bursts into bloom with thousands of royal blue flowers. Image courtesy of Pashley Manor.

In the Pool Garden, yet another sculpture, this one by Kate Denton. Billowing against the brick of one of the original Elizabethan-era walls is a huge shrub: Ceanothus ‘Puget Blue,’ which is evergreen, and in early summer bursts into bloom with thousands of royal blue flowers. Image courtesy of Pashley Manor.

We approach the House. What Great Chimneys!

We approach the House.
What Great Chimneys!

On the Terrace, by the House

On the Terrace, by the House

In the largest photo: One of a pair of cast-iron 19th century vases is on the Terrace, filled to overflowing with fragrant summer flowers. Image courtesy of Pashley Manor.

In the largest photo: One of a pair of cast-iron 19th century vases is on the Terrace, filled to overflowing with fragrant summer flowers. Image courtesy of Pashley Manor.

Roses on the Main Terrace, by the old, half-timbered walls of the House

Roses on the Main Terrace, by the old, half-timbered walls of the House

A Black Swan waddles across the Lawn that overlooks the Old Moat

A Black Swan waddles across the Lawn that overlooks the Old Moat

And now Mister Swan shows us his elegant profile

And now Mister Swan shows us his elegant profile

The arched, wrought-iron bridge leads to the Island in the Moat where the original house, built in 1262, once stood.

The arched, wrought-iron bridge leads to the Island in the Moat where the original house, built in 1262, once stood.

On the Island: a Classical Temple, and a statue of Anne Boleyn. The Boleyn family owned Pashley in the 16th century, and used it as a hunting lodge.

On the Island: a Classical Temple, and a statue of Anne Boleyn. The Boleyn family owned Pashley in the 16th century, and used it as a hunting lodge.

A closer look at the Island's Temple

A closer look at the Island’s Temple

ANNE BOLEYN, by Philip Jackson. This is one of the sculptures that's permanently mounted in Pashley's gardens.

ANNE BOLEYN, by Philip Jackson. This is one of the sculptures that’s permanently mounted in Pashley’s gardens.

A closer look at Anne.

A closer look at Anne.

Anne, in profile.

Anne, in profile.

A Stag, on the lawns behind the Island

A Stag, on the lawns behind the Island

As we pass the dam at the far end of the Old Moat, a swan requests breadcrumbs.

As we pass the dam at the far end of the Old Moat, a swan requests breadcrumbs.

The Old Moat

The Old Moat

As we returned to the car park field, we were Bee-Warned.

As we returned to the car park field, we were Bee-Warned.

The gardens at Pashley Manor are comprehensibly small, and sweet, and friendly. And the mostly light-hearted sculptures that dot the Estate give the place a good-humored vibe. While the landscapes at Scotney Castle demonstrate gardening, ramped up to highest, Grand-Opera volume, the lovingly-cared for little plots at Pashley Manor show how charming short, light works of gardening at Operetta-level can also be.

Destination #5: Merriments Gardens
Hawkhurst Road
Hurst Green
East Sussex TN19 7RA
Display Gardens open from early April to mid October
Monday through Saturday, 9AM to 5PM
Sunday, 10:30AM to 4:40AM

Phone# 01580-860666

Website: http://www.merriments.co.uk

Merriments--one of the BBC's favorite garden centres.

Merriments–one of the BBC’s favorite garden centres.

Our route between Pashley Manor and Sissinghurst Castle—which would be the final garden-of-note on the day’s itinerary—took us past Merriments, one of England’s most acclaimed and elaborate garden centers. At Merriments, even the most inexperienced gardener can ramp up his gardening-game. After a stroll through the 4-acre display gardens, where color-themed borders, woodland groves, and separate gravel, rock, parterre, and water gardens pique the imagination, one needs only to consult with Merriments’ staff about how to achieve similar results in one’s own backyard. Pots of greenery are produced from Merriments’ nurseries, and planting instructions are provided. And if you’re feeling extra-lazy, Merriments will send their crew of landscapers to your home…PRESTO-CHANGO….Instant Garden-Gratification!

Plan of the display gardens at Merriments, in East Sussex.

Plan of the display gardens at Merriments, in East Sussex.

Here are some of my favorite vignettes, from the Merriments gardens.

An elegant Rill, surrounded by grasses. I'd actually like to lift this in its entirety, and transplant it into my New Hampshire garden.

An elegant Rill, surrounded by grasses. I’d actually like to lift this in its entirety, and transplant it into my New Hampshire garden.

Oriental Lilies

Oriental Lilies

A recently-planted Boxwood parterre

A recently-planted Boxwood parterre

The Blooms of high summer.

The Blooms of high summer.

Verbena Bonariensis

Verbena Bonariensis

Want a tree for your yard? They'll dig one up!

Want a tree for your yard? They’ll dig one up!

Or perhaps you'd like an entire birch grove? No problem....

Or perhaps you’d like an entire birch grove? No problem….

Towers Tassels

Towering Tassels

More perfect Lilies

More perfect Lilies

Merriments Garden Centre

Merriments Garden Centre

Destination #6: Sissinghurst Castle Garden
Biddenden Road
Near Cranbrook
Kent TN17 2AB

Gardens best seen from April through October
Open Daily, 11AM to 5PM

Phone# 01580-710700

Website: http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/sissinghurst-castle/

The gardens at Sissinghurst Castle, which were planted in the 1930s, are among the most famous gardens in England. Image courtesy of The National Trust.

The gardens at Sissinghurst Castle, which were planted in the 1930s, are among the most famous gardens in England. Image courtesy of The National Trust.

Of all the renowned gardens in England, the place whose name is most familiar—even to NON-garden-aficionados—must certainly be Sissinghurst, the home of the writer Vita Sackville-West and her husband, the diplomat Harold Nicolson. First and foremost, “Sissinghurst” conjures up serene visions of boxwood-edged beds of pale-hued flowers, which bloom unendingly around the base of an Elizabethan tower. For years, like any other gardener worth her salt, I’d dreamed of visiting Vita’s White Garden.

Harold Nicolson (born 1886, died 1968) and Vita Sackville-West (born 1892, died 1962) in the Tower Sitting Room at Sissinghurst Castle, circa 1930. Image courtesy of The National Trust.

Harold Nicolson (born 1886, died 1968) and Vita Sackville-West (born 1892, died 1962) in the Tower Sitting Room at Sissinghurst Castle, circa 1930. Image courtesy of The National Trust.

As is usually the case in Life: reality falls short of dreaming. Thus far in my garden-questing I’ve found only a few places where reality EXCEEDS dreams. Scotney Castle qualifies for this very-short-list, as do the hillside gardens at Villa d’Este, in Tivoli, just northeast of Rome. I’ve written about Villa d’Este in the past, and will do so again at greater length: I’ve scheduled my third visit to those Italian Renaissance gardens for this coming May, and a long article will appear in late summer. The Chinese-scroll-painting-come-to-life at Innisfree Garden, in Millbrook, New York, which I extolled in “Part One: Hudson River Valley Gardens,” certainly belongs in this rarefied company. And the little-known gardens at Sezincote, in Gloucestershire, where conservatories capped by turquoise onion domes, and parklands dotted with statues of elephants and sacred cows (along with some REAL cows) nestle into Cotswold hills, will also be the centerpiece of a future Diary.

But Sissinghurst is on the verge of being loved to death. Along with the equally-famous gardens at Hidcote — which I visited in September of 2012, and which I wrote about in my Armchair Diary titled “Major Ramblings Across the English Countryside” — Sissinghurst is straining at its seams. Bus-load after coach-load of garden-gawkers tumble onto the grounds for a spot of cream tea, followed by a tower-climb, and then by a trot through the series of modestly-scaled garden “rooms” that Harold Nicolson laid out to hold his wife’s painterly combinations of plants.

Of course, for anyone to whom garden-history matters, paying a call to Sissinghurst IS a must. Just be prepared for the gardens to become periodically inundated by waves of people. You’ll have to queue for your turn to climb the Tower (where traffic jams happen as the steep, winding steps cause out-of-shape visitors to do a lot of staggering and huffing and puffing), and you’ll have to wait patiently to snatch quiet moments on the Lime Walk, and in the Rose, and Herb, Gardens.

My greatest photographic challenge during Tuesday afternoon’s waning hours was to take pictures that did NOT include the same lady in a white sweater who would reappear, like Zelig, around every corner, whenever I’d waited until I thought the coast was clear enough to take an un-peopled shot of the gardens.

Ultimately, I make my own little gardens here in New Hampshire, and then travel the World to learn from my Gardening-Betters, for a single reason. Gardening—and Gardens—calm me….but only when I have the high privilege of spending quiet and nearly-private time in the contemplation of my surroundings. Worldwide fame hasn’t yet robbed Sissinghurst of her beauty, but the tranquility that Vita Sackville-West described in the following passage is no more:

“The heavy gold sunshine enriched the old brick with a kind a patina, and made the tower cast a long shadow across the grass, like the finger of a gigantic sundial veering slowly with the sun. Everything was hushed and drowsy and silent, but for the coo of the white pigeons sitting alone together on the roof…
They climbed the seventy-six steps of her tower and stood on the leaden flat, leaning their elbows on the parapet, and looking out in silence over the fields, the woods, the hop gardens, and the lake down in the hollow from which a faint mist was rising.”

Try to keep that lost tranquility in mind, as our garden tour begins.

The garden at Sissinghurst sits within some 470 acres of the Kentish Weald. Image courtesy of The National Trust.

The garden at Sissinghurst sits within some 470 acres of the Kentish Weald. Image courtesy of The National Trust.

The Castle, which was at one time much larger than the complex that we see today, began to be constructed in the 1530s, when the entrance and long front range were built by Sir John Baker. Eventually, a huge series of enclosed courtyards were in place. During the Seven Years War (1756--63) Sissinghurst  Castle was used as a prison camp.  This postcard shows the camp. Image courtesy of The National Trust.

The Castle, which was at one time much larger than the complex that we see today, began to be constructed in the 1530s, when the entrance and long front range were built by Sir John Baker. Eventually, a huge series of enclosed courtyards were in place. During the Seven Years War (1756–63) Sissinghurst Castle was used as a prison camp.
This postcard shows the camp. Image courtesy of The National Trust.

Plan of the Gardens at Sissinghurst Castle. Image courtesy of The National Trust.

Plan of the Gardens at Sissinghurst Castle. Image courtesy of The National Trust.

Welcome to the Garden-Section of the Estate

Welcome to the Garden-Section of the Estate

We approach the front range of the Main House. The twin roofs of the Tower--which is a separate structure--are in the distance.

We approach the front range of the Main House. The twin roofs of the Tower–which is a separate structure–are in the distance.

Detail of wall of Main House

Detail of wall of Main House

We're headed toward the tunnel that bisects the Main House. The Top Courtyard, and the Tower are dead ahead.

We’re headed toward the tunnel that bisects the Main House. The Top Courtyard, and the Tower are dead ahead.

Detail of overhead beams, dating from 1530, in the tunnel through the Main House

Detail of overhead beams, dating from 1530, in the tunnel through the Main House

The Tower. We'll wait until later to make our climb...

The Tower. We’ll wait until later to make our climb…

We headed to the southern corner of the Top Courtyard, looking for an entry to the Rose Garden.

We headed to the southern corner of the Top Courtyard, looking for an entry to the Rose Garden.

Before entering the Rose Garden, we detoured into the southern end of the Tower Lawn

Before entering the Rose Garden, we detoured into the southern end of the Tower Lawn

We passed through the wall that separates the Tower Lawn from the Rose Garden

We passed through the wall that separates the Tower Lawn from the Rose Garden

At the west end of the Rose Garden, a Lutyens Bench settles into an apse-like curve in  the clematis-covered wall.

At the west end of the Rose Garden, a Lutyens Bench settles into an apse-like curve in the clematis-covered wall.

Rose Garden Bench, during a rare moment when it's not occupied.

Rose Garden Bench, during a rare moment when it’s not occupied.

From the Rose Garden, the southern end of the Main House, and the upper stories of the Tower can be seen.

From the Rose Garden, the southern end of the Main House, and the upper stories of the Tower can be seen.

A portion of the Rose Garden

A portion of the Rose Garden

Slightly off-center in the Rose Garden is the  Rondel, a circular space enclosed by high hedges. My omnipresent Lady In The White Sweater now makes the only guest appearance that I'll allow her!

Slightly off-center in the Rose Garden is the Rondel, a circular space enclosed by high hedges. My omnipresent Lady In The White Sweater now makes the only guest appearance that I’ll allow her!

The Rondel: momentarily people-free.

The Rondel: momentarily people-free.

View from the Rose Garden, toward the Tower Lawn

View from the Rose Garden, toward the Tower Lawn

Another corner of the Rose Garden

Another corner of the Rose Garden

Amanda, by the Rose Garden wall, with a view down the narrow Yew Walk, which extends along the long, Eastern side of the Tower Lawn

Amanda, by the Rose Garden wall, with a view down the narrow Yew Walk, which extends along the long, Eastern side of the Tower Lawn

Leaving the Rose Garden, we entered the small Cottage Garden, which is always planted with rich orange, red and yellow flowers.

Leaving the Rose Garden, we entered the small Cottage Garden, which is always planted with rich orange, red and yellow flowers.

We're in the Cottage Garden. The South Cottage is a fragment of the Elizabeth complex of buildings.

We’re in the Cottage Garden. The South Cottage is a fragment of the Elizabeth complex of buildings.

Mixed Dahlias in the Cottage Garden, with the Tower in the distance. Image courtesy of The National Trust.

Mixed Dahlias in the Cottage Garden, with the Tower in the distance. Image courtesy of The National Trust.

After the Cottage Garden, we entered the Lime Walk, in the Spring Garden. Since the 1930s, when Harold Nicolson designed the Lime Walk, the trees have been replaced two times.

After the Cottage Garden, we entered the Lime Walk, in the Spring Garden. Since the 1930s, when Harold Nicolson designed the Lime Walk, the trees have been replaced two times.

Maintaining the trees on the Lime Walk is a labor-intensive process.

Maintaining the trees on the Lime Walk is a labor-intensive process.

One side of the far end of the Lime Walk has been pruned; much clipping still to do.....

One side of the far end of the Lime Walk has been pruned; much clipping still to do…..

At the far end of the Spring Garden's Lime Walk, a statue marks the beginning of The Nuttery

At the far end of the Spring Garden’s Lime Walk, a statue marks the beginning of The Nuttery

The Nuttery is a plantation of Kentish Cobnuts--a variety of Hazelnut. The entire Nuttery is underplanted with drifts of Spring-blooming bulbs. This is a view of The Nuttery, in April. Image courtesy of The National Trust.

The Nuttery is a plantation of Kentish Cobnuts–a variety of Hazelnut. The entire Nuttery is underplanted with drifts of Spring-blooming bulbs. This is a view of The Nuttery, in April. Image courtesy of The National Trust.

At the Eastern end of The Nuttery, a Herb Garden is nearly hidden behind tall yew hedges. We're on the outside of the Herb Garden.

At the Eastern end of The Nuttery, a Herb Garden is nearly hidden behind tall yew hedges. We’re on the outside of the Herb Garden.

Between the Herb Garden and the Moat Walk is a Thyme Lawn, first planted in 1946. Sissinghurst's gardeners say maintaining the Thyme Lawn has always been difficult. When the thyme isn't flowering, people trample it. Happily, when the thyme is in flower, the Lawn is abuzz with bees....which keeps toes away from the tender plants.

Between the Herb Garden and the Moat Walk is a Thyme Lawn, first planted in 1946. Sissinghurst’s gardeners say maintaining the Thyme Lawn has always been difficult. When the thyme isn’t flowering, people trample it. Happily, when the thyme is in flower, the Lawn is abuzz with bees….which keeps toes away from the tender plants.

The modestly-sized Herb Garden, which contains 160 different varieties of herbs.

The modestly-sized Herb Garden, which contains 160 different varieties of herbs.

I held my breath, and waited for a rare, tranquil moment to click the camera shutter....

I held my breath, and waited for a rare, tranquil moment to click the camera shutter….

A Byzantine Stone Bowl supported by lions is the centerpiece of the Herb Garden, which was planted in 1933-34.

A Byzantine Stone Bowl supported by lions is the centerpiece of the Herb Garden, which was planted in 1933-34.

Detail of tiles in terrace, which are installed with narrow ends up. This same use of tiles--with narrow ends up-- can also be seen in the gardens at Hidcote.

Detail of tiles in terrace, which are installed with narrow ends up, under the Byzantine Bowl. This same use of tiles–with narrow ends up– can also be seen in the gardens at Hidcote.

Garden Bench, planted with Chamomile

Garden Bench, planted with Chamomile

The Herb Garden's Byzantine Bowl, and Chamomile Bench. Image courtesy of The National Trust.

The Herb Garden’s Byzantine Bowl, and Chamomile Bench. Image courtesy of The National Trust.

We left the Herb Garden, and ambled down the Moat Walk, which is planted with a long bank of Azaleas along one side.

We left the Herb Garden, and ambled down the Moat Walk, which is planted with a long bank of Azaleas along one side.

In Springtime, the Moat Walk is abloom with wisteria, azaleas and bluebells. Image courtesy of The National Trust.

In Springtime, the Moat Walk is abloom with wisteria, azaleas and bluebells. Image courtesy of The National Trust.

We passed into the wide expanses of The Orchard, which is contained on two sides by the Moat.

We passed into the wide expanses of The Orchard, which is edged on two sides by the Moat.

At the far corner of The Orchard, where the northern and eastern courses of the Moat meet, Nicolson built a Gazebo, which has windows overlooking the water, and the distant fields.

At the far corner of The Orchard, where the northern and eastern courses of the Moat meet, Nicolson built a Gazebo, which has windows overlooking the water, and the distant fields.

At the Northwestern edge of The Orchard, a narrow opening in the Yew Walk hedge leads us into the White Garden.

At the Northwestern edge of The Orchard, a narrow opening in the Yew Walk hedge leads us into the White Garden.

We enter the White Garden

We enter the White Garden

The White Garden was the last of the gardens at Sissinghurst to receive its identity. Until 1950, it had been filled with a miscellaneous collection of flowers, in mixed colors. It was Vita's idea to plant a garden where white flowers would glow in the moonlight.

The White Garden was the last of the gardens at Sissinghurst to receive its identity. Until 1950, it had been filled with a miscellaneous collection of flowers, in mixed colors. It was Vita’s idea to plant a garden where white flowers would glow in the moonlight.

A Pergola is at the center of the White Garden

A Pergola is at the center of the White Garden

Ideally, the White Garden should look like this, with white climbing roses covering the Pergola. Image courtesy of The National Trust.

Ideally, the White Garden should look like this, with white climbing roses covering the Pergola. Image courtesy of The National Trust.

A lushly-planted corner of the White Garden

A lushly-planted corner of the White Garden

To the West of the White Garden is the Delos, which is planted as a carpet of woodland flowers. The Delos was designed in the mid-1990s by head gardener Sarah Cook, long after Vita and Harold had exited the scene. Image courtesy of The National Trust.

To the West of the White Garden is the Delos, which is planted as a carpet of woodland flowers. The Delos was designed in the mid-1990s by head gardener Sarah Cook, long after Vita and Harold had exited the scene. Image courtesy of The National Trust.

We leave the White Garden through the Bishop's Gate, then turn right, and head toward the Top Courtyard's Purple Border.

We leave the White Garden through the Bishop’s Gate, then turn right, and head toward the Top Courtyard’s Purple Border.

The Purple Border extends along the Northern edge of the Top Courtyard. The Library Wing of the Main House is directly ahead.

The Purple Border extends along the Northern edge of the Top Courtyard. The Library Wing of the Main House is directly ahead.

Vita planted the Purple Border with a clever mix of pinks, blues, lilacs and...yes, purples.

Vita planted the Purple Border with a clever mix of pinks, blues, lilacs and…yes, purples.

FINALLY....it was time for us to climb The Tower. This is The Tower, when the mobs have gone home. As you can see, the lawn in the Top Courtyard is precisely mowed, in a diagonal pattern--to conceal the fact that the Courtyard isn't perfectly rectangular--and in double width, to make a bolder impact, when viewed from above. Image courtesy of The National Trust.

FINALLY….it was time for us to climb The Tower. This is The Tower, when the mobs have gone home. As you can see, the lawn in the Top Courtyard is precisely mowed, in a diagonal pattern–to conceal the fact that the Courtyard isn’t perfectly rectangular–and in double width, to make a bolder impact, when viewed from above. Image courtesy of The National Trust.

Vita Sackville-West, after WWII, on the Tower Steps, with Rollo. Image courtesy of The National Trust.

Vita Sackville-West, after WWII, on the Tower Steps, with Rollo. Image courtesy of The National Trust.

View through the Tower Arch, toward an opening in the Yew Walk. Image courtesy of The National Trust.

View through the Tower Arch, toward an opening in the Yew Walk. Image courtesy of The National Trust.

Vita in her Workroom, in the Tower. The Tower was essentially Vita's domain, from which she could survey all of the Gardens.

Vita in her Workroom, in the Tower. The Tower was essentially Vita’s domain, from which she could survey all of the Gardens.

We're on the roof of The Tower.

We’re on the roof of The Tower.

This sign is displayed on the Tower roof. Harold was underplaying his very considerable role in the making of the Gardens.

This sign is displayed on the Tower roof. Harold was underplaying his very considerable role in the making of the Gardens.

Finally, as the sun grew lower in the sky, and the crowds dispersed, we’d climbed to the roof of the Tower! From on high, Harold Nicolson’s orderly garden-layout revealed itself.

Here are my best photos of Sissinghurst, which I’ve saved for last. Beginning by looking due North, I began to take a series of pictures, moving in a clockwise direction.

Looking North. The White Garden. Just to the right of the high hedge is a Boathouse, which is placed on the Northwest corner of the Orchard, at the end of the Moat.

Looking North. The White Garden. Just to the right of the high hedge is a Boathouse, which is placed on the Northwest corner of the Orchard, at the end of the Moat.

Looking Northeast. The Orchard, with the Gazebo at the farthest corner. The tall, double hedges of the Yew Walk are directly below the Tower.

Looking Northeast. The Orchard, with the Gazebo at the farthest corner. The tall, double hedges of the Yew Walk are directly below the Tower.

Looking East. The Tower Lawn is directly below.

Looking East. The Tower Lawn is directly below.

Looking Southeast. The Orchard, with the South Cottage to the right. The Yew Walk is directly below.

Looking Southeast. The Orchard, with the South Cottage to the right. The Yew Walk is directly below.

Looking further to the Southeast. The South Cottage with the Cottage Garden, and then the Lime Walk.

Looking further to the Southeast. The South Cottage with the Cottage Garden, and then the Lime Walk.

Looking South. The south end of the Tower Lawn is at the base of the Tower. Beyond that are the circular hedges of The Rondel, and then the trees of the Lime Walk.

Looking South. The south end of the Tower Lawn is at the base of the Tower. Beyond that are the circular hedges of The Rondel, and then the trees of the Lime Walk.

Looking Southwest. The western-most end of the Rose Garden, with the southern wing of the Main House, to the right.

Looking Southwest. The western-most end of the Rose Garden, with the southern wing of the Main House, to the right.

Looking further to the Southwest. The Main House, with a view of outbuildings.

Looking further to the Southwest. The Main House, with a view of outbuildings.

Looking West. The inner side of the front range of the Main House, with the Central Entry Arch.

Looking West. The inner side of the front range of the Main House, with the Central Entry Arch.

Looking Northwest. Past the front range of the Main House, which contains the Library at the northern end, is a complex of Oast Houses.

Looking Northwest. Past the front range of the Main House, which contains the Library at the northern end, is a complex of Oast Houses.

Looking further to the Northwest. The Purple Border is directly below. Behind the tall brick wall is the Delos, the wild, woodland garden. To the right of the Delos is the Priest's House. Farther to the left is the Elizabethan Barn.

Looking further to the Northwest. The Purple Border is directly below. Behind the tall brick wall is the Delos, the wild, woodland garden. To the right of the Delos is the Priest’s House. Farther to the left is the Elizabethan Barn.

Amanda and I had completed our Sissinghurst visit, and we exited through the Main House's Archway.

Amanda and I had completed our Sissinghurst visit, and we exited through the Main House’s Archway.

We rejuvenated ourselves with strong tea and sweet scones, and then took a last look at the beautiful countryside...framed by this arch in the Elizabethan Barn.

We rejuvenated ourselves with strong tea and sweet scones, and then took a last look at the beautiful countryside…framed by this arch in the Elizabethan Barn.

This is the image of Sissinghurst I’ll most fondly remember…

My Tower-top view of the Rose Garden's Rondel, taken late in the afternoon, after the crowds had gone away.

My Tower-top view of the Rose Garden’s Rondel, taken late in the afternoon, after the crowds had gone away.

….Harold’s sure-handed geometries hold sway. The late afternoon light becomes golden, and shadows begin to stretch themselves across the carefully-mown checkerboard patterns in the lawns. On the Tower roof then…for me, for a moment…the drowsy hush of her gardens that Vita had so loved had returned.

The private lives of the creators of the gardens at Sissinghurst were complex, to say the least. Hundreds of thousands of words have been spent explaining Vita and Harold’s unusual and fraught…and yet enduring…partnership. If you’re curious about them, the best resource is their son Nigel’s astonishing biography of his parents, “Portrait of a Marriage: Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson.”

Nigel's biography of his parents.

Nigel’s biography of his parents.

With this article, we’ve completed 60 percent of our Kent-adventures.
In Kent-#4 we’ll visit Christopher Lloyd’s anarchic but gorgeous garden at Great Dixter. We’ll walk up cobbled streets in the ancient, coastal town of Rye. We’ll drive across the forlorn expanses of Romney Marsh. We’ll marvel at
Derek Jarman’s anarchic but gorgeous garden on the shingle beach at Dungeness. (Yes…there’s a theme here: next time around we’ll see the creations of two of the Bad Boys of the Gardening World.) And we’ll explore the oldest rooms in Leeds Castle, another moat-encircled jewel.

Derek Jarman's garden at Prospect Cottage, on the shingle beach at Dungeness. This image courtesy of garden designer, Anne Guy.

Derek Jarman’s garden at Prospect Cottage, on the shingle beach at Dungeness. This image courtesy of garden designer, Anne Guy.

Copyright 2014. Nan Quick—Nan Quick’s Diaries for Armchair Travelers.
Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express &
written permission from Nan Quick is strictly prohibited.

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Part Two. Rambling Through the Gardens & Estates of Kent, England

Penshurst Place and Gardens. Tonbridge, Kent, England.  Photo taken on August 5, 2013. The Gardens at Penshurst are of the same age as the original building—over 600 years. This makes them one of Britain’s oldest privately owned gardens. The Sidney family has been in continuous occupation of the house for the last 462 years. In 1554, the most illustrious Sidney of them all was born there—Sir Philip: who became a poet, soldier and courtier

Penshurst Place and Gardens. Tonbridge, Kent, England. Photo taken on August 5, 2013. The Gardens at Penshurst are among Britain’s oldest privately owned gardens. The Sidney family has been in continuous occupation of the house (the main portions dating from 1341) for the last 462 years. In 1554, the most illustrious Sidney of them all was born there: Sir Philip, who became a poet, soldier and courtier

February 2014. Although not by design, some days of my Kent-Garden-Touring also became days of Finding-the-Haunts-of-Famous-Authors. Kent has always been a fertile place: its beautiful landscapes have nurtured the growing of plants, and the assembling of words, in equal measure. Although I won’t officially get to Jane Austen until my fifth in this series of Kent travel diaries, I kept one particular Austen-ian sentence in mind, throughout my entire week in “The Garden of England.” On a Wednesday in 1798 (December 19th, to be exact), Jane Austen penned yet another long and delightfully bitchy letter to her beloved sister Cassandra.Jane’s temporary address was at Godmersham Park—Faversham, in Kent— where she and her parents were enjoying an extended visit with her brother, Edward Knight. [About the difference in their surnames: Edward was Jane’s third eldest brother. In Edward’s teens, he hit the proverbial jackpot when his childless relatives, the very wealthy Catherine and Thomas Knight, took a shine to him and decided to adopt, thus making him their only heir. Ka-chiiinnggg…at least ONE of the Austens needed no longer to squeeze his coins till they bled!]

Godmersham Park, in  Kent. Home of Jane Austen's brother,  Edward  Knight. This building is not open to the public.

Godmersham Park, in Kent. Home of Jane Austen’s brother, Edward
Knight. This building is not open to the public.

Austen’s missive had begun slyly : “My dear Cassandra. Your letter came quite as soon as I expected, and so your letters always do, because I have made it a rule not to expect them till they come….”After several pages of reporting about bonnet trimmings (a black feather was to be replaced by a silk poppy), the weather (Jane had enjoyed a long walk on a crisply cold day), a horse-riding accident (not hers, thank goodness) a forthcoming Ball (“There will be nobody worth dancing with.”), and what sounds very much like Mrs. Austen’s hypochondria (Mother’s unsettled “Bowels, an Asthma,a Dropsy, Water in her Chest, and a Liver Disorder”…all of which smack of the complaints of Mrs. Bennet, in “Pride and Prejudice”), and then of getting down to Really Serious Business—which was Jane’s exhaustive analysis of the financial status of everyone she’d recently met—Austen’s tone relaxed, with these words: “KENT IS THE ONLY PLACE FOR HAPPINESS.” To the traveler who is immersed in the sheer beauty of Kent, to be Un-Happy there would indeed take some doing. But of course, Austen immediately tempered her glowing words: “Everybody is rich there.” Since we know that Jane Austen’s lack of financial resources weighed heavily upon her–for her entire life– this qualification speaks volumes about how difficult it must have been for her to have always been dependent upon the hospitality of wealthy hosts for the Kentish sojourns that she so loved. I’ll have more to say about Jane in forthcoming articles, when Amanda and I stroll through the gardens at Goodnestone Park (which was the home of Edward Knight’s in-laws, the Bridges family… who often entertained Jane Austen), and later on, when Anne and David Guy and I spend a day in Lyme Regis (where Austen often vacationed, and where she set a pivotal scene of PERSUASION).

Goodnestone Park, in Canterbury, Kent. In 1791, Elizabeth, the third daughter of Sir Brook Bridges married Jane Austen’s brother, Edward Knight. Jane Austen was frequently entertained at Goodnestone Park by the Bridges family. I visited the beautiful gardens surrounding the Manor House of August 8, 2013.

Goodnestone Park, in Canterbury, Kent.
In 1791, Elizabeth, the third daughter of Sir Brook Bridges married Jane Austen’s brother, Edward Knight. Jane Austen was frequently entertained at Goodnestone Park by the Bridges family. I visited the beautiful gardens surrounding the Manor House on August 8, 2013.

So, to further demonstrate why Jane Austen Had It Right—that Kent IS indeed a place for happiness—please continue to travel with me and Amanda Hutchinson (Blue Badge Guide, par excellence http://www.southeasttourguides.co.uk ) and Steve Parry (Chauffeur, par excellence http://www.snccars.co.uk ). On that Monday, August 5, 2013, the works of Kent’s gardeners and writers seemed especially and closely bound.

Our destinations on Monday, August 5, 2013

Our destinations on Monday, August 5, 2013

Destination #1: Chartwell, the Family home of Winston Churchill Mapleton Road, Westerham, Kent TN16 1PS Open from early March through October, 11AM to 5PM Telephone: 01732-868381 Website: http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/chartwell/

Chartwell, where Winston and Clementine Churchill lived for over 40 years. Image courtesy of The National Trust.

Chartwell, where Winston and Clementine Churchill lived for over 40 years. Image courtesy of The National Trust.

Our day’s tour began with an Historical Bang: promptly at 10AM, we arrived at Chartwell. HOW on Earth does one summarize the life of a polymath like Winston Churchill? A hybrid-child—the product of a wealthy and footloose American mother and an unhealthy English father who was descended from the Dukes of Marlborough—Churchill was born prematurely: two months before his time. But Winston ultimately became a man exactly FOR his times. As Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, from 1940 to 1945, he was Britain’s inspiring wartime leader; the orator who stiffened the resolve of his countrymen through the sheer power of his words. However, the prime times of every man must always pass: during his second term as Prime Minister, from 1951 to 1955, Churchill unwillingly presided over what he called the “dismemberment” of the British Empire, as the impossibility of continuing the colonial rule of far-off lands was made violently apparent. During his long life (born—1874, died—1965) Churchill was a neglected child, and an indifferent student…and then a challenging husband, and a doting father. He was a wild-eyed war correspondent, a fortunate soldier, and a dominant and wily politician…even though he never escaped the jaws of his “black dog”: the serious depressions that tormented him. As an historian, and author of countless speeches and articles, he wrote at least 10 million words, some of which caused him to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. Winston decompressed from his frantically active life by gardening and bricklaying…and by painting and drinking. When the fame of a man has become as formidable as Churchill’s, we either assume that we know all there IS to know…or we shrug and say that pulling aside the trappings of fame to find the truth about a person is impossible. But, to make a few steps beyond hagiography, there’s nothing so helpful as taking a peek at a public figure’s home. We speculate: without Chartwell’s modestly-appointed rooms, without the orderly gardens, without the mundane concerns of managing the care of his dairy herd, along with Chartwell’s mother sow and her piglets, might Winston Churchill have been less able to temper his wild swings between brilliance and despair? I think the answer is clear: without his retreat in the Kentish hills, Churchill would certainly have been far less functional—and thus less useful— when England’s extreme circumstances demanded his very special skills.

Winston Churchill in 1939. In the background, exterior renovations of Chartwell are underway. Image courtesy of The National Trust.

Winston Churchill in 1939. In the background, renovations are underway. Image courtesy of The National Trust.

Amanda and I had an hour to spare until the House opened, and so began our amble through Chartwell’s extensive gardens. Guidebook in hand, I paused to read its Introduction, written by Mary Soames, the youngest of the four Churchill children. As they did for her father, words also sprang gracefully from Mary’s pen, as she described this House which her father had bought, over the objections of her long-suffering mother! “Chartwell was Winston and Clementine Churchill’s home for 40 years. My father bought it in September 1922, in the week that I, their last child, was born, and until I was 17 it was to be my whole world.” “While Winston and his children loved Chartwell unconditionally, Clementine from the first had serious practical reservations about the whole project. Her prudent Scottish side judged the renovations (involving largely rebuilding the house), and the subsequent cost of running the whole property, would place a near intolerable strain on the Churchills’ somewhat fragile financial raft. She was to be proved right, and over the years her pleasure in the place was seldom unalloyed by anxiety. Clementine, however, never stinted thought or effort in making Chartwell a delightful, comfortable home for her family. My mother imprinted the stamp of her lovely, and always unaffected, taste on both house and garden.” “Winston had been captivated by Chartwell from the moment he set eyes on the valley, protected by the sheltering beech woods (sadly devastated by the 1987 gales), and by the house set on the hillside, commanding sweeping views over the Weald of Kent. The Chart Well, which rises at the top of the property, nourished the existing lake, and Winston saw at once the possibilities it provided for yet another lake, dams, swimming pools and water gardens. In all of these projects over the ensuing years, he himself would play the role of creator and artisan.” “The walls enclosing the vegetable garden (built very largely with his own hands), and the dear little cottage he made for me, bear witness to his skill and assiduity as a brick layer. Chartwell also provided countless scenes—still lifes and interiors—for Winston’s brush. The Studio at the bottom of the orchard was the place (apart from his Study) where he spent the greater number of ‘indoor’ hours.”

Winston Churchill, at home, during the 1930s. Image courtesy of The National Trust.

Winston Churchill, at home, during the 1930s. Image courtesy of The National Trust.

“But if Chartwell was his playground, it was also his ‘factory.’ Throughout the twenties and thirties, in or out of office, Winston Churchill was immersed in politics. The lights in the beamed Study upstairs gleamed late through the night and into the small hours, as, padding up and down the long room, he dictated for hours on end to his secretary the ceaseless stream of speeches and newspaper articles through which he waged his political campaigns. Likewise there flowed from his pen the continuous procession of books which kept his family nourished, and Chartwell from foundering.”

Map of the Grounds at Chartwell.

Map of the Grounds at Chartwell.

On the path from the Visitor Centre to the House, we passed a herd of dairy cows. Visitors enter the property at its northern end.

On the path from the Visitor Centre to the House, we passed a herd of dairy cows. Visitors enter the property at its northern end.

Winston Churchill's favorite outdoor perch: by his Goldfish Pond.

Winston Churchill’s favorite outdoor perch: by his Goldfish Pond.

In the 1930s, Winston painted the scene

In the 1930s, Winston painted the scene. Image courtesy of The National Trust.

We enter Charwell through this Gate, which leads into Lady Churchill's Rose Garden.

We entered Chartwell through this Gate, which leads into Lady Churchill’s Rose Garden.

Once through the Gate and into Lady Churchill's Rose Garden, this was our first view of the House. Four standard wisterias grow where the garden paths meet.

Once through the Gate and into Lady Churchill’s Rose Garden, this was our first view of the House. Four standard wisterias grow where the garden paths meet.

Lady Churchill's Rose Garden is divided into four beds that contain hybrid tea roses.

Lady Churchill’s Rose Garden is divided into four beds that contain hybrid tea roses.

Mixed Borders of plants with pastel blossoms hug the inner perimeters of Lady Churchill's Rose Garden.

Mixed Borders of plants with pastel blossoms hug the inner perimeters of Lady Churchill’s Rose Garden.

Leaving the Rose Garden, we followed a path to a Pergola, which leads to the Marlborough Pavilion.

Leaving the Rose Garden, we followed a path to a Pergola, which leads to the Marlborough Pavilion.

The Marlborough Pavilion was built in the mid 1920s, and decorated in 1949  by Churchill's nephew, John Spencer Churchill. The theme of the decoration is Churchill's greatest ancestor, John Churchill, First Duke of Marlborough.

The Marlborough Pavilion was built in the mid 1920s, and decorated in 1949 by Churchill’s nephew, John Spencer Churchill. The theme of the decoration is Churchill’s greatest ancestor, John Churchill, First Duke of Marlborough.

The frieze around the ceiling evokes the Marlborough wars. One panel shows the defense of the village of Blenheim; the climactic moment of the Duke's most famous victory. The Duke's grand palace in Woodstock, Oxforshire, is named after this battle. Winston Churchill was born at Blenheim Palace...but not by plan. As mentioned, his arrival came a bit ahead of schedule.

The frieze around the ceiling evokes the Marlborough wars. One panel shows the defense of the village of Blenheim; the climactic moment of the Duke’s most famous victory. The Duke’s grand palace in Woodstock, Oxfordshire, is named after this battle. Winston Churchill was born at Blenheim Palace…but not by plan. As mentioned, his arrival came a bit ahead of schedule.

This is just one wing of the enormous Blenheim Palace, in Oxfordshire. As you can see, it's a BIT grander a place than Chartwell is. Winston was born here in 1874. I took this picture during on Sept. 24, 2008...which seems like a million years ago.

This is just one wing of the enormous Blenheim Palace, in Oxfordshire. As you can see, it’s a BIT grander place than Chartwell is. Winston was born here in 1874. I took this picture on Sept. 24, 2008…which seems like a million years ago.

We're back now to the more modest charms of Chartwell. A terra cotta medallion of the First Duke of Marlborough adorns an inner wall of the Marlborough Pavilion.

We’re back now to the more modest charms of Chartwell. A terra cotta medallion of the First Duke of Marlborough adorns an inner wall of the Marlborough Pavilion.

The First Duke's wife, Sarah, keeps him company

The First Duke’s wife, Sarah, keeps him company

On the north wall of the Pavilion are the First Duke's coat of arms, and the family's Spanish motto: "Fiel Pero Desdichado"..."Faithful but Unfortunate." Seeing how things turned out for Marlborough, that motto was IN-Accurate!

On the north wall of the Pavilion are the First Duke’s coat of arms, and the family’s Spanish motto: “Fiel Pero Desdichado”…”Faithful but Unfortunate.” Seeing how things turned out for Marlborough, that motto was IN-Accurate!

Just south of the Pergola and Marlborough Pavilion is the Terrace Lawn. From this lawn one can enjoy the long view south, over the Weald of Kent. Churchill bought the House for this View.

Just south of the Pergola and Marlborough Pavilion is the Terrace Lawn. From this lawn one can enjoy the long view south, over the Weald of Kent. Churchill bought the House for this View.

Below the Terrace Lawn, acres of grass extend down to two lakes and a swan pen. Further afield are broad meadows, and  forests of Chestnut trees.

Below the Terrace Lawn, acres of grass extend down to two lakes and a swan pen. Further afield are broad meadows, and forests of Chestnut trees.

Another lake view. Although the lakes appear natural, they are almost entirely Churchill's creations. By damming a stream, Winston transformed what had been a silted-up bog into two lakes.

Another lake view. Although the lakes appear natural, they are almost entirely Churchill’s creations. By damming a stream, Winston transformed what had been a silted-up bog into two lakes.

The view from the Terrace Lawn, up toward the back of the House. After Churchill bought Chartwell, his architect Philip Tilden built a new wing, which extended out into the garden. The 3 stories of this addition contained a Dining Room on the garden-level basement, a Drawing Room on the ground floor, and a barrel-vaulted bedroom for Clementine on the first floor. Ever-dramatic, Churchill called his addition "my promontory."

The view from the Terrace Lawn, up toward the back of the House. After Churchill bought Chartwell, his architect Philip Tilden built a new wing, which extended out into the garden. The 3 stories of this addition contained a Dining Room on the garden-level basement, a Drawing Room on the ground floor, and a barrel-vaulted bedroom for Clementine on the first floor. Ever-dramatic, Churchill called his addition “my promontory.”

Another view of the back of the House, from the Terrace Lawn.

Another view of the back of the House, from the Terrace Lawn.

A terrace at the juncture of the old and new portions of the House. The arched window is one of the many windows that extend around 3 sides of the Dining Room.

A terrace at the juncture of the old and new portions of the House. The arched window is one of the many windows that extend around 3 sides of the Dining Room.

View from the terrace below the Dining Room, out toward the Studio.

View from the terrace below the Dining Room, out toward the Studio.

View of the rear of the House from the southernmost point on the Terrace Lawn. Clementine planted a Magnolia grandiflora, which has reached a substantial height, against the trellis-work attached to the House.

View of the rear of the House from the southernmost point on the Terrace Lawn. Clementine planted a Magnolia grandiflora, which has reached a substantial height, against the trellis-work attached to the House.

The Butterfly House Walk begins at the southwest corner of the Terrace Lawn, and is lined on the right by a high yew hedge. To the left, the land slopes away to the Orchard. Clementine planted these borders with buddleias to lure the butterflies that Churchill loved to see in the garden. Worried about the decline in Britain's native species, Winston called in a butterfly breeding expert for advice on converting the summer-house at the end of this walk into a place to incubate butterfly larvae.

The Butterfly House Walk begins at the southwest corner of the Terrace Lawn, and is lined on the right by a high yew hedge. To the left, the land slopes away to the Orchard. Clementine planted these borders with buddleias to lure the butterflies that Churchill loved to see in the garden. Worried about the decline in Britain’s native species, Winston called in a butterfly breeding expert for advice on converting the summer-house at the end of this walk into a place to incubate butterfly larvae.

At the end of the Butterfly House Walk is the Croquet Lawn. During the 1930s Clementine's tennis court occupied this space....she was the athlete in the family. After WWII, it became the Croquet Lawn.

At the end of the Butterfly House Walk is the Croquet Lawn. During the 1930s Clementine’s tennis court occupied this space….she was the athlete in the family. After WWII, it became the Croquet Lawn.

Clementine Churchill. Portrait done in 1946, by Douglas Chandor. Image courtesy of The National Trust.

Clementine Churchill. Portrait done in 1946, by Douglas Chandor. Image courtesy of The National Trust.

View from the Butterfly House Walk.

View from the Butterfly House Walk.

Buttressed brick walls enclose the Orchard. A row of Kentish-tile-hung cottages is behind the wall. Clementine referred to these as "her village."

Buttressed brick walls enclose the Orchard. A row of Kentish-tile-hung cottages is behind the wall. Clementine referred to these as her ” village.”

These borders are just uphill from the Kitchen Garden, and the Golden Rose Avenue.

These borders are just uphill from the Kitchen Garden, and the Golden Rose Avenue.

Amanda and I looked down over the precisely-groomed beech hedges that enclose the Golden Rose Avenue. The Avenue was created in 1958 as a golden wedding present to the Churchills from their children.

Amanda and I looked down over the precisely-groomed beech hedges that enclose the Golden Rose Avenue. The Avenue was created in 1958 as a golden wedding present to the Churchills from their children.

We're inside the Golden Rose Avenue, which runs east-west in the garden. The beds contain yellow and gold flowering roses, planted on each side in two parallel rows. Lambs ears and lavender billow out across the paving stones.

We’re inside the Golden Rose Avenue, which runs east-west in the garden. The beds contain yellow and gold flowering roses, planted on each side in two parallel rows. Lambs ears and lavender billow out across the paving stones.

Yellow roses along the Gold Rose Avenue

Yellow roses along the Gold Rose Avenue

Midway along the Golden Rose Avenue is a circular terrace with a sundial. Below the sundial is buried a pet dove that Clementine brought home from a cruise to Bali in 1935. The dove survived for 2 or 3 years at Chartwell. Chartwell's gardens are full of personal touches.

Midway along the Golden Rose Avenue is a circular terrace with a sundial. Below the sundial is buried a pet dove that Clementine brought home from a cruise to Bali in 1935. The dove survived for 2 or 3 years at Chartwell.
Chartwell’s gardens are full of personal touches.

The extensive Kitchen Gardens surround the Golden Rose Avenue

The extensive Kitchen Gardens surround the Golden Rose Avenue

Boots--definitely not Winston's--are recycled as planters for lettuce.

Boots–definitely not Winston’s–are recycled as planters for lettuce.

A clay-pot Scarecrow....not very scary.

A clay-pot Scarecrow….not very scary.

The Edges of the Kitchen Garden

The Edges of the Kitchen Garden

Drifts of flowers for cutting, in the Kitchen Garden

Drifts of flowers for cutting,
in the Kitchen Garden

This wall in the Kitchen Garden was built by Winston, who could lay down 90 bricks an hour. In 1928 he took out a card as an adult apprentice in the Amalgamated Union of Building Trade Workers. Oh...THAT Winston!

This wall in the Kitchen Garden was built by Winston, who could lay down 90 bricks an hour. In 1928 he took out a card as an adult apprentice in the Amalgamated Union of Building Trade Workers. Oh…THAT Winston!

Garden by the Studio

Garden by the Studio

From 1915, painting was Churchill's principal form of relaxation from the stresses of politics. The Studio was built in the 1930s, and became his favorite hideaway.

From 1915, painting was Churchill’s principal form of relaxation from the stresses of politics. The Studio was built in the 1930s, and became his favorite hideaway.

As 11AM opening time approached, we walked around to the Lawn by the front entry of the House. At the core of the present Chartwell are the remains of a substantial 16th century house. Henry VIII is said to have slept here in a room (now gone), while courting Anne Boleyn at Hever Castle. The unusually tall, thin and narrow building was probably designed as a hunting lodge. Over the centuries it grew, in higgledy-piggledy fashion.

As 11AM opening time approached, we walked around to the Lawn by the front entry of the House. At the core of the present Chartwell are the remains of a substantial 16th century house. Henry VIII is said to have slept here in a room (now gone), while courting Anne Boleyn at Hever Castle. The unusually tall, thin and narrow building was probably designed as a hunting lodge. Over the centuries it grew, in higgledy-piggledy fashion.

A majestic tree on the Entrance Lawn

A majestic tree on the Entrance Lawn

The architect Philip Tilden, who oversaw all of Churchill's renovations and additions at Chartwell, found this elegant 18th century wooden doorcase at an antique shop in London.

The architect Philip Tilden, who oversaw all of Churchill’s renovations and additions at Chartwell, found this elegant 18th century wooden doorcase at an antique shop in London.

Detail of wooden doorcase at Front Entry to Chartwell.

Detail of wooden doorcase at Front Entry to Chartwell.

Chartwell: Plans of the House. Visitors are not allowed to take photos of the interiors, which are decorated in a comfy and low-keyed manner. After Winston's death in 1965, Clementine gave the House to The National Trust, with the furnishings of its principal rooms virtually intact. She also bequeathed a collection of about 60 of Winston's own paintings to the Trust. Image courtesy of The National Trust.

Chartwell: Plans of the House. Visitors are not allowed to take photos of the interiors, which are decorated in a comfy and low-keyed manner. After Winston’s death in 1965, Clementine gave the House to The National Trust, with the furnishings of its principal rooms virtually intact. She also bequeathed a collection of about 60 of Winston’s own paintings to the Trust. Image courtesy of The National Trust.

Churchill's first floor Study is the most important room at Chartwell, and is one of the few recognizable, surviving parts of the original house. At first, Churchill slept here in a four-poster bed, but during the 1930s, he used an adjacent room as his bedroom. Image courtesy of The National Trust.

Churchill’s first floor Study is the most important room at Chartwell, and is one of the few recognizable, surviving parts of the original house. At first, Churchill slept here in a four-poster bed, but during the 1930s, he used an adjacent room as his bedroom. Image courtesy of The National Trust.

Churchill's desk, in his Study. Image courtesy of The National Trust.

Churchill’s desk, in his Study. Image courtesy of The National Trust.

Lady Churchill's Bedroom is on the top floor of the 3-storey addition, on the south side of the House. The barrel-vaulted ceiling is painted the same duck egg blue color that coats the walls. Churchill called this room his wife's "magnificent aerial bower." Image courtesy of The National Trust.

Lady Churchill’s Bedroom is on the top floor of the 3-storey addition, on the south side of the House. The barrel-vaulted ceiling is painted the same duck egg blue color that coats the walls. Churchill called this room his wife’s “magnificent aerial bower.” Image courtesy of The National Trust.

I adored the basement-level Dining Room, which has windows on three sides. The sea-grass carpet is woven specially for this space and the room is suffused with the fresh aroma of that grass. This rug is regularly replaced, so as to maintain the clean smell that Winston enjoyed. The vivid glazed chintz covering the chairs is the same pattern--"Arum Lily"--that has always decorated the room.

I adored the basement-level Dining Room, which has windows on three sides. The sea-grass carpet is woven specially for this space and the room is suffused with the fresh aroma of that grass. This rug is regularly replaced, so as to maintain the clean smell that Winston enjoyed. The vivid glazed chintz covering the chairs is the same pattern–”Arum Lily”–that has always decorated the room.

Our house-inspection ended, we exited through the basement level kitchen, onto this south-facing terrace.

Our house-inspection ended, we exited through the basement level kitchen, onto this south-facing terrace.

Plaque, on the kitchen terrace

Plaque, on the kitchen terrace

As we concluded our visit, we passed once again through Lady Churchill's Rose Garden. Our last look at Chartwell was as beautiful as the first had been.

As we concluded our visit, we passed once again through Lady Churchill’s Rose Garden. Our last look at Chartwell was as beautiful as the first had been.

Destination #2: Hever Castle & Gardens Hever, Near Edenbridge, Kent TN8 7NG Open from April through October, Daily, 10:30AM—5PM Telephone: 01732-8652244 Website: http://www.hevercastle.co.uk

Hever Castle, Anne Boleyn's childhood home. A castle has occupied this site since 1270. The current Castle, which is surrounded by a moat, dates from the 15th century. Image courtesy of Hever Castle.

Hever Castle, Anne Boleyn’s childhood home. A castle has occupied this site since 1270. The current Castle, which is surrounded by a moat, dates from the 15th century. Image courtesy of Hever Castle.

Very likely following the same route as did King Henry VIII in 1525, when he rode from Chart Well to Hever Castle, Amanda and Steve and I then made the short journey to the moated dwelling that, during the 15th and 16th centuries, was home to the Bullens (known today as the “Boleyns”), one of the most powerful families in England. I cannot say the words “Anne Boleyn” without feeling a tinge of sadness…which is then followed by a simmer of outrage. For those who know the rhyme, “Divorced, Beheaded, Died. Divorced, Beheaded, Survived,” which helps history buffs remember the fates of Henry VIII’s six wives in their proper order, Anne Boleyn has the gruesome distinction of being the first “Beheaded.”

The six wives of King Henry VIII. Image courtesy of Hever Castle.

The six wives of King Henry VIII. Image courtesy of Hever Castle.

In his incessant and desperate quest for a male heir, Henry consumed women. No lady who fell under Henry’s hungry gaze fared well. The Hever Castle guidebook summarizes Anne Boleyn’s short-and-UN-sweet life this way: “In 1509, eight years after Anne Boleyn’s birth, Henry Tudor, then aged 18, succeeded to the throne of England a Henry VIII. He secretly married Catherine of Aragon, the 24-year-old widow of his elder brother, Arthur. Their marriage produced only one child out of eight pregnancies: a daughter, who became the future Queen Mary I.” “Anne Bullen spent much of her time as a child at Court, pushed forward by her ambitious father, Thomas. At the age of 13 she joined the household of Margaret of Austria in the Netherlands before becoming maid-of-honour to Henry’s sister Mary Tudor, who was to marry King Louis XII. Anne then became maid-of-honour to Queen Claude of France and stayed with her for nearly seven years. It was in France that Anne Bullen became known as Anne Boleyn. There were no set spellings in Tudor times as few people could read or white, so Anne chose to sign herself Boleyn, probably for the more sophisticated sounding French pronunciation.” “In 1522 Anne returned to England, where her sister, Mary, had become mistress to Henry VIII. Anne was by now a sophisticated young woman she found Hever quite dull in comparison. She was soon appointed lady-in-waiting to Queen Catherine, during which time she fell in love with the young Lord Henry Percy.This did not please the King, who had other plans, so she was banished to Hever; lovesick and furious.” “By 1525 King Henry was desperate for a male heir. Bored with his former mistress, Mary, he fixed his attentions on 25-year-old Anne and began to make frequent visits to Hever.” “Anne was striking to look at: intelligent, sophisticated and fashionable. By that time, Henry was 32 years old, over 6 feet tall, handsome, extremely athletic and well educated.”

Henry VIII in his Rampant Prime. Painting by Hans Eworth, after the famous portrait by Hans Holbein. Image courtesy of Chatsworth House.

Henry VIII in his Rampant Prime. Painting by Hans Eworth, after the famous portrait by Hans Holbein. Image courtesy of Chatsworth House.

“Despite a relentless courtship, Anne refused to become his mistress, saying ‘Your wife I cannot be, because you have a Queen already. Your mistress I will not be,’ thus forcing Henry to take action in order to be able to marry her. As a Catholic, Henry had to seek the approval of the Pope to divorce Catherine. Henry was furious when the Roman Catholic Church refused his petition; thwarting his plans. He then announced that his marriage had not been legal in the first place, due to Catherine’s previous marriage to Henry’s brother, Arthur. Declaring himself head of the Church of England, he married Anne in secret and pronounced his marriage to Catherine null and void. Many years of religious upheaval followed his dramatic actions; monasteries were dissolved, English Catholics rose up against the King and prominent men refused to take an oath of allegiance to Henry. Thus, the Reformation was set in motion—all for the love of Anne Boleyn of Hever.” “When the pregnant Anne was crowned Queen in London in June 1533, there were few cheers. Her child, a girl, was born in September and named Elizabeth. Anne went on to miscarry in 1534 and again in 1536 and Henry began to believe that this marriage was cursed and Anne’s lady-in-waiting, Jane Seymour, was moved into new quarters at Henry’s palace. By May 1536 Anne was a prisoner in the Tower of London, accused of incest with her brother, adultery with several gentlemen, witchcraft and treason. She was found guilty and sentenced to death by burning; but her sentence was commuted to beheading.”

Anne Boleyn, before Henry VIII's false charges (I mean, really: incest?? witchcraft???...Anne was too smart to have indulged in either!) deprived her of her head. Image courtesy of Hever Castle.

Anne Boleyn, before Henry VIII’s false charges (I mean, really: incest?? witchcraft???…Anne was too smart to have indulged in either!) deprived her of her head. Image courtesy of Hever Castle.

“Although Anne only reigned for 1000 days and failed to provide Henry with a male heir, it was her daughter, Elizabeth I, who became one of the longest-reigning monarchs that England has ever had.”

Queen Elizabeth I, daughter of Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII, was England's last Tudor monarch. She ruled from 1558--1603, and her reign is generally considered one of the most glorious in English history.

Queen Elizabeth I, daughter of Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII, was England’s last Tudor monarch. She ruled from 1558–1603, and her reign is generally considered one of the most glorious in English history.

No wonder Elizabeth I chose to remain unmarried for all of her 45 years as Queen; she’d learned, in the most brutal manner possible, how deleterious marriage could be to a woman’s well-being. Despite the specter of uxoricide that hangs over Hever Castle, it’s a historically significant spot that all Kent-explorers should visit. Before we embarked on our Castle tour, Amanda and I wandered through the extensive gardens, most of which were constructed in the early 1900s, when the American-born William Waldorf Astor (only son of the financier and philanthropist John Jacob Astor III) purchased Hever, and began pouring vast sums of money into the property, which had fallen into decline.

William Waldorf Astor

William Waldorf Astor

Not content with simply renovating the Castle, Astor attacked his garden-building chores with almost fanatical zeal. 800 men were given the task of digging the 38 acre lake that today’s Visitors to Hever Castle pass as they enter the grounds. 125 acres of classical gardens and natural-looking landscapes were built and planted. A rambling, ersatz Tudor Village, which adjoins the Castle and is incongruously named the “Tudor Wing” was constructed. All of Astor’s additions are so massively over-the-top that they threaten to swallow the Castle, which seems refreshingly tasteful and delicately scaled in comparison. The skies darkened, and the air became dense with moisture. Despite heavy rain in the offing, we stepped lively and began our explorations of William Waldorf Astor’s Gardens.

Plan of Hever Castle & Gardens

Layout of Hever Castle & Gardens

Aerial view of Hever Castle & Gardens. Image courtesy of Hever Castle.

Aerial view of Hever Castle & Gardens. Image courtesy of Hever Castle.

Landing Stage at the east end of the Lake. One of the rowboats is christened "Anne of Cleves," to honor Henry VIII's fourth wife. This Anne can perhaps be considered to be the most fortunate of Henry's spouses; their union was annulled after 6 months because Henry found her, his "Flanders Mare," unappealing. As part of the divorce settlement, she was given Hever Castle. Eventually, Anne of Cleves and Henry enjoyed a platonic friendship: he called her "sister."

Landing Stage at the east end of the Lake. One of the rowboats is christened “Anne of Cleves,” to honor Henry VIII’s fourth wife. This Anne can perhaps be considered to be the most fortunate of Henry’s spouses; their union was annulled after 6 months because Henry found her, his “Flanders Mare,” unappealing. As part of the divorce settlement, she was given Hever Castle. Eventually, Anne of Cleves and Henry enjoyed a platonic friendship: he called her “sister.”

The Nymphs' Fountain, by the Loggia, at the east end of the Lake.

The Nymphs’ Fountain, by the Loggia, at the east end of the Lake.

The Nymphs' Fountain was made in 1908 by W.S.Frith

The Nymphs’ Fountain was made in 1908 by W.S.Frith

The Nymphs have expressive faces.

The Nymphs have expressive faces.

Our view from the Loggia, over the Lake, on a cloudy August morning.

Our view from the Loggia, over the Lake, on a cloudy August morning.

Our view from within the Loggia, across the central green of the Italian Garden

Our view from within the Loggia, across the central green of the Italian Garden

We knew that, when it finally came, the rain would be heavy. Here's a view of the Loggia, from the Lakeside end of the Italian Garden. William Waldorf Astor decorated this Garden with hundreds of ancient statues and urns and miscellaneous ornaments.

We knew that, when it finally came, the rain would be heavy. Here’s a view of the Loggia, from the Lakeside end of the Italian Garden. William Waldorf Astor decorated this Garden with hundreds of ancient statues and urns and miscellaneous ornaments.

A cross-wise path bisects the long green of the Italian Garden

A cross-wise path bisects the long green of the Italian Garden

The Italian Gardens have a collection of enormous earthenware jars...which are my favorites among all the garden decorations.

The Italian Gardens have a collection of enormous earthenware jars…which are my favorites among all the garden decorations.

More Giant, 2000-year-old Urns, in the Italian Garden

More Giant, 2000-year-old Urns, in the Italian Garden

What the Gardens look like, on sunnier days. Image courtesy of Hever Castle.

What the Gardens look like, on sunnier days. Image courtesy of Hever Castle.

The north, inner edge of the Italian Garden is called The Pompeiian Wall. These borders are decorated with garden antiques and bright plantings of annuals.

The north, inner edge of the Italian Garden is called The Pompeiian Wall. These borders are decorated with garden antiques and bright plantings of annuals.

Another vignette along The Pompeiian Wall

Another vignette along The Pompeiian Wall

A Gardener's work is never done: maintaining a small stretch of The Pompeiian Wall borders.

A Gardener’s work is never done: maintaining a small stretch of The Pompeiian Wall borders.

This round terrace is half-way along The Pompeiian Wall

This round terrace is half-way along The Pompeiian Wall

From the round terrace, one can exit the Italian Garden, for a view of the Sixteen Acre Island

From the round terrace, one can exit the Italian Garden, for a view of the Sixteen Acre Island

Detail of marble rings on Urn

Detail of marble rings on Urn

A canal separates the Italian Garden area from the Sixteen Acre Island, where private events are held in elaborate tents.

A canal separates the Italian Garden area from the Sixteen Acre Island, where private events are held in elaborate tents.

Having taken a peek at Sixteen Acre Island, we reentered the Italian Garden

Having taken a peek at Sixteen Acre Island, we reentered the Italian Garden

A Half Moon Pond is at the western end of the Italian Garden

A Half Moon Pond is at the western end of the Italian Garden

We began to work our way down the opposite, long side of the Italian Garden

We began to work our way down the opposite, long side of the Italian Garden

Rustin wooden Loggias extend along the length of the southern side of the Italian Garden

Rustic wooden Loggias extend along the length of the southern side of the Italian Garden

By the wooden Loggias, against the stone wall, are a series of Grottoes

By the wooden Loggias, against the stone wall, are a series of Grottoes

Massive stone arches support the Grotto walls

Massive stone arches support the Grotto walls

Statues in the Grottoes are nearly swallowed up by greenery.

Statues in the Grottoes are nearly swallowed up by greenery.

Fountain-Heads in a Grotto

Fountain-Heads in a Grotto

Borders adjacent to the Italian Garden

Borders adjacent to the Italian Garden

Astor's extensive Rose Gardens are on the southeastern side of the Italian Garden

Astor’s extensive Rose Gardens are on the southeastern side of the Italian Garden

Astor's Rose Gardens contain over 4000 bushes...in a for a penny, in for a pound.

Astor’s Rose Gardens contain over 4000 bushes…in a for a penny, in for a pound.

Perfection

Perfection

Another view of Astor's Rose Garden

Another view of Astor’s Rose Garden

A Rose Garden Satyr

A Rose Garden Satyr

More sunny-day Garden views. Image courtesy of Hever Castle.

More sunny-day Garden views. Image courtesy of Hever Castle.

Finished with our inspections of Astor’s Italian and Rose Gardens, we approached Hever Castle itself. In its 1270 incarnation, Hever was a simple motte-and-bailey castle; a structure built primarily to protect its occupants. A stone keep would have been perched on a raised earthwork (the motte), surrounded by an enclosed courtyard (the bailey), and finally encircled by a ditch.

A typical Motte-and-Bailey Castle

A typical Motte-and-Bailey Castle

During the 15th and 16th centuries, the Bullens transformed Hever Castle into the refined Tudor dwelling that we see today.

The Gardens directly adjacent to Hever Castle. Image courtesy of Hever Castle.

The Gardens directly adjacent to Hever Castle. Image courtesy of Hever Castle.

An outer moat separates the Castle from the pathway that leads to Astor's Italian Gardens

An outer moat separates the Castle from the pathway that leads to Astor’s Italian Gardens

An outer-moat garden, with one of the many swans we saw that morning.

An outer-moat garden, with one of the many swans we saw that morning.

Egad! PEOPLE!!! These were the first "crowds" we'd encountered on our Kent-touring days.

Egad! PEOPLE!!! These were the first “crowds” we’d encountered on our Kent-touring days.

We skirted the edge of the inner moat, as we headed toward the Tudor Garden.

We skirted the edge of the inner moat, as we headed toward the Tudor Garden.

A Giant Topiary Chess Set adorns the Tudor Garden

A Giant Topiary Chess Set adorns the Tudor Garden

Astor installed the Chess Set

Astor installed the Chess Set

A profusion of Ballerina Shrub Roses within the Tudor Garden

A profusion of Ballerina Shrub Roses within the Tudor Garden

View of Hever Castle, from the Tudor Garden

View of Hever Castle, from the Tudor Garden

The outer moat, behind the Tudor Garden

The outer moat, behind the Tudor Garden

Hedge-Arch in the Tudor Garden

Hedge-Arch in the Tudor Garden

Gnarled Wisteria Stem in the Tudor Garden

Gnarled Wisteria Stem in the Tudor Garden

Topiary Fantasies decorate the lawn in front of Hever Castle

Topiary Fantasies decorate the lawn in front of Hever Castle

Another example of How to Have Fun With Hedge Clippers

A closer look at How to Have Fun With Hedge Clippers

Topiary Piglet

Topiary Piglet

Finally, we prepared to enter the Castle itself:

Bridge spanning inner moat

Bridge spanning inner moat

Welcome to Hever Castle

Welcome to Hever Castle

After the Castle Courtyard, interior photo-taking is prohibited.

After the Castle Courtyard, interior photo-taking is prohibited.

Hever Castle, Plan of Ground Floor

Hever Castle, Plan of Ground Floor

The Entrance Hall to Hever Castle. This was added to the Tudor manor house in 1506 by Thomas Bullen, Anne's father. Thomas, First Earl of Wilshire, and later Earl of Ormond, was a gifted linguist and a trusted diplomat. The furnishings that today adorn the space include a 1480 choir stall (on the right), and a 1565 Italian refectory table (on the left). Image courtesy of Hever Castle.

The Entrance Hall to Hever Castle. This was added to the Tudor manor house in 1506 by Thomas Bullen, Anne’s father. Thomas, First Earl of Wiltshire, and later Earl of Ormond, was a gifted linguist and a trusted diplomat. The furnishings that today adorn the space include a 1480 choir stall (on the right), and a 1565 Italian refectory table (on the left). Image courtesy of Hever Castle.

The Inner Hall. The splendor of the reception room that greets visitors to Hever today is a complete contrast to its original use in Tudor times, when this was the Great Kitchen, complete with a large fireplace for cooking and a well for water. Between 1903 and 1908, William Waldorf Astor redid the space with Italian walnut paneling and columns. Image courtesy of Hever Castle.

The Inner Hall. The splendor of the reception room that greets visitors to Hever today is a complete contrast to its original use in Tudor times, when this was the Great Kitchen, complete with a large fireplace for cooking and a well for water. Between 1903 and 1908, William Waldorf Astor redid the space with Italian walnut paneling and columns. Image courtesy of Hever Castle.

The Staircase Gallery is the smaller of two galleries in the Castle and was created in 1506 by Thomas Bullen over the Entrance Hall to give access between the two wings of the house and his newly-built Long Gallery. Image courtesy of Hever Castle.

The Staircase Gallery is the smaller of two galleries in the Castle and was created in 1506 by Thomas Bullen over the Entrance Hall to give access between the two wings of the house and his newly-built Long Gallery. Image courtesy of Hever Castle.

The Long Gallery is more than 98 feet long and runs the entire width of the building. This was added by Thomas Bullen in 1506, and was used for entertaining, displaying art, and taking exercise during inclement weather. The paneling is Elizabethan, and the ceiling is a 16th century style reproduction made for Astor. Tradition says that  Henry VIII held Court in the alcove at the far end of the Long Gallery when he visited Hever Castle. Image courtesy of Hever Castle.

The Long Gallery is more than 98 feet long and runs the entire width of the building. This was added by Thomas Bullen in 1506, and was used for entertaining, displaying art, and taking exercise during inclement weather. The paneling is Elizabethan, and the ceiling is a 16th century style reproduction made for Astor. Tradition says that
Henry VIII held Court in the alcove at the far end of the Long Gallery when he visited Hever Castle. Image courtesy of Hever Castle.

Stained Glass Windows in the Long Gallery. These commemorate the different owners of Hever Castle. Image courtesy of Hever Castle.

Stained Glass Windows in the Long Gallery. These commemorate the different owners of Hever Castle. Image courtesy of Hever Castle.

More Stained Glass Windows in the Long Gallery. Image courtesy of Hever Castle.

More Stained Glass Windows in the Long Gallery. Image courtesy of Hever Castle.

What Hever Castle's moat-side garden probably looks like, right now. Image courtesy of Hever Castle.

What Hever Castle’s moat-side garden probably looks like, right now. Image courtesy of Hever Castle.

Overall, Hever Castle is more a place of historical significance, than a garden of enchantments. To my eyes, William Waldorf Astor’s gargantuan landscaping efforts, while impressive, are hard to love. The outdoor constructions are grandiose but devoid of a unified personality. Astor’s collections of Garden-Caboodle seem random…a disciplined curator’s eye isn’t evident in his hodgepodge of decorative elements. But the Castle itself–modestly-sized and quite cozy, as castles go—still seems as if it could be a Home, and so as I peered out of its windows and down into the water of the moat, and walked through its humanely-scaled rooms, it was easy to imagine that someone REAL named Anne Boleyn had once enjoyed the same views, and trod upon those same creaky floorboards. Just as our Hever-Tour came to a close, the skies finally released the torrent they’d been promising, and so Amanda and I took lunch-time refuge in the Guthrie Pavilion Restaurant (which is adjacent to the Rose Garden), where we enjoyed some very tasty comestibles. Amanda–bless her–made very sure that our intensive touring was fueled by frequent food-stops!

Destination #3: Penshurst Place & Gardens Penshurst Road, Penshurst, Near Tonbridge, Kent TN11 8DG Open from April through October. Daily. 12Noon-4PM Telephone: 01892-870307 Website: http://www.penshurstplace.com

Penshurst Place & Gardens. The House was completed in 1341, and much of it remains in its original state. It was built of local sandstone, in the typical medieval manor style, with two wings joined by a central great hall. A large part of the historic Grade I Listed Garden has survived...just as it was constructed during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. Image courtesy of Penshurst Place.

Penshurst Place & Gardens. The House was completed in 1341, and much of it remains in its original state. It was built of local sandstone, in the typical medieval manor style, with two wings joined by a central great hall. The principal sections of the historic Grade I Listed Garden retain the same shapes as those which were laid out during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. Image courtesy of Penshurst Place.

Think of the times in your life when your heart’s been broken; of the times when your devotion to someone has not been returned. Of life’s miseries, loving while being unloved is one of the greatest woes. Of course, the greatest woe of all comes at the death of a loved one. But unrequited love is right up there on the pain-scale. Now—even if you’re not of a poetic bent—take a moment to read the following sonnet. And read it aloud: poetry is better heard than seen.

SidneyCoatOfArms

Astrophel and Stella, Sonnet 1, by Sir Philip Sidney “Loving in truth, and fain in verse my love to show,
 That she, dear she, might take some pleasure of my pain, 
Pleasure might cause her read, reading might make her know,
 Knowledge might pity win, and pity grace obtain, —
I sought fit words to paint the blackest face of woe,
 Studying inventions fine, her wits to entertain,
 Oft turning others’ leaves, to see if thence would flow
 Some fresh and fruitful showers upon my sunburned brain. 
But words came halting forth, wanting Invention’s stay: 
Invention, Nature’s child, fled step-dame Study’s blows,
 And others’ feet still seemed but strangers in my way.
 Thus great with child to speak, and helpless in my throes,
 Biting my truant pen, beating myself for spite:
 ‘Fool’ said my Muse to me, ‘look in thy heart and write.’ “

SidneyCoatOfArms

Sir Philip Sidney’s Lover’s-Lament-and-Artist’s-Introspection, written in the voice of Astophel, about his beloved Stella, who is married, is a poem that (…pardon my sort-of French) seriously kicks-ass…and on so many levels. I can describe my reaction to Sidney’s work in no other way! So, who was this poet, who is so closely identified with Penshurst Place?

Sir Philip Sidney (1554--1586) was born at Penshurst Place. Image courtesy of Penshurst Place.

Sir Philip Sidney (1554–1586) was born at Penshurst Place. Image courtesy of Penshurst Place.

The Penshurst guidebook explains: “Philip was born at Penshurst Place on 30 November 1554, and named after his godfather Philip II of Spain, husband of the then British monarch Mary I.” [Note: First-born daughter of Henry VIII, by his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. Mary, as Queen, was assigned the adjective “Bloody,” as she restored Roman Catholicism as the official religion of England.] “Intelligent and politically aware, he was to become a brave soldier and patron of the arts. Being a writer himself, he was intent on raising the standards of literature in England.” “Philip was only human—he was said to have a fierce temper and apparently capable of being recklessly extravagant, impetuous and inclined to be difficult. However, as a great figure of the English Renaissance, Sir Philip Sidney, Elizabethan heir to Penshurst Place, and nephew of the Queen’s favourite Robert Dudley, is justifiably praised for his literary work.” “Following his years at Christ Church, Oxford, Philip traveled extensively in Europe, mixing with many of its leading figures, poets and artists. On a later trip overseas, canvassing support for the formation of the Protestant League of Princes to oppose Catholic powers, he was to meet William, Prince of Orange, on whom Philip made a deep impression. He also spent considerable time at Penshurst and at court, waiting on Elizabeth I. Finally he gained the Queen’s reluctant permission to fight for the Protestant cause in the Low Countries, in a rebellion against Spain. In September 1586, on the battlefield at Zutphen, he was hit in the leg by a musket blast. As Philip lay mortally wounded he is said to have ignored his own thirst and passed his water bottle to one of the other soldiers, with the words: ‘Thy necessity is yet greater than mine,’ a phrase which has become immortalized in the English consciousness. In a matter of weeks, in Arnhem in the Netherlands, he had died from his wounds.” “Sir Philip was afforded the honour of a State funeral at St.Paul’s Cathedral, where he is buried. He was the first commoner to receive such a tribute, and it was not repeated until the death of Nelson, and later, Sir Winston Churchill, who had Sidney blood in his veins.”

Sheep Heaven at Penshurst Place. It's impossible for me to NOT get excited, every time I see an English field full of these creatures. At the end of our 5 days of touring, Steve Parry gave me a book titled KNOW YOUR SHEEP. I confess I haven't yet memorized its contents, but someday, when I do indeed Know My Sheep, you'll have to endure a travel article about nothing BUT the many varieties of sheep in England! Image courtesy of Penshurst Place.

Sheep Heaven at Penshurst Place. It’s impossible for me to NOT get excited, every time I see an English field full of these creatures. At the end of our 5 days of touring, Steve Parry gave me a book titled KNOW YOUR SHEEP. I confess I haven’t yet memorized its contents, but someday, when I do indeed Know My Sheep, you’ll have to endure a travel article about nothing BUT the many varieties of sheep in England! Image courtesy of Penshurst Place.

As Amanda led me into the Gardens at Penshurst, I could sense her excitement. For all of the places she’d taken me thus far in Kent, her enthusiasm and knowledge had been great, but as Amanda told me about the Baron’s Hall that we’d soon see at Penshurst, and which the writer John Julius Norwich has described as “one of the grandest rooms in the world,” I understood that Amanda has a special emotional attachment to Penshurst Place. As our time there passed, I began to feel the same affection for the elegant but comfortably understated gardens, and for the ancient House. And it was at Penshurst that Amanda introduced me to “The License to Crenellate” (more about this in a bit). HOW, as an architecture-buff, had I existed, for all my years, without knowing about such a Thing?

Layout of Penshurst Place & Gardens.

Layout of Penshurst Place & Gardens.

We entered the grounds via the Lime Walk, an avenue of large-leaved lime trees (planted with Tilia platyphyllos & Tilia vulgaris)

We entered the grounds via the Lime Walk, an avenue of large-leaved lime trees (planted with Tilia platyphyllos & Tilia vulgaris)

The Porcupine on the Sidney Family Crest is embodied in this large sculpture, which was commissioned to celebrate the millennium, and made by Robert Rattray. The stone base bears a Pheon, or Broad Arrow, which is the Sidney Coat of Arms

The Porcupine on the Sidney Family Crest is embodied in this large sculpture, which was commissioned to celebrate the millennium, and made by Robert Rattray. The stone base bears a Pheon, or Broad Arrow, which is the Sidney Coat of Arms

Detail of the Sidney Coat of Arms' Pheon

Detail of the Sidney Coat of Arms’ Pheon

The Sidney Coat of Arms also finds its way into boxwood hedges, throughout the Gardens.

The Sidney Coat of Arms also finds its way into boxwood hedges, throughout the Gardens.

Lawn walks run around all four sides of the still-invisible Union Flag Garden (which is to the left, behind the hedge). Although the gardens at Penshurst are laid out as grids, of various sizes, it's still easy to become pleasantly lost while exploring wandering from garden "room" to garden "room." One would not anticipate such a four-square layout to yield a constant sense of mystery; it's almost as if the entire Garden is a Maze.

Lawn walks run around all four sides of the still-invisible Union Flag Garden (which is to the left, behind the hedge). Although the gardens at Penshurst are laid out as grids, of various sizes, it’s still easy to become pleasantly lost while wandering from garden “room” to garden “room.” One would not anticipate such a four-square layout to yield a constant sense of mystery; it’s almost as if the entire Garden is a Maze.

We penetrate deeper into the Gardens. A series of yew hedges, which subdivide 11 acres of ground into a series of small garden "rooms," and which total a mile in length, were planted in the 19th century.

We penetrate deeper into the Gardens. A series of yew hedges, which subdivide 11 acres of ground into a series of small garden “rooms,” and which total a mile in length, were planted in the 19th century.

A peek at the picnic grounds, in the fields beyond the Gardens. The estate originally consisted of 4000 acres.

A peek at the picnic grounds, in the fields beyond the Gardens. The estate originally consisted of 4000 acres.

A Pedestrian's view of the Union Flag Garden, which is (obviously) a contemporary addition to the Penshurst landscape. The plantings: Lavandula 'Hidcote Blue' ; white 'Kent' Roses; red 'Chilterns' Roses. This is my least favorite part of the Gardens.

A Pedestrian’s view of the Union Flag Garden, which is (obviously) a contemporary addition to the Penshurst landscape. The plantings: Lavandula ‘Hidcote Blue’ ; white ‘Kent’ Roses; red ‘Chilterns’ Roses. This is my least favorite part of the Gardens.

A Sparrow's-eye view of the Union Flag Garden. Image courtesy of Penshurst Place.

A Sparrow’s-eye view of the Union Flag Garden. Image courtesy of Penshurst Place.

Kent is renowned for its fruit. Here, pears are espaliered against a brick wall.

Kent is renowned for its fruit. Here, pears are espaliered against a brick wall.

A heroic but over-ambitious attempt to create a Topiary Porcupine.

A heroic but over-ambitious attempt to create a Topiary Porcupine. A Porcupine was a symbol of invincibility: porcupines throw spines at their enemies!

A more successful topiary effort: this one a Bear With Ragged Staff, which is the heraldic symbol of the Dudley family. Sir Henry Sidney married Mary Dudley in the 16th century.

A more successful topiary effort: this one a Bear With Ragged Staff, which is the heraldic symbol of the Dudley family. Sir Henry Sidney married Mary Dudley in the 16th century.

An other-worldly and perfectly-pruned corridor of large globes of Irish Yew, and Hedges, with a glimpse of the House.

An other-worldly and perfectly-pruned corridor of large globes of Irish Yew, and Hedges, with a glimpse of the House.

Diana's Bath, which was formed from an Elizabethan Stew Pond. These Tudor pools were stocked with fish, and provided handy, fresh food for the kitchens of great houses.

Diana’s Bath, which was formed from an Elizabethan Stew Pond. These Tudor pools were stocked with fish, and provided handy, fresh food for the kitchens of great houses.

Hedges enclosing Diana's Bath

Hedges enclosing Diana’s Bath. Look carefully at the top of the arch in the hedge. The bottom of the distant gate in the stone wall looks almost like an eye, which is suspended from the arch. I’m sure this marvelous effect was unintended, but it’s wonderful, nonetheless!

Steps down to Diana's Bath. The water jet in the Bath marks the center of the only view that can be had, right through the middle of the Gardens.

Steps down to Diana’s Bath. The water jet in the Bath marks the center of the only view that can be had, right through the middle of the Gardens.

A bench in the Grey & White Garden, crowned with the Sidney Coat of Arms...and a hydrangea corsage.

A bench in the Grey & White Garden, crowned with the Sidney Coat of Arms…and a hydrangea corsage.

The Grey & White Garden is adjacent to Diana's Bath. This area was designed by John Codrington in the 1970s, with a mix of white, grey and silver plants, all of which were chosen for their drought-resistant qualities.

The Grey & White Garden is adjacent to Diana’s Bath. This area was designed by John Codrington in the 1970s, with a mix of white, grey and silver plants, all of which were chosen for their drought-resistant qualities.

A sunnier view of the Grey & White Garden. Image courtesy of Penshurst Place.

A sunnier view of the Grey & White Garden. Image courtesy of Penshurst Place.

The Grey & White Garden's elegant geometry is softened by billowing flowers and foliage.

The Grey & White Garden’s elegant geometry is softened by billowing flowers and foliage.

The Stage Garden, a green amphitheater, is near the Grey & White Garden.

The Stage Garden, a green amphitheater, is near the Grey & White Garden.

The Orchard (which is next to the Stage Garden) is planted with apple trees that are pruned in an umbrella shape, for optimum cropping and picking. In Springtime, thousands of daffodils and other bulbs bloom beneath the trees. Sir Henry Sidney's son, Sir Robert, established the Orchard, where peaches and apricots were grown, along with apples.

The Orchard (which is next to the Stage Garden) is planted with apple trees that are pruned in an umbrella shape, for optimum cropping and picking. In Springtime, thousands of daffodils and other bulbs bloom beneath the trees. Sir Henry Sidney’s son, Sir Robert, established the Orchard, where peaches and apricots were grown, along with apples.

Prime Magnolia-bloom time was past by August, but this one blossom held on, in the nearby Magnolia Garden.

Prime Magnolia-bloom time was past by August, but this one blossom held on, in the nearby Magnolia Garden.

Green Columns along the perimeter of the Magnolia Garden

Green Columns along the perimeter of the Magnolia Garden

The Jubilee Walk was added to the gardens in 2012, and designed by George Carter, a RHS Chelsea Flower Show Gold Medallist. The Walk is 236 feet long, and planted as a double herbaceous border, with each of the five bays planted in a dominant color, the sequence moving from red through orange, yellow, and pink to blue.

The Jubilee Walk was added to the gardens in 2012, and designed by George Carter, a RHS Chelsea Flower Show Gold Medallist. The Walk is 236 feet long, and planted as a double herbaceous border, with each of the five bays planted in a dominant color, the sequence moving from red through orange, yellow, and pink to blue.

Another look at The Jubilee Walk. Image courtesy of Penshurst Place

Another look at The Jubilee Walk. Image courtesy of Penshurst Place

The Heraldic Garden abuts The Jubilee Walk. The Heraldic Garden's edge beds are partitioned by box hedges containing sage and lavender. The painted poles, always the focus of heraldic gardens, are topped with various beasts...all symbols of the Sidney family.

The Heraldic Garden abuts The Jubilee Walk. The Heraldic Garden’s edged beds are partitioned by box hedges containing sage and lavender. The painted poles, always the focus of heraldic gardens, are topped with various beasts…all symbols of the Sidney family.

Another view of The Heraldic Garden

Another view of The Heraldic Garden

Serene swathes of green flank the Heraldic Garden

Serene swathes of green flank the Heraldic Garden

By August, the blossoms in the Lanning Roper Border had faded, but the view of the spire of the church of St. John the Baptist was magical.

By August, the blossoms in the Lanning Roper Border had faded, but the view of the spire of the church of St. John the Baptist was magical.

From the Rose Garden: a different view of the church of St. John the Baptist. In 1744, thousands of Dutch box roses were planted here.

From the Rose Garden: a different view of the church of St. John the Baptist. In 1744, thousands of Dutch box roses were planted here.

Another view of the Rose Garden, with church to the left, and the House to the right.

Another view of the Rose Garden, with church to the left, and the House to the right.

We're looking down the Long Border. The Jubilee Walk begins at the Garden Gate in the wall that contains the Long Border. Beyond the hedgerows the Orchard can be seen.

We’re looking down the Long Border. The Jubilee Walk begins at the Garden Gate in the wall that contains the Long Border. Beyond the hedgerows the Orchard can be seen.

Detail of Paving on the Long Border

Detail of Paving on the Long Border

View from the base of The Jubilee Walk, from the main Garden Gate

View from the base of The Jubilee Walk, from the main Garden Gate

Our first view of the Italian Garden, or Parterre Garden, and the south face of the House. Sir Henry Sidney built the Italian Garden in the 1560s.

Our first view of the Italian Garden, or Parterre Garden, and the south face of the House. Sir Henry Sidney built the Italian Garden in the 1560s.

The fountain at the center of the Italian Garden. The statue is of a young Hercules, and was moved to Penshurst from Leicester House, in London. The gabled roofs of similarly-named Leicester Square, which include a 14th century Guildhouse, are visible to the left, behind the high wall.

The fountain at the center of the Italian Garden. The statue is of a young Hercules, and was moved to Penshurst from Leicester House, in London. The gabled roofs of similarly-named Leicester Square, which includes a 14th century Guildhouse, are visible to the left, behind the high wall.

The Italian Garden, as seen from the highest floor of the House. Image courtesy of Penshurst Place.

The Italian Garden, as seen from the highest floor of the House. Image courtesy of Penshurst Place.

A portion of the much-crenellated House, as seen from the Italian Garden.

A portion of the much-crenellated House, as seen from the Italian Garden.

OK now…time for a bit of Crenellation-Explanation. In medieval England, before a homeowner could add crenellations to his roof line…

Crenellation

Crenellation

…his King (or a County ruler) had to grant him permission to fortify his battlements with crenellations. This granting of a Licence to Crenellate wasn’t done to raise money for the King. Rather, crenellations were conferred upon those knights, nobles, wealthy commoners, and clergymen whom the King thought worthy of his approval. Thus, crenellations became more the architectural symbols of high social status than the actual, defensive features of a building. The House at Penshurst was built in 1341 by Sir John de Pulteney, one of the wealthiest men in England…due to his being a moneylender to King Edward III. By the late 1330s, the Crown was up to its eyeballs in debt to de Pulteney, and so I imagine that Sir John’s request to crenellate was granted with great speed; even a king understands that it’s wise to keep one’s creditors happy! But Penshurst’s crenellation wasn’t always simply cosmetic. In 1401, Sir John Devereux, who’d inherited the estate through marriage, was so alarmed by his memories of the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381 that he ordered the construction of an actually EFFECTIVE wall to enclose his entire House. The Manor was barricaded behind a high series of crenellated curtain walls and turrets, with a total length of 1310 feet. All that’s left today of that defensive wall is the Garden Tower, which serves as entry-point to the House.

The full expanse of the south side of the Manor House, as seen from the Italian Garden. The Garden Tower is to the far right in this photo. Image courtesy of Penshurst Place.

The full expanse of the south side of the Manor House, as seen from the Italian Garden. The Garden Tower is to the far right in this photo. Image courtesy of Penshurst Place.

The Paved Garden hugs a corner of the House. The small pool is filled with water hawthorne, and the terrace is shaded by a mature Acer palmatum.

The Paved Garden hugs a corner of the House. The small pool is filled with water hawthorne, and the terrace is shaded by a mature Acer palmatum.

Another view of the Paved Garden

Another view of the Paved Garden

We climbed steps to the South Lawn, for a higher view of the Italian Garden. Water shortages were afflicting Kent in August, as the parched lawns indicate.

We climbed steps to the South Lawn, for a higher view of the Italian Garden. Water shortages were afflicting Kent in August, as the parched lawns indicate.

A view across the Italian Garden, from the South Lawn

A view across the Italian Garden, from the South Lawn

The Blue & Yellow Border runs along the length of the South Lawn. The Garden Tower looms...

The Blue & Yellow Border runs along the length of the South Lawn. The Garden Tower looms…

As we prepared the enter the House, we admired its ancient sandstone walls. They've worn VERY well, haven't they?

As we prepared the enter the House, we admired its ancient sandstone walls. They’ve worn VERY well, haven’t they?

The Dudley's heraldic symbol of a Bear With Ragged Staff is carved into stone, high on a wall.

The Dudley’s heraldic symbol of a Bear With Ragged Staff is carved into stone, high on a wall.

Main Entry to House

Main Entry to House

In we go! Once inside, photo-taking is...per usual...prohibited.

In we go! Once inside, photo-taking is…per usual…prohibited.

Well, WELL! Now within the cavernous Baron's Hall, I understood what all the fuss was about! Image courtesy of Penshurst Place.

Well, WELL! Now within the cavernous Baron’s Hall, I understood what all the fuss was about! Image courtesy of Penshurst Place.

Even on that warm, August afternoon, the air inside the Baron’s Hall was chilly, and I pulled on my sweater. Here’s what the Penshurst guidebook has to say about the space: “The Baron’s Hall is the very heart of Penshurst Place. Belonging to the original part of the house, the Hall was completed in 1341 by the owner Sir John de Pulteney. It measures 62 feet long by 39 feet wide and soars 60 feet high. The architect chose chestnut for the roof design, as it is stronger and lighter than the usual oak. Crown posts rest on collar beams, held in place by huge arched supports, with ten life-size wooden figures hanging down, believed to be satirical representations of peasants and workers at the manor. The tall, arcaded windows reach almost to the floor, flooding the hall with light. Traces of the original 14th century glass can be seen in the top row window above the Minstrels’ Gallery; the Gallery itself was added later in the 16h century. At the dais end of the Hall, the original windows have been blocked by later additions to the house. In the centre of the floor, which was originally earth strewn with rushes, is a unique octagonal hearth. From here, smoke from the fire escaped through a vent in the roof.”

A closer look at the Minstrels' Gallery in the Baron's Hall. Image courtesy of Penshurst Place.

A closer look at the Minstrels’ Gallery in the Baron’s Hall. Image courtesy of Penshurst Place.

From the Baron’s Hall, we proceeded up a series of stairways, to de Pulteney’s West Solar—which is now the State Dining Room.

The Solar, or The State Dining Room. Image courtesy of Penshurst Place.

The Solar, or The State Dining Room. Image courtesy of Penshurst Place.

To continue the Guidebook’s history lesson: “The Solar [now the State Dining Room] was the withdrawing room of the medieval house. There is a little window—a squint—opposite the fireplace, useful for keeping an eye on what was happening in the Baron’s Hall below. Originally the room would have been lit from three sides rather than one—the reveals on the wall facing the entrance door and the archway at the far end show where the original windows would have been. The fireplace is the 14th century original, albeit with a surround and hood from the mid 19th century after refurbishment. The fine dinner service with the Royal Coat of Arms was given to Philip Sidney and Sophia FitzClarence by her father, later King William IV, on the occasion of their marriage.”

The Queen Elizabeth Room. Image courtesy of Penshurst Place.

The Queen Elizabeth Room. Image courtesy of Penshurst Place.

And more from the handy Guidebook: The Queen Elizabeth Room, “and the next, the Tapestry Room, are the first additions to the original house made by the Duke of Bedford, who lived here in the early 15th century. It was built as one large room, a first-floor hall or Great Chamber much like the Baron’s Hall downstairs. Sir Henry Sidney had the room divided in two and also halved the height by the installation of the present ceiling and the building of another set of rooms above. Queen Elizabeth I would have used it to give audiences on one of her many visits. The set of daybed, winged armchair, and six high-backed chairs with their original rose damask and green silk embroidery, have matching hangings. These date from the late 17th century and are a particularly luxurious, and indeed unique, survival from the period. The harpsichord, formerly owned by Queen Christina of Sweden, was purchased by the then owner of Penshurst Place, William Perry, in the 18th century.”

Detail of a 16th century Tournai Tapesty in the Tapestry Room. Image courtesy of Penshurst Place.

Detail of a 16th century Tournai Tapesty in the Tapestry Room. Image courtesy of Penshurst Place.

The Long Gallery. Image courtesy of Penshurst Place.

The Long Gallery. Image courtesy of Penshurst Place.

We wrap up our House tour with the Guidebook’s description of the spectacular Long Gallery: “The wing that includes the Long Gallery was started in 1599 and built by Sir Robert Sidney and his wife Barbara Gamage. Long galleries were very fashionable at the time and were used for taking exercise and showing off portraits, tapestries and furniture. It is unusual in being lit by windows on three sides. The fine paneling is original-—painted dark brown in the 19th century and then bleached as it was stripped. The paintings are arranged to illustrate the history of the house and of the family during the first two centuries after Sir William Sidney came to Penshurst in 1552. Over the door, as you enter the room, hangs a portrait of King Edward VI, who gifted Penshurst Place to the Sidney family in 1552. The costumes on display are from the film adaptation of Philippa Gregory’s historical novel THE OTHER BOLEYN GIRL, filmed at Penshurst.”

Another Dudley family Bear With Ragged Staff, this one carved atop a doorway.

Another Dudley family Bear With Ragged Staff, this one carved atop a doorway.

All these symbols of Bears brandishing tree trunks puzzled me, so I did a bit of heraldic-research. Upon the death of our Poet, Sir Philip Sidney, ownership of Penshurst went to his brother, Sir Robert Sidney, who was also heir to two Dudley family uncles, the Earls of Warwick, and Leicester. The Bear and Ragged Staff is a heraldic sign, normally referring to Richard Neville, the Earl of Warwick (1428—1471) who was known as the “King-Maker.” Bear-baiting was considered manly sport… and apparently the First Earl slew a bear by strangling it. But the Second Earl went one better: he brained a bear with a ragged staff—a young tree that had been stripped of its branches—and so chose this delightful memento of his boldness and courage as the Dudley family’s Symbol. A final, delicious, it’s-a-Totally-Small-World note about Penshurst Place. Just as Anne of Cleves was granted Hever Castle as part of her divorce settlement with Henry VIII, so too was she given Penshurst Place. Anne of Cleves was a VERY-finely-propertied former Queen…and one upon whom Fortune ultimately smiled, as she managed to outlive Henry’s other wives. We should all enjoy such lucrative divorces as the “Flanders Mare’s!” Eventually, Henry VIII’s son, King Edward VI, chose to bestow Penshurst upon his valued tutor and household steward, Sir William Sidney, and thus began the Sidney family’s ownership of Penshurst, which still continues, as Philip Sidney, 2nd Viscount De L’Isle, Her Majesty’s Lord-Lieutenant for the County of Kent (what a mouthful!) lovingly cares for his house and gardens. The present-day Philip Sidney tends his treasure with reverence, but his role isn’t merely custodial, as is evidenced by his many, inspired additions across the grounds. My photographs of Penshurst’s predominately-green gardens cannot convey the sense of peace that my wanderings there gave me. And the awe that I felt, as I stood on the cold paving stones of the floor in the Baron’s Hall and gazed up at the 674-year-old chestnut roof trusses—which, miraculously, haven’t succumbed to fire, as so many ancient, wooden roofs do—was beyond description. Yes, sometimes even I, who can chatter on and on, am struck dumb by the magnificence of England’s cultural heritage!

Destination #4: Groombridge Place Groombridge Hill Groombridge, Near Tunbridge Wells Kent TN3 9QG Open April through October. Daily, 9:30AM—4PM Phone: 01892-861444 Website: http://www.groombridgeplace.com

The moated, 17th century Manor House at Groombridge Place. Image courtesy of The Danewood Press Ltd.

The moated, 17th century Manor House at Groombridge Place. Image courtesy of The Danewood Press Ltd.

After all of Monday’s Historical Gravitas—what with our visits to the homes of Winston Churchill, and Anne Boleyn, and Sir Philip Sidney—the day’s final destination sounded like it would be quite….ORDINARY! How spoiled I’d already become, that I could consider the merely-350-year-old Groombridge Place, where nobody in particular apart from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had lingered, to be Ordinary! Sigh….clearly, the glories of Kent had sent me a bit off my rocker. God knows how much three MORE days of Kent-touring would skew my perceptions. But I’m a huge Sherlock Holmes fan (during the summer of 2010, I reread all of Conan Doyle’s Sherlock-stories), and so as Amanda explained that Conan Doyle set scenes from THE VALLEY OF FEAR at a manor house based upon Groombridge, my traveler’s eyes started to become UN-jaded. Ever since 1239, a moated house of some sort or other has been on the site of the present manor at Groombridge Place. Today’s visitors look across the moat at the house that was built in 1662 by architect Philip Packer, with input from his young friend, Christopher Wren (who would eventually become THAT Christopher Wren). Amanda had brought me to see the gardens, the oldest parts of which have the same vintage as Packer’s house (the house isn’t open to tourists, and looks as though it’s been suffering from neglect). Directed by the noted horticulturalist John Evelyn, Philip Packer laid out the Grand Allee of 12 pairs of drum yews that we see today, the expanse of grass that’s now called Draughtsman Lawn, the White Rose Garden, and the Secret Garden.

John Evelyn (1620--1706) : Garden Designer, Diarist, and Man-About-Town.

John Evelyn (1620–1706) : Garden Designer, Diarist, and Man-About-Town.

Map of the grounds at Groombridge Place

Map of the grounds at Groombridge Place

We began our garden ramble with a stop at the little Arthur Conan Doyle Museum that’s been erected on the grounds. Conan Doyle lived in nearby Crowborough (which is just over the border, in East Sussex), and sometime before 1914 became friends with Groombridge Place’s sisters Louisa and Eliza Saint, who shared his loopy convictions about fairies and spiritualism. The Sainted-Sisters often invited Conan Doyle to their séances, and Conan Doyle swore he’d seen—and spoken to—a ghost, who hovered alongside the Groombridge moat.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859--1930): creator of Sherlock Holmes...and a believer in fairies and ghosts.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859–1930): creator of Sherlock Holmes…and a believer in fairies and ghosts.

Arthur Conan Doyle was a frequent visitor to Groombridge Place

Arthur Conan Doyle was a frequent visitor to Groombridge Place

The Arthur Conan Doyle Museum at Groombridge Place

The Arthur Conan Doyle Museum at Groombridge Place

No...we're not in London.

No…we’re not in London.

Sidney Paget's illustration of Doctor Watson and Sherlock Holmes

Sidney Paget’s illustration of Doctor Watson and Sherlock Holmes

THE VALLEY OF FEAR was first published in THE STRAND MAGAZINE in 1914

THE VALLEY OF FEAR was first published in THE STRAND MAGAZINE in 1914

Arthur Conan Doyle used Groombridge Place as the setting for THE VALLEY OF FEAR, but renamed the house Birlstone Manor

Arthur Conan Doyle used Groombridge Place as the setting for THE VALLEY OF FEAR, but renamed the house Birlstone Manor

Dr.Watson....in Groombridge Place's Drunken Garden (and yes..."Drunken Garden" is an Official Gardening Term.

Dr.Watson….in Groombridge Place’s Drunken Garden (and yes…”Drunken Garden” is an Official Gardening Term).

The Drunken Garden, at Groombridge Place

The Drunken Garden, at Groombridge Place

As Especially Tipsy Topiary, in The Drunken Garden

An Especially Tipsy Topiary, in The Drunken Garden

A glimpse of the House, from within the Drunken Garden, where even the spouting water seems a bit off-kilter.

A glimpse of the House, from within the Drunken Garden, where even the spouting water seems a bit off-kilter.

The Narrow Path that separates the Drunken Garden from the Oriental Garden. The House is in the distance.

The Narrow Path that separates the Drunken Garden from the Oriental Garden. The House is in the distance.

Lichen-covered stone, of a garden wall's buttress.

Lichen-covered stone, of a garden wall’s buttress.

The Oriental Garden is centered upon a pool, with an unusual grass fountain.

The Oriental Garden is centered upon a pool, with an unusual grass fountain.

The Cottages adjacent to the Oriental Garden offer excellent examples of Kentish tile-hung walls. This method of covering the exteriors of timber-framed houses first appeared in the late 17th century. The tiles are hung on oak laths, with the upper part of each tile bedded into a lime and hair mortar known as "torching." The laths are hung overlapping to give a triple lap, which results in a weathertight wall.

The Cottages adjacent to the Oriental Garden offer excellent examples of Kentish tile-hung walls. This method of covering the exteriors of timber-framed houses first appeared in the late 17th century. The tiles are hung on oak laths, with the upper part of each tile bedded into a lime and hair mortar known as “torching.” The laths are hung overlapping to give a triple lap, which results in a weathertight wall.

We look down over the upper reaches of Draughtsman Lawn, and then further toward the 12 pair of ancient drum yews.

We look down over the upper reaches of Draughtsman Lawn, and then further toward the 12 pair of ancient drum yews.

As we approach Draughtsman Lawn, I’m reminded that Peter Greenaway’s 1982 film THE DRAUGHTSMAN’S CONTRACT was filmed entirely at Groombridge Place. The film’s premise: an artist is hired to make 12 drawings of the grounds at a manor house. The lady of the house, who cannot afford the artist’s services, insists, however, that the artist MUST find a way to for her to pay for his work. Of course, the contract that’s eventually agreed upon involves both the lady of the house and her daughter: they’ll provide their sexual services, in exchange for the artist’s drawings. And of course, there’s a surprise twist at the end.

Scene from the film THE DRAUGHTSMAN'S CONTRACT, after one of the 12 "payments" has been made to the Artist. Image courtesy of Peter Greenaway.

Scene from the film THE DRAUGHTSMAN’S CONTRACT, after one of the 12 “payments” has been made to the Artist. Image courtesy of Peter Greenaway.

I’ve just watched the movie, and, although it’s not a stunning piece of drama, it does pose interesting questions about the difference between SEEING things, as opposed to KNOWING things. But because Greenaway filmed in the most painterly fashion imaginable, watching his little manor-house-mystery gave me great pleasure. Every scene is composed and lit with an artist’s eye, so if you want to experience the gardens at Groombridge without an Atlantic flight, all you need to do is order the film from Amazon.com.

Scene from the film THE DRAUGHTSMAN'S CONTRACT. The Artist is set up, on the same Draughtsman Lawn that Amanda and I walked across. Image courtesy of Peter Greenaway.

Scene from the film THE DRAUGHTSMAN’S CONTRACT. The Artist is set up, on the same Draughtsman Lawn that Amanda and I walked across. Image courtesy of Peter Greenaway.

Scene from the film THE DRAUGHTSMAN'S CONTRACT, with actors on the Draughtsman Lawn. Image courtesy of Peter Greenaway.

Scene from the film THE DRAUGHTSMAN’S CONTRACT, with actors on the Draughtsman Lawn. Image courtesy of Peter Greenaway.

Draughtsman Lawn, in Reality, on August 5, 2013.

Draughtsman Lawn, in Reality, on August 5, 2013.

Scene from the film THE DRAUGHTSMAN'S CONTRACT. The Artist has set up this frame, to help with his perspective drawing. Image courtesy of Peter Greenaway.

Scene from the film THE DRAUGHTSMAN’S CONTRACT. The Artist has set up this frame, to help with his perspective drawing. Image courtesy of Peter Greenaway.

Scene from the film THE DRAUGHTSMAN'S CONTRACT. This is the drawing of the Yew Allee that the Artist produced for his client. Image courtesy of Peter Greenaway.

Scene from the film THE DRAUGHTSMAN’S CONTRACT. This is the drawing of the Yew Allee that the Artist produced for his client. Image courtesy of Peter Greenaway.

The Reality of the Grand Yew Allee. This time, we're looking toward the House. Picture taken on August 5, 2013.

The Reality of the Grand Yew Allee. This time, we’re looking toward the House. Picture taken on August 5, 2013.

We're looking down into the White Rose Garden, with the Statue of Flora.

We’re looking down into the White Rose Garden, with the Statue of Flora.

Urn on the balustrade of the White Rose Garden

Urn on the balustrade of the White Rose Garden

Our first look at the Knot Garden

Our first look at the Knot Garden

The Knot Garden, which is between the inner and outer moats. The House is encircled by the much wider inner moat.

The Knot Garden, which is between the inner and outer moats. The House is encircled by the much wider inner moat.

Another view of the Knot Garden

Another view of the Knot Garden

View from the Knot Garden, up toward the Grand Yew Allee

View from the Knot Garden, up toward the Grand Yew Allee

The Secret Garden

The Secret Garden

Wall detail in the Secret Garden

Wall detail in the Secret Garden

Topiary Buttresses along Paradise Walk

Topiary Buttresses along Paradise Walk

Statue on Paradise Walk

Statue on Paradise Walk

Front Bridge across Moat

Front Bridge across Moat

Side Bridge across Moat

Side Bridge across Moat

Scene from the film THE DRAUGHTSMAN'S CONTRACT, with actors on the Side Bridge. Image courtesy of Peter Greenaway.

Scene from the film THE DRAUGHTSMAN’S CONTRACT, with actors on the Side Bridge. Image courtesy of Peter Greenaway.

View of the House, over the Side Bridge

View of the House, over the Side Bridge

View from the Front Bridge, to the House

View from the Front Bridge, to the House

Scene from the film THE DRAUGHTSMAN'S CONTRACT. In the front court, an al fresco dinner, lit only by candles. Image courtesy of Peter Greenaway.

Scene from the film THE DRAUGHTSMAN’S CONTRACT. In the front court, an al fresco dinner, lit only by candles. Image courtesy of Peter Greenaway.

Front Gate Post

Front Gate Post

Front Gate Alcove

Front Gate Alcove

View of Gardens, from the Front Bridge

View of Gardens, from the Front Bridge

View across Front Moat

View across Front Moat

I wouldn't dare to swim in this water, but this is apparently where Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's ghost-acquaintance liked to hang out.

I wouldn’t dare to swim in this water, but this is apparently where Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s ghost-acquaintance liked to hang out.

My final look at the forlorn but charming Manor House, at Groombridge Place...but it DOES look a bit haunted, doesn't it?

My final look at the forlorn but charming Manor House, at Groombridge Place…but it DOES look a bit haunted, doesn’t it?

Having reached the end of our second day of Power-Touring-Through-Kent, I was more certain than ever that Jane Austen hadn’t misled anyone. “The Garden of England” may not be the ONLY place for happiness, but, in terms of density-of-marvels-per-square-mile, and judging from Kent’s ability to inspire its residents to concoct all sorts of wonders—gardens, and castles, and poems, and histories, and stories, and films— I’d say that there are few other spots on Earth where so many treasures are so closely packed. Get some rest now, because Kent-Part-Three is in the works. We’ll visit a tiny country church, with stained glass windows by Marc Chagall. We’ll get a fast tutorial in hops farming from Steve Parry. We’ll explore Scotney Castle, which seems to be a fairytale, made real. We’ll delight in the eccentric collection of garden sculpture at Pashley Manor. And we’ll elbow our way past the tour-bus crowds, and climb the Tower at Sissinghurst.

Sissinghurst. Image courtesy of The National Trust.

Sissinghurst. Image courtesy of The National Trust.

Copyright 2014. Nan Quick—Nan Quick’s Diaries for Armchair Travelers. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express & written permission from Nan Quick is strictly prohibited.

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Rambling Through the Gardens & Estates of Kent, England. Part One.

Titsey Place House & Gardens, which is is Surrey, just a hop and skip over the western border between Kent and Surrey. Titsey is one of the largest surviving historic estates in Surrey, dating back to the mid-16th century. The Main House has a long view across the Darent Valley, which extends to the beginnings of the South Downs. Photo taken on Sunday afternoon, August 4, 2013.

Titsey Place House & Gardens, which is is Surrey, just a hop and skip over the western border between Kent and Surrey. Titsey is one of the largest surviving historic estates in Surrey, dating back to the mid-16th century. The Main House has a long view across the Darent Valley, which extends to the beginnings of the South Downs. Photo taken on Sunday afternoon, August 4, 2013.

January 2014. As we in Northeastern America endure our most violently cold winter of the past 40 years, I’m finding it therapeutic to begin considering my August 2013 perambulations through Kent, the southeastern-most peninsula in England which is often—and accurately– called “The Garden of England.”

I’d never been to Kent, and so it had behooved me to find myself a Leader. After a bit of pre-trip web-sleuthing, I’d engaged Blue Badge Guide Amanda Hutchinson to take me on an intensive, five-day trek. My mandate was simple: show me the best, most significant estates and gardens in southeastern England. Since Amanda’s areas of expertise (gardens, architecture, history, literature and geology) match my areas of curiosity, I gave her carte blanche to devise our itinerary. I long ago learned to trust my gut about people, and after a few emails with Amanda, my gut told me I should defer to her. My trust was rewarded…and beyond my wildest hopes. Here now, my recollections about how Amanda, and our superb chauffeur Steve Parry (who, as the days progressed, became an esteemed co-guide) led me down back roads, across broad valleys, up wooded hills, and along rocky beaches in southeastern England.

Because we’ve an enormous amount of ground to cover, I’ll try to be fleet of foot as I retrace the paths of our daily expeditions. Each of my five days of touring will be covered in a separate Armchair Traveler’s Diary. These Summer-time Diaries will be mostly picture albums and—I hope— sensual and warming balms for your Winter-Chapped- Selves. I’ll try to curtail my pontificating: there are simply too many sights now to reveal. This coming June, after I’ve made a return visit to Kent—and when Amanda and Steve will once again shepherd me—I’ll publish articles which will delve into Kent’s cities and grand cathedrals (Canterbury, and Rochester) and history (England’s southeastern peninsula has ever been the favored entry-point for invaders: Julius Caesar, in 55-54 B.C.; William of Normandy in 1066, at the Battle of Hastings …but the locals laugh, snort, and deride him as William the VISITOR; the Luftwaffe were engaged in combat by English pilots during the Battle of Britain, which was fought largely in the skies over Kent during the summer and autumn of 1940.) .

I’d chosen The Spa Hotel, in Royal Tunbridge Wells (which sits on the western edge of Kent, adjacent to the counties of Surrey, and East Sussex) as home base for my Kentish-week. Frequent Readers have probably observed that my method of traveling is (ahem) rather intense. No matter how wonderful the places that I visit are, or how pleasant my companions may be, during each hour when I’m on the road I’m listening, questioning, looking, map-studying, thinking, note-taking, hiking, and picture-taking. Such intensity means that, by day’s end, I can do nothing more than devour a healthy supper, unwind with a hot tub-bath, and then collapse into a comfortable bed. The Spa Hotel quite handily took care of my food-bath-sleep requirements. Simple, elegant plates of their chef’s salmon and veggies nourished me each evening. The bathtub in my suite was almost deep enough to drown in. And the hotel’s parkland location was so tranquil that I was able to leave my room’s windows open throughout the nights while I soundly slept. (But…a necessary qualification: The Spa Hotel is a major venue for weekend-weddings, which invariably result in some noise from joyful, tipsy guests. If you’re not a night-owl, be sure to AVOID staying at the Hotel on Saturday and Sunday nights.) The Spa Hotel. Mount Ephraim. Royal Tunbridge Wells. Kent TN4 8XJ. England. http://www.spahotel.co.uk

The front of The Spa Hotel. My suite was in the bay, on the second floor, to the right of the front entry portico.

The front of The Spa Hotel. My suite was in the bay, on the second floor, to the right of the front entry portico.

The rear elevation of The Spa Hotel, which looks out over many acres of private parkland.

The rear elevation of The Spa Hotel, which looks out over many acres of private parkland.

The Spa Hotel's private parklands.

The Spa Hotel’s private parklands.

View of distant hills, from .The Spa Hotel's parklands

View of distant hills, from The Spa Hotel’s parklands

My quiet and comfy room at The Spa Hotel.

My quiet and comfy room at The Spa Hotel.

August 4, 2013. Early on Sunday morning, I instantly liked the touring-companions who collected me at my Hotel. Allow me to introduce Blue Badge Guide, Amanda Hutchinson ( Certified Guide for South East England,
& for all of London http://www.southeasttourguides.co.uk) :

Guide Extraordinaire: Amanda Hutchinson, by Winston Churchill's koi-pond, at Chartwell, on August 5, 2013.

Guide Extraordinaire: Amanda Hutchinson, by Winston Churchill’s koi-pond, at Chartwell, on August 5, 2013.

…and Expert Driver, Steve Parry ( http://www.snccars.co.uk ) :

Driver Extraordinaire: Steve Parry, with his trusty Mercedes, at the edge of a Hops farm, on August 7, 2013. More about Steve and Hops-farming in a future article!

Driver Extraordinaire: Steve Parry, with his trusty Mercedes, at the edge of a Hops farm, on August 7, 2013. More about Steve and Hops-farming in a future article!

Our destinations on Sunday, August 4, 2013

Our destinations on Sunday, August 4, 2013

As Steve drove us toward our first destination, Amanda explained that, although the day’s excursion would be not long in miles, the time-frame for the gardens and estates we’d visit would be vast, ranging from ancient, to brand-spanking new. Parts of Ightham Mote date back to the early 1300’s; Titsey Place was established in the mid-16th century; the Gardens at Great Comp were begun in 1957; and the Lullingstone World Garden was planted in 2005. In a single day, I’d be able to see the fruits of 700 years of English-place-making! Not a bad beginning for my Total-Kent-Immersion.

Destination #1: Ightham Mote. Mote Road, Ivy Hatch, Sevenoaks, Kent TN15 0NT
Open from Mid-March through December, 11 AM to 5PM

Telephone: 01732-810378
Website: http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/ightham-mote

A Dove's-eye view of the inner courtyard at Ightham Mote. Image courtesy of The National Trust

A Dove’s-eye view of the inner courtyard at Ightham Mote. Image courtesy of The National Trust

Our first stop that Sunday was a tongue-twister :“Ightham” is pronounced “ITEM.” After Amanda had schooled me in pronunciation, we began our walk down a steep path, toward the moated House and Gardens, which have been owned by Medieval knights, courtiers to Henry VIII, high-society Victorians, and, finally, a millionaire bachelor from Portland, Maine (who, in 1985, bequeathed his home to The National Trust). The National Trust, which can always be depended upon to publish first-rate guides to their properties, summarizes Ightham Mote as: “one of the oldest and loveliest of medieval manor houses to survive in England. It has stood for over 650 years, immune to tempest, war and riot. It was never grand. There is a feeling of self-sufficiency about it. It fits together solidly and discreetly within the confines of its moat. Its hidden site at the foot of a wooded cleft of the Greensand Ridge in the Kentish Weald must have made it almost unapproachable in winter before the lane surfaces were hardened. One of the legends that clings to the place is that Cromwell’s soldiers, intent on looting it, lost their way in the tangled countryside, and ransacked another house of lesser interest instead.”

Map of the Grounds at Ightham Mote

Map of the Grounds at Ightham Mote

We approach Ightham Mote

We approach Ightham Mote

The northeast end of the East Front, with its early 16th century gable

The northeast end of the East Front, with its early 16th century gable

Per the National Trust: “The East Front is the most complex of the 4 fronts: constructed and reconstructed at many periods. To the far left of the front is a group of 7 early 17th century chimneys. Then comes a range of half-timbered walling, partly jettied out on stone foundations, with much patching. The window nearest the water is that of the 14th century Crypt, and above it are mullioned windows of different periods arranged haphazardly. Gables of different shapes and dates extend the staggered roofline, leading to the corner, which is surmounted by an early 16th century gable.”

The North Front

The North Front

“The North Front is more regular than its eastern neighbor, because much of it was constructed all of one piece in about 1480. At the far end an 18th century Venetian window was inserted, a little incongruously, to light the Drawing Room.”

Sunken Lawn, opposite North Front of House

Sunken Lawn, opposite North Front of House

On the West Front, “we have the most formal face of the Mote, as befits its main entrance. With its central Gatehouse tower, it has a closed and castellated appearance, as if it had never been altered since first constructed in the Middle Ages. In fact its history is complicated. The lower part of the tower is thought to have been built in 1330-40, at the same time as the Great Hall….but the nail-studded oak door at the far end of the bridge cannot be dated on stylistic grounds earlier than 1520, and the first floor windows of armorial glass dated in the early 16th century. The turret top is late 19th century, and the gilt weathercock was erected in the 1960s. The stone walls to south of the tower probably originated in the late 1480s.”

The Gatehouse Tower and West Front

The Gatehouse Tower and West Front

“The South Front of the main house was built in the late 15th or early 16th century to complete the closure of the courtyard on all four sides. It is the most photographed of them all, because it looks the most genuine, when in fact its attractiveness is partly due to a 20th century fake. The upper storey was built with a smooth rendering of plaster covering the timber frame-work. The remodelers evidently considered its appearance too bleak, and about 1904 attached the upright Elizabethan timbers or studding, which had no structural purpose whatever.”

The South Front

The South Front

The National Trust explains that: “this country-house landscape has provided the backdrop, setting, food and raw materials for life at Ightham Mote over seven centuries. As with the House, 700 years of history have left their mark on the landscape, to which changes in the status of the owners, garden fashion, agricultural methods, and the needs of wood and timber supply have all contributed. The earliest surviving estate map was prepared in 1692.”

The Lake separates the manicured gardens that surround the House from the woodlands. The huge, leafed plants at waters-edge are Gunnera Manicata...VERY Jurassic Park!

The Lake separates the manicured gardens that surround the House from the woodlands. The huge, leafed plants at waters-edge are Gunnera Manicata…VERY Jurassic Park!

The raised Broad Walk, on the west side of the Sunken Lawn

The raised Broad Walk, on the west side of the Sunken Lawn

Border along the raised Broad Walk

Border along the raised Broad Walk

Ancient Brick Wall, behind Broad Walk Border

Ancient Brick Wall, behind Broad Walk Border

Exuberant Plantings along the Broad Walk

Exuberant Plantings along the Broad Walk

This Formal Garden, by the West Front of the House, leads to the Orchard, and to the Walled Cuttings--or Kitchen--Garden.

This Formal Garden, by the West Front of the House, leads to the Orchard, and to the Walled Cuttings–or Kitchen–Garden.

Another view of the Formal Garden

Another view of the Formal Garden

The Walled Cuttings--or Kitchen--Garden, with the Cottages in the background.

The Walled Cuttings–or Kitchen–Garden, with the Cottages in the background.

Sweet Peas bloom in the Walled Cuttings Garden

Sweet Peas bloom in the Walled Cuttings Garden

Amanda strolls in the Cuttings Garden, as the fragrances of Sweet Peas and Lavender mingle.

Amanda strolls in the Cuttings Garden, as the fragrances of Sweet Peas and Lavender mingle.

Espaliered fruit trees are interplanted in the Cuttings Garden

Espaliered fruit trees are interplanted in the Cuttings Garden

Ancient Steps in the Cuttings Garden

Ancient Steps in the Cuttings Garden

The Lawn opposite the West Side of the House

The Lawn opposite the West Side of the House

Per The National Trust: “Well clear of the moat is an attractive range of half-timbered cottages, whose timbers have now dated them to about 1475. These buildings once formed a complete outer courtyard, primarily for stabling, and were converted into staff quarters in Victorian times. The whole range, currently five cottages, now consists of staff cottages, private lets and a holiday cottage.”

Detail of The Cottages

Detail of The Cottages

Garden Wall, near The Cottages

Garden Wall, near The Cottages

The Walled, Pool Garden, adjacent to The Cottages

The Walled, Pool Garden, adjacent to The Cottages

Fountain in the Walled, Pool Garden

Fountain in the Walled, Pool Garden

View toward the Main House, from the Walled Pool Garden

View toward the Main House, from the Walled Pool Garden

Diagram of the development of the Main House at Ightham Mote. Image courtesy of The National Trust.

Diagram of the development of the Main House at Ightham Mote. Image courtesy of The National Trust.

Bridge over moat, by Gatehouse Tower

Bridge over moat, by Gatehouse Tower

We cross the Gatehouse Tower Moat

We cross the Gatehouse Tower Moat

The Moat, seen from the Gatehouse Tower Bridge

The Moat, seen from the Gatehouse Tower Bridge

Entry tunnel to the Courtyard, from the Gatehouse Tower Bridge

Entry tunnel to the Courtyard, from the Gatehouse Tower Bridge

In the cobblestoned Courtyard, a well-head is used as a base for decorative topiaries. The large kennel, built in 1891
for Dido, the Colyer-Fergussons’ St.Bernard dog, is the only Grade One dog kennel in England!

Where Dido lived

Where Dido lived

The House Clock, in the Courtyard

The House Clock, in the Courtyard

Another view of the Courtyard

Another view of the Courtyard

Detail of wall in Courtyard. The red tiles are Kentish Peg Tiles, which are commonly used in place of shingles throughout Kent. This was the first of many Tile-Hung-Walls I saw that week.

Detail of wall in Courtyard. The red tiles are Kentish Peg Tiles, which are commonly used in place of shingles throughout Kent. This was the first of many Tile-Hung-Walls I saw that week.

Plan of Main House, at Ightham Mote. Image courtesy of The National Trust.

Plan of Main House, at Ightham Mote. Image courtesy of The National Trust.

View through window, from upstairs in the Main House

View through window, from upstairs in the Main House

The Great Hall. This room was built in the 1330s and still forms the heart of the House. The roof, rising 11.3 metres above the floor, is the original. Image courtesy of The National Trust.

The Great Hall. This room was built in the 1330s and still forms the heart of the House. The roof, rising 11.3 metres above the floor, is the original. Image courtesy of The National Trust.

The New Chapel was added in 1470-80. It was not intended as a chapel, but seems originally to have been a grand guest chamber. The room was probably consecrated as a chapel in 1633. Image courtesy of The National Trust.

The New Chapel was added in 1470-80. It was not intended as a chapel, but seems originally to have been a grand guest chamber. The room was probably consecrated as a chapel in 1633. Image courtesy of The National Trust.

The early 16th century Painted Ceiling of the New Chapel is decorated to honor the Rich and Powerful of the Land: with the Tudor red rose, the Beaufort portcullis of Henry VIII's grandmother, and the castle of Castille for his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. Image courtesy of The National Trust.

The early 16th century Painted Ceiling of the New Chapel is decorated to honor the Rich and Powerful of the Land: with the Tudor red rose, the Beaufort portcullis of Henry VIII’s grandmother, and the castle of Castille for his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. Image courtesy of The National Trust.

Back out into the Courtyard after our House Tour, we admired this Sweet Pea Trellis

Back out into the Courtyard after our House Tour, we admired this Morning Glory Trellis

Masonry wall detail, in Courtyard

Masonry wall detail, in Courtyard

We pass the Courtyard's North Exit. The Sunken Lawn is in the distance.

We pass the Courtyard’s North Exit. The Sunken Lawn is in the distance.

We leave the Courtyard, and head outside over the West Bridge. The Cottages are in the distance.

We leave the Courtyard, and head outside over the West Bridge. The Cottages are in the distance.

The South Front Moat

The South Front Moat

The Kitchen Chimneys, on the East Front

The Kitchen Chimneys, on the East Front

As we climbed the path back to the parking lot, and to Steve, we passed this impenetrable hedge of Holly. Amanda enlightened me about Holly Hedges. Gardeners everywhere: ALWAYS plant hedges of Holly to repel Witches…because witches will spoil the milk!

Witches HATE Holly Hedges!

Witches HATE Holly Hedges!

And so, having edified me with this tidbit of gardening lore, Amanda directed us toward our next stop…to a true Plantsman’s Paradise: to Great Comp.

Destination #2: Great Comp Garden
& Dyson’s Nurseries
Comp Lane, Platt – Borough Green
Sevenoaks, Kent TN15 8QS
Open from early April to late October, 11AM to 5PM

Telephone: 01732-885094
Website: http://www.greatcompgarden.co.uk

In 1957, when Roderick Cameron and his wife Joy moved into the early 17th century house named Great Comp [Note: As we arrived, Amanda exclaimed “Nan, this is a VERY modern house”… which is yet another reminder of how differently British and Americans gauge modernity.], they also took possession of the bones of a formerly-good garden. Mrs. Heron Maxwell, who’d occupied the estate for fifty years—until the day when she expired while scavenging for gentians in Switzerland (what a way to go!!!)—had been a Dynamo.

She died for a Gentian Blossom.....

She died for a Gentian Blossom…..

Mrs. Maxwell sang in the Bach Choir; established a women’s center at her home (with Cricket! Hockey! Spinning! Weaving! Beekeeping! Pottery! & Gardening!); ran a flower shop in London; marched as a Suffragette; was a great friend of Vita Sackville-West. But the 4 and a half acres of gardens that she left behind her had been worn threadbare by time (and probably also by too many cricket bats and hockey sticks) and so Cameron and Joy—utter babes in the woods, horticulturally speaking—began to weave an entirely new garden into the fabric of the mature trees and hawthorne hedges that had been the centerpieces of Mrs. Maxwell’s landscape. In Great Comp’s seven acres (over the years, Cameron acquired more land), today’s Visitor experiences a garden that feels unstudied, eccentric and utterly personal…it’s almost as if Mr.Cameron, who died in 2009 at the impressive age of 91, might toddle around the next corner, trowel in hand.

The venerable Roderick Cameron, at 91...who kept gardening until the Very End.

The venerable Roderick Cameron, at 91…who kept gardening until the Very End.

Brick walls and terraces, paths paved with bathroom tiles, and “Ruins” made of tons and TONS of ironstone, and then gussied up with bits of pottery and architectural fragments, impose height and humor (yes…humor…you’ll see…) and structure upon the grounds; most of these were built by Roderick and Joy themselves. I imagine them working side-by-side, eternally digging foundations, and stirring up batches of mortar. The Camerons’ constructions feel unstudied but are graceful, and serve as backdrops for the more than 2500 varieties of plants that the industrious couple set into the soil. In the most densely-packed portions of Great Comp, it’s easy to forget that the luxuriant drifts of perennials, long borders of annuals, mounds of heathers, precisely-pruned coniferous shrubs, profusions of azaleas and rhododendrons and magnolias, and great clouds of be-tasseled grasses haven’t looked this way forever. Despite the great care and forethought of the Camerons, everything about their placement of paths, ornaments, and plantings at Great Comp feels intuitive; one never senses a place that sprang exclusively from graph paper and tape measure. Instead, as with all things which have come into being as labors-of-love, there’s a frisson of the creators’ excitement, still lingering.

Plan of Great Comp Garden

Plan of Great Comp Garden

Upon Cameron’s death, his long-time assistant William Dyson became Curator of The Great Comp Charitable Trust. In addition to overseeing the Garden, Dyson runs his own on-site nursery, which specializes in Salvias, and also carries hardy and half-hardy plants. For British garden lovers, the goings-on at Great Comp continue to be newsworthy. Just this January 9th, THE TELEGRAPH reported about the aftermath of the latest bout of severe wind and flooding in Kent:

“At Great Comp in Kent, the curator William Dyson has lost six huge conifers. Two of them crushed treasures that include a prized witch hazel and a magnolia. He is also mourning four large specimen trees, including a mature Mexican weeping pine (Pinus patula). ‘Compared to the 200 trees we lost in 1987, it’s nothing,’ he says. He’s still upbeat, despite six days without electricity over Christmas. In fact, he’s grateful that the mild weather allowed his beloved salvias to survive without any heating, otherwise it would have been a disaster for the nursery. It’s the sandy soil at Great Comp that makes it difficult for plants to develop deep roots. There are often losses but, on the bright side, it dries out quickly.”

Join me now, and enjoy this record of our meanderings through the Camerons’ gardens, as they were last August, before this Winter’s Weather-Insults arrived.

The front of the House, seen from the Top Terrace, which the Camerons planted in 1970.

The front of the House, seen from the Top Terrace, which the Camerons planted in 1970.

Approaching the House, from the walk below the Top Terrace. The Leyland Cypress on the left was cut in half by a windstorm in 1970, but still has considerable height.

Approaching the House, from the walk below the Top Terrace. The Leyland Cypress on the left was cut in half by a windstorm in 1970, but still has considerable height.

As we entered the Garden, we were engulfed by tall grasses, blooming lavender, and majestic agapanthus.

As we entered the Garden, we were engulfed by tall grasses, blooming lavender, and majestic agapanthus.

I have Serious Agapanthus-Envy

I have Serious Agapanthus-Envy

Bathroom Tiles are re-purposed, as Paving on a path

Bathroom Tiles are re-purposed, as Paving on a path

A Lavender Walk leads us to the Nursery Tables, where gorgeous plants are for sale.

A Lavender Walk leads us to the Nursery Tables, where gorgeous plants are for sale.

Scarlet Dahlias jostle for a foothold in the Grasses Garden

Scarlet Dahlias jostle for a foothold in the Grasses Garden

Woodland paths radiate from behind the Doulton Urn, which was the first garden ornament that Joy Cameron bought. The yew tree (Taxus baccata) on the right is over 150 years old.

Woodland paths radiate from behind the Doulton Urn, which was the first garden ornament that Joy Cameron bought. The yew tree (Taxus baccata) on the right is over 150 years old.

We come upon the first of many Ruins. All of the ironstone in the Garden was dug on-site.

We come upon the first of many Ruins. All of the ironstone in the Garden was dug on-site.

More Ruins

More Ruins

There's always a place in the Garden to sit one's self down.

There’s always a place in the Garden to sit one’s self down.

What someone with muscles can do, with a ton or two of ironstone, and a bit of rebar....

What someone with muscles can do, with a ton or two of ironstone, and a bit of rebar….

Many-layered ruins, with luxuriant plantings

Many-layered ruins, with luxuriant plantings

One man's abandoned heraldic shield is another man's garden-treasure

One man’s abandoned heraldic shield is another man’s garden-treasure

The Camerons clearly had a lot of fun...and got alot of exercise... making their Ruins

The Camerons clearly had a lot of fun…and got alot of exercise… making their Ruins

Towering Columns of Ironstone, and a miniature Kirk Hill War Memorial, as recycled by the Camerons

Towering Columns of Ironstone, and a miniature Kirk Hill War Memorial, as recycled by the Camerons

Window Fragments top a wall...

Window Fragments top a wall…

...and provide the perfect perch for a Butterfly.

…and provide the perfect perch for a Butterfly.

Faux Bois, and a Garden Sprite, mortared into a Ruin Wall

Faux Bois, and a Garden Sprite, mortared into a Ruin Wall

The only piece of figurative statuary that I saw in the Garden

The only piece of figurative statuary that I saw in the Garden

The Best Bench in the Garden

The Best Bench in the Garden

We leave the Ruins-Section of the Garden. This is the straight path, by Pope's Urn

We leave the Ruins-Section of the Garden. This is the straight path, by Pope’s Urn

We're on the Crescent Lawn, which is at the base of the Tower, which the Camerons began building in 1976.

We’re on the Crescent Lawn, which is at the base of the Tower, which the Camerons began building in 1976.

The Tower...more a Lookout, than an actual tower.

The Tower…more a Lookout, than an actual tower.

Tower Steps

Tower Steps

View, from atop the Tower

View, from atop the Tower

View from atop the Tower, over Crescent Lawn, toward the back of the House

View from atop the Tower, over Crescent Lawn, toward the back of the House

Gorgeous Borders, at base of the Tower

Gorgeous Borders, at base of the Tower

Borders below the Tower

Borders below the Tower

Tasseled Grasses, below the Tower

Tasseled Grasses, below the Tower

The Crescent Lawn below the Tower

The Crescent Lawn below the Tower

View from the Crescent Lawn: a majestic California Redwood (Sequoia sempervirens 'Cantab'...which originated in the Cambridge Botanic Garden) seems to dwarf the House.

View from the Crescent Lawn: a majestic California Redwood (Sequoia sempervirens ‘Cantab’…which originated in the Cambridge Botanic Garden) seems to dwarf the House.

We're heading toward the very back of the Garden. The billowing Smoke Trees make this one of the loveliest spots at Great Comp.

We’re heading toward the very back of the Garden. The billowing Smoke Trees make this one of the loveliest spots at Great Comp.

Precisely-clipped Conifers in the rear portion of the Garden

Precisely-clipped Conifers in the rear portion of the Garden

We approach the Italian Garden

The Italian Garden

Inside the Italian Garden, which the Camerons began in 1995. The Corinthian Column is a hybrid of Chilstone and Haddenstone.

Inside the Italian Garden, which the Camerons began in 1995. The Corinthian Column is a hybrid of Chilstone and Haddenstone.

Fountain in the Italian Garden

Fountain in the Italian Garden

Dense plantings in the Italian Garden

Dense plantings in the Italian Garden

A grumpy emperor on the Italian Garden wall

A grumpy emperor on the Italian Garden wall

We leave the Italian Garden

We leave the Italian Garden

Woodlands behind the Italian Garden. The two acres on the eastern edge of the garden were purchased in 1962.

Woodlands behind the Italian Garden. The two acres on the eastern edge of the garden were purchased in 1962.

The Temple is in the farthest reaches of the eastern woodlands of the Garden.

The Temple is in the farthest reaches of the eastern woodlands of the Garden.

Having become quite peckish, we start thinking about Lunch, and point ourselves toward the Old Dairy Tearooms.

Having become quite peckish, we start thinking about Lunch, and point ourselves toward the Old Dairy Tearooms.

After their Herculean Labors, Joy and Roderick now rest peacefully, in the Memorial Garden, near the Tearoom.

After their Herculean Labors, Joy and Roderick now rest peacefully, in the Memorial Garden, near the Tearoom.

We enjoyed a very tasty meal, in the Tearoom. The Camerons built the Tea Terrace in 1970.

We enjoyed a very tasty meal, in the Tearoom. The Camerons built the Tea Terrace in 1970. Image courtesy of Great Comp Garden.

All the Tearoom pots and cups are different.

All the Tearoom pots and cups are different. Image courtesy of Great Comp Garden.

Halfway down the Memorial Garden Walk, this Moon Gate frames a view of the Square Walled Garden, which was built in 1840.

Halfway down the Memorial Garden Walk, this Moon Gate frames a view of the Square Walled Garden, which was built in 1840.

Standing dead-center on the Lawn of the Square Walled Garden, we look toward the Crescent Lawn, at the base of the Tower.

Standing dead-center on the Lawn of the Square Walled Garden, we look toward the Crescent Lawn, at the base of the Tower.

From the center of the Square Walled Garden's Lawn, we look back through the Moon Gate. This Square contains the main herbaceous border, and the annual borders.

From the center of the Square Walled Garden’s Lawn, we look back through the Moon Gate. This Square contains the main herbaceous border, and the annual borders. The peculiar-looking, cone-shaped roof in the background is an Oast—or a hop-drying kiln—about which MUCH more in a future Kent-article!

Hot Colors, on the Long Border in the Square Walled Garden

Hot Colors, on the Long Border in the Square Walled Garden

The Impeccable Plantsmanship at Great Comp Garden.

The Impeccable Plantsmanship at Great Comp Garden.

When Amanda and I had returned to the car and to Steve, he remarked of Great Comp: “It’s a touchy-feely garden, isn’t it?” Steve and his wife often visit Kent’s gardens, and so he knows a thing or two about what’s growing in the neighborhood. Remembering how I’d been stooping to inhale the scents of flowers and herbs, and stretching to fondle the foliage of choice trees and shrubs, I had to agree. As Steve drove us to the next garden on Amanda’s List, I thought back to the many gardens I’ve been fortunate enough to visit. I realized that, when I’m in a formal garden, I unthinkingly go into Museum-Visiting-Mode, which means “Hands Off!” How nice, instead, that the easy elegance of Great Comp invites touching and sniffing!

After each of our stops, Steve and Amanda would confer about the most direct route to the next garden. Invariably, their combined knowledge overrode the Mercedes’ GPS, and so each of our little commutes became an entertainment unto itself as we sped along twisty Kentish back-roads that seemed hardly broader than cow paths.

The Kentish road were were on was even narrower than this English lane

The Kentish road we were on was even narrower than this English lane

Our Sunday drive between Great Comp and Lullingstone Castle and The World Garden was especially memorable. A couple of miles down a barely-single-lane-wide road, Steve zipped around a 45 degree bend and was met by the front grille of an enormous fire truck…a truck so wide that its side-mounted-ladders forced the high hedges on each side of the road to bend outwards. In such instances, Might clearly makes Right. Without batting an eye, Steve began backing up his car …and he did it speedily, for nearly a mile, all the while looking into his rear view mirror; he didn’t deign to turn his head to look over his shoulder as he reversed around the sharp curves. The firemen followed close upon us, and applauded Steve’s dexterous efforts to remove us from their path. Perhaps it’s just that I’m Easily Entertained…but watching a superb driver do a bit of Showing Off is Very Fun! [Note: once I complete my Kentish articles, and proceed to the English Midlands, I’ll introduce you to Roger Aldridge (another adept driver) and his vintage MG racing cars.]

Destination #3: Lullingstone Castle & The World Garden
Eynsford, Kent DA4 0JA
Open between April and September,
on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, Noon to 5PM

Telephone: 01322-862114 (leave a message)
Website: http://www.lullingstonecastle.co.uk

Imagine this: You’ve been tromping through the rainforest on the border between Panama and Columbia…minding your own business, foraging for plant specimens, as is your wont. The wild orchids you’ve found have been exquisite. Suddenly, you’re set upon by AK-47 brandishing bandits, who, after bickering amongst themselves about whether to shoot you today or tomorrow, come to an uneasy compromise: they’ll keep you prisoner while they determine your value as a hostage. For the next nine months, while the likelihood of execution grows and your health dwindles, you send your mind to a better place. You begin to dream of making a garden…a HUGE garden, one whose beds will be formed into the shapes of the continents. And in each of those Continent-Beds….in Asia, and Australia, and America, and the Rest….only plants indigenous to those places will be rooted. And this Little World of yours will be built in England, at Lullingstone Castle, on the grounds of your beloved, ancestral home.

Sparrow's-eye view of Lullingstone Castle. The Manor house was built in 1497, with a new west-facing front erected in the early 18th century. The Church  of St.Botolph stands on flint walls that were built in the early 14th century. The Lake is fed by the River Darent. Image courtesy of Lullingstone Castle.

Sparrow’s-eye view of Lullingstone Castle. The Manor house was built in 1497, with a new west-facing front erected in the early 18th century. The Church of St.Botolph stands on flint walls that were built in the early 14th century. The Lake is fed by the River Darent. Image courtesy of Lullingstone Castle.

From Tom Hart Dyke’s loopy and life-affirming daydreaming, which helped him to remain sane as he dealt with the terrifying fix that he and his plant-scavenging friend Paul Winder found themselves in during most of 2000, The World Garden sprang. Following their release, Tom retreated to Lullingstone Castle to rest and mend, and, once healed, he wrote “The Cloud Garden,” a book about his ordeal. Late in 2004, the physical work of preparing the infrastructure of Tom’s World Garden commenced, and planting began in the Spring of 2005.

Tom Hart Dyke at the Moon Gate Entrance to The World Garden

Tom Hart Dyke at the Moon Gate Entrance to The World Garden

Per the Lullingstone Castle guidebook: “Did you know that almost 80% of the plants commonly grown in British gardens are not native to these islands? The World Garden of Plants celebrates the achievements of plant hunters who traveled the world, quite often risking life and limb, searching for the plants and flowers which we now cherish and grow in our gardens. The aim of The World Garden is to show where these plants originate from and to tell some of the amazing stories surrounding their discovery, collection and introduction.”

“The World Garden is contained within the 500-year-old brick walls of Lullingstone’s two-acre walled garden. At different times over the past five centuries this garden has been used to grow peaches, vegetables for the table, cut flowers for decorating the House and Church, as an orchard, for growing mulberry trees for Lullingstone’s silk industry, and as an herb garden. When complete, the whole World Garden will contain 10,000 different plants, many of which have been collected as seed by Tom on his travels around the globe.”

Unless you’re hang-gliding, the shapes of the various Continent-Beds in Tom’s garden aren’t apparent. At ground-level, one only knows “where” one is because of the helpfully placed signage about what’s growing. In botanical gardens made by academics, the World’s horticultural bounty is usually organized in neat, rectangular beds (witness the Chelsea Physic Garden, or the University of Oxford Botanic Garden). But Tom Hart Dyke’s approach combines scholarly plantsmanship with exuberant, good humor. This is a marching-to-his-own-drummer garden that’s been made by a man who is clearly delighted to be alive!

Hawk's-eye view of Lullingstone Castle, The Church of St.Botolph, and the World Garden...as it appeared in 2007. Image courtesy of Lullingstone Castle.

Hawk’s-eye view of Lullingstone Castle, The Church of St.Botolph, and the World Garden…as it appeared in 2007. Image courtesy of Lullingstone Castle.

Map of Garden Beds at The World Garden

Map of Garden Beds at The World Garden

While we’re still fluttering about and visualizing what the birds see as they circle over The World Garden, I’ll take a moment to digress about a garden-design puzzle that fascinates me. I ponder the ancient, human compulsion to design a landscape that forms a geometric shape or picture that’s only visible in its entirely from high above. For thousands of years before Wilbur and Orville fired up their airplane, people who haven’t had the slightest expectation of being able to fly have fashioned such places. Such earth-works tell us that human beings have always been capable of great leaps of imagination…witness the Late-Prehistoric Great Serpent Mound, in Southern Ohio.

Southern Ohio's Great Serpent Mound is 1349 feet long. Radiocarbon dating of charcoal discovered within the mound indicates that people worked on the mound circa 1070 CE.

Southern Ohio’s Great Serpent Mound is 1349 feet long. Radiocarbon dating of charcoal discovered within the mound indicates that people worked on the mound circa 1070 CE.

Since only the designers can comprehend the true appearance of landscapes that are fashioned to be seen from the sky, does this hiding-in-plain-sight characteristic of such gardens mostly serve the vanity—or spiritual needs— of the artists who’ve carved patterns upon the ground? Is inducing the rest of us to walk through these creations, while we remain ignorant of the actual shape of the spaces we’re inhabiting, the ultimate, gardening-prank? Or do such places remind us that, no matter how much we think we perceive, there’s always a bigger picture, which is framed by yet another, larger picture…ad infinitum? Let me know what you think. Before we return to Tom’s Earth, here are other examples of contemporary British landscape-daydreaming, writ large:

Crop Circle in England. Image courtesy of The Daily Mail

Crop Circle in England. Image courtesy of The Daily Mail

Another Crop Circle in England. Image courtesy of The Daily Mail.

Another Crop Circle in England. Image courtesy of The Daily Mail.

English Crop Circle. Image courtesy of Sunday Times Magazine

English Crop Circle. Image courtesy of Sunday Times Magazine

Back now to Terra Firma, and photos of The World Garden, which, although not a conventionally photogenic garden, is definitely an enlightening, friendly (well, friendly to everyone EXCEPT the rabbits) and “touchy-feely” place.

This way to The World Garden!

This way to The World Garden!

At the Moon Gate Entrance to The World Garden: Beware the Hungry Rabbits. The United Kingdom is just inside the Gate. The British Isles beds contain Scottish Caledonia Pine and Butcher's Broom

At the Moon Gate Entrance to The World Garden: Beware the Hungry Rabbits. The United Kingdom is just inside the Gate. The British Isles beds contain Scottish Caledonia Pine and Butcher’s Broom

The Moon Gate serves as the North Pole of The World Garden

The Moon Gate serves as the North Pole of The World Garden

A Pineapple Sculpture anchors plantings from The Americas

A Pineapple Sculpture anchors plantings from The Americas

At the entry to The World Garden is an even smaller World Garden; this one mapped out with Alpine Plants

At the entry to The World Garden is an even smaller World Garden; this one mapped out with Alpine Plants

Another view of The World of Alpines

Another view of The World of Alpines

These towering Blue Globe Thistles are native to Southern Europe.

These towering Blue Globe Thistles are native to Southern Europe.

The Hot & Spikey Greenhouse is just west of The World Garden beds, and contains plants that wouldn't have a prayer of surviving outside, over England's winters.

The Hot & Spikey Greenhouse is just west of The World Garden beds, and contains plants that wouldn’t have a prayer of surviving outside, over England’s winters.

Another view of The Hot & Spikey Greenhouse

Another view of The Hot & Spikey Greenhouse

A metal grasshopper, atop a cactus in The Hot & Spikey Greenhouse

A metal grasshopper, atop a cactus in The Hot & Spikey Greenhouse

Amid the cactus collection, this display looks very much like the volcano I made for my third grade science project...but I didn't have the sense to add a lizard.

Amid the cactus collection, this display looks very much like the volcano I made for my third grade science project…but I didn’t have the sense to add a lizard.

Adjacent to The Hot & Spikey Greenhouse is the Cloud Garden Greenhouse, which contains 500 species of plants that are too frost-sensitive to grow outside in The World Garden. Image courtesy of The World Garden.

Adjacent to The Hot & Spikey Greenhouse is the Cloud Garden Greenhouse, which contains 500 species of plants that are too frost-sensitive to grow outside in The World Garden. Image courtesy of The World Garden.

The Cloud Garden's plants have been collected in New Zealand, South Africa, Australia and S.E.Asia. Image courtesy of The World Garden.

The Cloud Garden’s plants have been collected in New Zealand, South Africa, Australia and S.E.Asia. Image courtesy of The World Garden.

Blooming vines in The Cloud Garden

Blooming vines in The Cloud Garden

Back outside, we run our fingers through The World Garden's grasses.

Back outside, we run our fingers through The World Garden’s grasses.

We've traveled to Australia

We’ve traveled to Australia

One of Tom's many tutorials...which are almost as much fun as if he were right there, explaining his Garden.

One of Tom’s many tutorials…which are almost as much fun as if he were right there, explaining his Garden.

What the Tutorial was about...

What the Tutorial was about…

Eucalyptus in Australia. Tom has collected around 100 different provenances of eucalyptus. On hot days in summer, a blue haze develops around these trees, caused by the release of volatile oils from the leaves and bark. The red rock represents Ayers Rock, which is in the middle of the Actual Australia.

Eucalyptus in Australia. Tom has collected around 100 different provenances of eucalyptus. On hot days in summer, a blue haze develops around these trees, caused by the release of volatile oils from the leaves and bark. The red rock represents Ayers Rock, which is in the middle of the Actual Australia.

In 2009, The World Garden was recognized as having England's National Collection of Eucalyptus. Image courtesy of The World Garden.

In 2009, The World Garden was recognized as having England’s National Collection of Eucalyptus. Image courtesy of The World Garden.

The Saga of The Chusan Fan Palm, which is planted in Asia.

The Saga of The Chusan Fan Palm, which is planted in Asia.

The Car-Roof-Rack-Crushing-Chusan-Fan-Palm itself!

The Car-Roof-Rack-Crushing-Chusan-Fan-Palm itself!

A bamboo grove engulfs the Chusan Fan Palm

A bamboo grove engulfs the Chusan Fan Palm

A Birch Bark Cherry Tree, from China

A Birch Bark Cherry Tree, from China

An Asian Jungle

An Asian Jungle

Back out into the sunshine, we find  these angelic-looking blossoms.

Back out into the sunshine, we find these angelic-looking blossoms.

This one-ton steel sculpture of a Baobab Tree anchors the continent of Africa. Every October, over 500 of the plants here in Africa are lifted and taken to winter quarters in greenhouses. And throughout the entire World Garden, over 2000 plants must be lifted before wintertime.

This one-ton steel sculpture of a Baobab Tree anchors the continent of Africa. Every October, over 500 of the plants here in Africa are lifted and taken to winter quarters in greenhouses. And throughout the entire World Garden, over 2000 plants must be lifted before wintertime.

In Africa, orange and yellow spires of Kniphofia uvaria 'Nobilis' are in bloom. Image courtesy of Gardens-Guide.

In Africa, orange and yellow spires of Kniphofia uvaria ‘Nobilis’ are in bloom. Image courtesy of Gardens-Guide.

Amanda does some fast World-Traveling.

Amanda does some fast World-Traveling.

Peter the Pine Tree, in North America.

Peter the Pine Tree, in North America.

Europa on her Bull anchors the Mainland Europe garden.

Europa on her Bull anchors the Mainland Europe garden.

Another Little Seminar

Another Little Seminar

Europa: ready for her close-up.

Europa: ready for her close-up.

Dahlia Border, along the North Wall.  At the edges of the garden, against red-brick walls, are the Man's Influence Borders. These are gradually being cultivated, not with true species, but with "improved" cultivars.

Dahlia Border, along the North Wall.
At the edges of the garden, against red-brick walls, are the Man’s Influence Borders. These are gradually being cultivated, not with true species, but with “improved” cultivars.

During World War II, Canadian troops who were barracked at Lullingstone Castle entertained themselves by firing upon this wall. The many pockmarks in the brick are from their buckshot blasts.

During World War II, Canadian troops who were barracked at Lullingstone Castle entertained themselves by firing upon this wall. The many pockmarks in the brick are from their buckshot blasts.

Garden Gate near what I have now taken upon myself to rename the Buckshot Border.

Garden Gate near what I have now taken upon myself to rename the Buckshot Border.

View of the Chapel, from within The World Garden

View of the Chapel, from within The World Garden

Another glimpse of the Chapel, from inside The World Garden

Another glimpse of the Chapel, from inside The World Garden

A broad view over The World Garden. The original, Tudor walls of the Manor House's east side are visible in the background. Image courtesy of The World Garden.

A broad view over The World Garden. The original, Tudor walls of the Manor House’s east side are visible in the background. Image courtesy of The World Garden.

We exit The World Garden, back through the Moon Gate

We exit The World Garden, back through the Moon Gate

This ancient cedar tree grows behind the Chapel.

This ancient cedar tree grows behind the Chapel.

Wall detail of The Chapel/The Church of St. Botolph.

Wall detail of The Chapel/The Church of St. Botolph.

Detail of wall made with flintstone fillers, at back corner of Chapel.

Detail of wall made with flintstone fillers, at back corner of Chapel.

The Gate House (built in 1497), as seen from the inner lawn. On these extensive lawns the earliest rules for Lawn Tennis were drawn up, in 1873.

The Gate House (built in 1497), as seen from the inner lawn. On these extensive lawns the earliest rules for Lawn Tennis were drawn up, in 1873.

The West Front of Lullingstone Castle is opposite the Gate House. The facade, done in the Queen Anne style, was added in the mid 18th century. The Manor House was originally surrounded by a moat.

The West Front of Lullingstone Castle is opposite the Gate House. The facade, done in the Queen Anne style, was added in the mid 18th century. The Manor House was originally surrounded by a moat.

As we walked back toward our car, a stiff breeze rose from the Lake...'twas a beautiful afternoon.

As we walked back toward our car, a stiff breeze rose from the Lake…’twas a beautiful afternoon.

Our next stop was to be a brief one. Amanda directed us toward Castle Farm, a busy, working lavender farm set in the meadows of the River Darent. Although the Farm’s Hop Shop is a major coach-stop (and thus a place I’d usually avoid), my August visit to Kent coincided with Lavender-in-Bloom-Time, and Steve and Amanda agreed that giving me to opportunity to ogle the North Kent Downs fields, and to get a deep snoot-full of lavender-fragrance, would be worthwhile….and it was.

Destination #4: The Hop Shop at
Castle Farm
Shoreham, Sevenoaks
Kent TN14 7UB

Telephone: 01959-523219
Website: http://www.hopshop.co.uk

I obeyed, and did not advance into Castle Farm's lavender fields.

I obeyed, and did not advance into Castle Farm’s lavender fields.

Things were hopping at the Hop Shop!

Things were hopping at the Hop Shop!

Looking down across the lavender fields at Castle Farm.....SWOON!

Looking down across the lavender fields at Castle Farm…..SWOON!

For our final garden pilgrimage that Sunday afternoon we ventured over the border, from Kent into eastern Surrey…to an historic tract of estate-land that dates back to 1534, when it was bought by Sir John Gresham, of the famous London merchant dynasty.

Destination #5: Titsey Place House & Gardens
Titsey Hill, Oxted
Surrey RH8 0SD

Open from mid-Mid until late September
Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday, 1PM—5PM

Website: http://www.titsey.org

As we entered the grounds of Titsey Place, Amanda asked me to look uphill, toward the vast stretch (210 acres, to be exact) of beech trees that hug the slopes of the North Downs. She told me that, within Titsey Place’s tree plantation lies the original path of the Pilgrims’ Way, a path that’s been continually trodden upon for at least 3000 years. At this news, my Traveler’s Scalp began to tingle: I like nothing better than setting my feet down near ancient pathways! What is today called the Pilgrims’ Way was heavily used during Roman times: numerous traces of the villas built when this part of England was a province of the Roman Empire (from 43AD to 409AD) are still being unearthed by Kent’s archaeologists.

The Pilgrims' Way passes through the Park at Titsey Place. This is no doubt that this is a very ancient track, made before the coming of the Romans, but used by them, as would appear from the numerous traces of villas near its course.

The Pilgrims’ Way passes through the Park at Titsey Place. This is no doubt that this is a very ancient track, made before the coming of the Romans, but used by them, as would appear from the numerous traces of villas near its course.

And, more recently—at the end of the 14th century—Geoffrey Chaucer’s CANTERBURY TALES pilgrims followed various paths across Kent, as they traveled to the shrine of Thomas Becket, in Canterbury.

The Pilgrims' Way, as Geoffrey Chaucer told the tale.

The Pilgrims’ Way, as Geoffrey Chaucer told the tale.

Before our Titsey-Tour, we refueled in the Tea Room, with strong tea and excellent scones. All these months later, I’m still kicking myself for NOT keeping a record of English-Scones-I-Have-Loved. During my August in England I ate my way through an encyclopedic array of afternoon baked goods, and Titsey’s scones would certainly have made the cut, had I been assembling a Teatime-Guide.

Map of the Grounds at Titsey Place. Image courtesy of Titsey Place & Gardens

Map of the Grounds at Titsey Place. Image courtesy of Titsey Place & Gardens

The Walled Garden, which is the sexiest kitchen garden you’ll ever encounter, was completely restored in 1996. Per the Titsey Place Guidebook, the garden, which occupies a sunny slope from which long views over the Weald can be enjoyed, was done…

“…as an illustration of Victorian horticultural techniques. The garden paths were remade, the glasshouses rebuilt, and the garden planted with a wide range of fruit including pears, apples, cherries, quince and figs. Annual flowers are grown amongst a wide range of unusual vegetables. Triple cordon redcurrants and gooseberries are trained on the northern aspect of the southern wall. Peaches, nectarines, bananas, tomatoes, kiwi fruit and grapes are grown in the new glasshouses, and two camellias grow up the eastern greenhouse wall.
The central conservatory houses a wide range of colorful exotic plants and orchids. Box hedging was used to quarter the two upper compartments. Two wrought iron gazebos, covered in climbers, stand at the centre of each. The door through the southern wall leads to the wide grass lawn, from which spectacular views can be seen across the park and to the house. The south facing walls are used to grow roses, clematis, honeysuckle as well as more unusual climbers.”

WHEW! Although I adored the Walled Garden, I don’t think I’ll ever recover from the feeling of Gardener’s-Inferiority that the excellence contained therein inflicted upon me. My own New Hampshire veggie-and-flower plot will ever after seem meager and sorrowful in contrast.

We entered the Walled Garden at its highest poing, where tall lilies were just beginning to shed their blossoms.

We entered the Walled Garden at its highest point, where tall lilies were just beginning to shed their blossoms.

A central Urn and Gazebo

A central Urn and Gazebo

A Twig Trellis

A Twig Trellis

You can see from the contours of the box hedge how sloped the Walled Garden is.

You can see from the contours of the box hedge how sloped the Walled Garden is.

View from the higher reaches of the Walled Garden

View from the higher reaches of the Walled Garden

Luscious Kentish Pears grow alongside flowers and veggies.

Luscious Kentish Pears grow alongside flowers and veggies.

Espaliered trees in a glasshouse

Espaliered trees in a glasshouse

Perfect Fruit

Perfect Fruit

Another Urn and Gazebo

Another Urn and Gazebo

Corn grows tall under August skies

Corn grows tall under August skies

Gorgeous Gladioli

Gorgeous Gladioli

Totally Slug-Free Cabbage: how do Titsey's gardeners do it?

Totally Slug-Free Cabbage: how do Titsey’s gardeners do it?

A view uphill, toward the glasshouses

A view uphill, toward the glasshouses

A different view uphill, toward glasshouses

A different view uphill, toward glasshouses

A cutting garden

A cutting garden

Redcurrants adorn a wall

Redcurrants adorn a wall

We then proceeded toward the Main House. In the far distance, we saw the famous Titsey Herd of Sussex cattle, grazing contentedly. The poor beasts have NO idea that their flesh is available in a range of prime cuts (supplied fresh!)…through Titsey Place’s BEEF BOX SCHEME. Forgive me: that’s my Almost-Vegan-Self wincing…

The Lawn below the Walled Garden

The Lawn below the Walled Garden

An inviting gate, along the path to the Main House

An inviting gate, along the path to the Main House

We approach the House. The main part--5 windows wide--was built of redbrick in 1775...and is thus, in Amanda-Terms, Quite a Modern Edifice. It was resurfaced with Roman cement in 1826. The tower to the left was added in 1856.

We approach the House. The main part–5 windows wide–was built of redbrick in 1775…and is thus, in Amanda-Terms, Quite a Modern Edifice. It was resurfaced with Roman cement in 1826. The tower to the left was added in 1856.

The much-eroded Gresham Crest is over the front door.

The much-eroded Gresham Crest is over the front door.

A window decoration

A window decoration

View from the front of the House, down over the Arboretum, toward the Spring and the Lakes

View from the front of the House, down over the Arboretum, toward the Spring and the Lakes

Another magnificent specimen in the Arboretum

Another magnificent specimen in the Arboretum

The fountain at the center of the Lower Terrace is a copy of one in the Cloisters at Eton College

The fountain at the center of the Lower Terrace is a copy of one in the Cloisters at Eton College

Alliums adorn the Lower Terrace, in early June. Image courtesy of Titsey Place & Gardens

Alliums adorn the Lower Terrace, in early June. Image courtesy of Titsey Place & Gardens

Another view of the Lower Terrace

Another view of the Lower Terrace

The Box Link Beds next to the House were planted over 150 years ago.

The Box Link Beds next to the House were planted over 150 years ago.

The Golden Jubilee Rose Garden

The Golden Jubilee Rose Garden

View from the top of the Golden Jubilee Rose Garden

View from the top of the Golden Jubilee Rose Garden

Ancient tree near the base of the Rose Garden

Ancient tree near the base of the Rose Garden

Tree-Heaven

Tree-Heaven

Peeking back at the Main House, from the Old Rose Garden

Peeking back at the Main House, from the Old Rose Garden

We approach the be-fountained Top Lake

We approach the be-fountained Top Lake

A Grassy Bridge spans the Top Lake

A Grassy Bridge spans the Lower Lake, just below the High Cascade

A High Cascade made of Bath Stone is at the end of the Top Lake

A High Cascade made of Bath Stone is at the end of the Top Lake

Naturally-formed limestone deposits form a lacy curtain at the High Cascade

Naturally-formed limestone deposits form a lacy curtain at the High Cascade

Koi swim in the Lower Lake

Koi swim in the Lower Lake

A Stone Temple is the focal point at the southern end of the Lower Lake

A Stone Temple is the focal point at the southern end of the Lower Lake

Stone Temple

Stone Temple

View from the Stone Temple

View from the Stone Temple

Titsey's Herd of pedigree Sussex cattle enjoys a perfect summer afternoon.

Titsey’s Herd of pedigree Sussex cattle enjoys a perfect summer afternoon.

Having circled the Lower Lake, we walk back toward the Top Lake

Having circled the Lower Lake, we walk back toward the Top Lake

An early 19th century Ha-Ha divides the gardens and lawns around the House from the pastureland.

An early 19th century Ha-Ha divides the gardens and lawns around the House from the pastureland.

View of the House, from the Lower Lake. A more serene setting I cannot imagine. Image courtesy of Titsey Place & Gardens.

View of the House, from the Lower Lake. A more serene setting I cannot imagine. Image courtesy of Titsey Place & Gardens.

So, Gentle Reader. I hope this first day’s tour of Kent has invigorated rather than exhausted you, because on Day Two of our adventures, we will once again be VERY busy.

We’ll visit Chartwell, Winston Churchill’s home. We’ll explore Hever Castle,
Anne Boleyn’s family seat. We’ll marvel at Penhurst Place, birthplace of
Sir Philip Sidney. And we’ll amble through the gardens at Groombridge Place,
which Arthur Conan Doyle featured in a Sherlock Holmes tale. Get some rest…you’ll need it!

Hever Castle (built in 1462): the birthplace of the unfortunate Anne Boleyn. Image courtesy of Hever Castle.

Hever Castle (built in 1462): the birthplace of the unfortunate Anne Boleyn. Image courtesy of Hever Castle.

Copyright 2014. Nan Quick—Nan Quick’s Diaries for Armchair Travelers.
Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express &
written permission from Nan Quick is strictly prohibited.

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Hudson River Valley Gardens–Part Two: Stonecrop, & Kykuit

Kykuit: The Rockefeller family home. Entrance Forecourt, with the Oceanus Fountain, on a rainy morning in June.

Kykuit: The Rockefeller family home. Entrance Forecourt, with the Oceanus Fountain, on a rainy morning in June.

December 2013. The impulse to collect–whatever one happens to want to accumulate—is powerful. As one hunts for treasure, each discovery, rather than satisfying, seems instead to whet the appetite; after all, treasures exist most properly in troves. Humans are greedy souls.

At first glance, the shaggy, encyclopedic collection of plants at Stonecrop Gardens (which perch upon rocky ledges and around deep ponds in the wilds of Cold Spring, New York State), and the spit-polished and densely-decorated gardens at Kykuit (which cap a manicured hill near a wide point in the Hudson River), seem to have little in common. But in each garden we see the results of passionate collecting: of the horticulturalist Frank Cabot’s 52-year-long lust to acquire and grow aquatic and alpine plants, herbaceous perennials and bulbs, and rare trees and shrubs; of the Rockefellers’ three-generation-long hunger to amass sculpture—both classical and modern—along with all the other garden trappings befitting a world-class family seat.

I am not immune to this Collecting-Mania. But instead of piling up Property, I travel to beautiful, built environments…where I gather sensations, and ideas, and images. I have faith that, by temporarily inhabiting these places, I’ll somehow hear whispers from the people who created them; that the trees and terraces and landforms and lakes and follies and fountains and gardens and grottos in each spot I discover will have vestigial voices which will reveal to me the reasons, and more-interestingly, the passions, that drove their makers to plant and to build. My hope is always that each of these destinations will feed my eyes, and my brain, and my imagination. I want to be reminded that, despite mankind’s propensities for destructive behavior, we are also an inherently creative, and thus redeemable, species. Such is the nature of MY greed. But merely amassing these International-Catalogues-of-Gorgeousity for myself would be an empty exercise. I’ve discovered that the deepest pleasures from my travels come later, when I’m home again, in my office (where I’m nearly overwhelmed by my thousands of photos, and piles of books, and sheaves of notes), as I try to make sense of the wonders I’ve seen, so that I might share them.

In early June, after visits to two gardens in Western Massachusetts (Naumkeag, and The Mount), and then a stroll through the sublime Innisfree Garden (in Millbrook, New York), I drove southward, on the Taconic Parkway. Darkening skies and a predicted torrent meant that my camera would capture no more postcard-pretty photos during the final days of my journey, but I continued on into the Hudson Highlands, toward Stonecrop Gardens, with my raincoat and boots at the ready. For dirt-gardeners here in the Northeast, visits to Stonecrop are not so much pleasure-jaunts as plant-pilgrimages.

Stonecrop Gardens, on the rocky hills to the east of the Hudson River. In Cold Spring, Putnam County, New York State

Stonecrop Gardens, on the rocky hills to the east of the Hudson River. In Cold Spring, Putnam County, New York State

In 2011, when Francis (Frank) H. Cabot died, his obituaries identified him, first and foremost, as “86, and an extraordinary gardener.” Born wealthy, into a family who specialized in investment banking, Cabot was never completely at ease with his role as a venture capitalist. In 1959, stressed by work,(he considered himself a great promoter, but not a particularly great picker, of start-up businesses) he threw himself into gardening, where he found his true calling.

Frank Cabot, with his ever-present knee pads. Image courtesy of Garden Design Magazine.

Frank Cabot, with his ever-present knee pads. Image courtesy of Garden Design Magazine.

Cabot is most famous for his ambitious landscape at Les Quatre Vents (The Four Winds), where he fashioned highly formal gardens on 28 acres that lie alongside the St. Lawrence River. Those gardens in Quebec are open to the public for only four days each summer, but can be vicariously enjoyed by reading Cabot’s book about his decades-long modeling of the land at his Canadian retreat: “The Greater Perfection: The Story of the Gardens at Les Quatre Vents.”

A tiny bit of Frank Cabot's garden in Quebec: Les Quatre Vents (The Four Winds)

A tiny bit of Frank Cabot’s garden in Quebec: Les Quatre Vents (The Four Winds)

But for those of us who haven’t time to get to Quebec, or the wherewithal to fund our little reproductions of corners of those dauntingly-lovely gardens, the gardens that sprang up willy-nilly around his summertime home in Cold Spring, New York, can offer Normal Human Gardeners the consolations of buying Stonecrop’s quite-affordable plants, which are grown on the premises.

Map of Stonecrop Gardens, in Cold Spring, New York.

Map of Stonecrop Gardens, in Cold Spring, New York.

The steep, twisting, rutted, gravel road that leads up to Stonecrop Gardens made me very glad for my vehicle’s all-wheel-drive. There’s nothing flashy about Stonecrop; this is a place where the well-being of plants takes precedence over the coddling of visitors. At the edge of the car park, an Entrance Pavilion pointed the way, and I clattered over a wooden boardwalk, into deep woods.

Entrance Pavilion

Entrance Pavilion

Wooden Boardwalk

Wooden Boardwalk

At the end of the Boardwalk, the charming scene of a Pond Garden unfolds.
Iris, Petasites and Ligularia dominate the waterside plantings.

Pond Garden

Pond Garden

Pond Garden, with Potting Shed in the distance

Pond Garden, with Potting Shed in the distance

And then, framed by white birches, a Conservatory hovers, reflected in the water.

Pond Garden, with Conservatory

Pond Garden, with Conservatory

The Conservatory spans the pond, and serves as bridge into the Gardens proper. As is so often the case in my wanderings, I had this place to myself. I was far outnumbered by Stonecrop’s gardeners, who were quietly eradicating weeds, and pruning perennials. All I could hear were birds twittering, horses whinnying, and the sound of a gentle rain, shooshing down over the dense foliage.

I'm about to pass through the Conservatory. This building was completed in 1997. In winter and spring it is used as a display house for a winter garden of non-hardy blooming bulbs, trees and shrubs, many of them native to South Africa, Australia and New Zealand (Frank Cabot has a sheep station, in New Zealand, and thus collect many plants there.)

I’m about to pass through the Conservatory. This building was completed in 1997. In winter and spring it is used as a display house for a winter garden of non-hardy blooming bulbs, trees and shrubs, many of them native to South Africa, Australia and New Zealand (Frank Cabot had a sheep station in New Zealand, and thus collected many plants there.)

The Conservatory, in Wintertime. Image courtesy of Stonecrop Gardens.

The Conservatory, in Wintertime. Image courtesy of Stonecrop Gardens.

View of the Conservatory, from the other side of the Pond.

View of the Conservatory, from the other side of the Pond.

Rock Garden Plants, near the Potting Shed

Rock Garden Plants, near the Potting Shed

Alpine Plants in Raised Hypertufa Troughs, near the Potting Shed

Alpine Plants in Raised Hypertufa Troughs, near the Potting Shed

On the Left: The Potting Shed, which is the heart of Stonecrop. Most of the Garden's propagation work occurs here, throughout the year.

On the Left: The Potting Shed, which is the heart of Stonecrop. Most of the Garden’s propagation work occurs here, throughout the year.

Their love of all-things-French influenced the design of Frank and Anne Cabot’s Main House.

Approaching the Main House at Stonecrop. The grass island in front of the house features a Pin Oak, underplanted with a sheet of Crocus, which blooms in early April.

Approaching the Main House at Stonecrop. The grass island in front of the house features a Pin Oak, underplanted with a sheet of Crocus, which blooms in early April.

The Main House

The Main House

West of the Main House, a broad vista unfolds.

View from the West Terrace of the Main House

View from the West Terrace of the Main House

A Friendly Fellow (well...I assumed he was a Fellow) at the Stable

A Friendly Fellow (well…I assumed he was a Fellow)
at the Stable

Getting EVEN friendlier.

Getting EVEN friendlier.

View up toward the Main House, from the Pasture

View up toward the Main House, from the Pasture

A long hedge of rose bushes festoons the edge of the Pasture

A long hedge of rose bushes festoons the edge of the Pasture

To the south of the Main House is the Enclosed Flower Garden, which contains a jungle of flowers and veggies. When the Cabots built their home in the early 1950’s, the gardens began simply: Frank made raised stone containers for his alpine plants, and Anne tended flowers and vegetables. But soon, tons and tons of flint stone began to be extracted from the woods. With that stone, walls rose. And ponds were dredged, and streambeds formed. Very rapidly, Stonecrop became much more than a plaything for its summer residents.

But the Stonecrop that’s evolved into the place we see today is as much the creation of Caroline Burgess, as it is of Cabot. In 1985, Burgess, an Englishwoman who cut her horticultural teeth as an apprentice in Rosemary Verey’s Cotswolds garden, and then became a professional plant-wrangler at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, was hired by Frank Cabot, who gave her carte blanche to develop his tree and shrub collection. By 1992, Cabot admitted, “It’s really hers now.”

Per Stonecrop’s guide to their gardens, the Enclosed Flower Garden, has “a series of color-themed square and triangular beds. These beds, together with the surrounding enclosures and permanent plantings of hardy perennials, roses, grasses, tress and shrubs, create a formal framework in which to display intermingled informal plantings and annuals, biennials, and half-hardy and tropical plants. Constant experimenting with color and plants yields new combinations every year. Four of the square beds have steeple trellises on which grow annual and perennial vines, giving vertical accent to the garden. The walls surrounding the enclosed garden are planted with …espaliered shrubs and climbers. A vegetable garden fills the largest bed in the middle of inner sanctum, and is watched over by Miss Gertrude Jekyll, who is keeping an eye on the color theories. Behind Miss Jekyll, linked by a circular path, curved beds represent the colors of the rainbow.”

CLAIR VOIE: a grille set into a wall, which allows a "clear view" of the Enclosed Flower Garden.

CLAIR VOIE: a grille set into a wall, which allows a “clear view” of the Enclosed Flower Garden.

Main Gate to Enclosed Flower Garden

Main Gate to Enclosed Flower Garden

Enclosed Flower Garden

Enclosed Flower Garden

Miss Jekyll, at the center of the Enclosed Flower Garden

Miss Jekyll, at the center of the Enclosed Flower Garden

Another Entry Gate to the Enclosed Flower Garden

Another Entry Gate to the Enclosed Flower Garden

A Jolly Jumble of Plants in the Enclosed Flower Garden

A Jolly Jumble of Plants in the Enclosed Flower Garden

Giant Alliums bloom, after Iris blossoms have withered.

Giant Alliums bloom, after Iris blossoms have withered.

Blowsy-and-Beautiful Peonies

Blowsy-and-Beautiful Peonies

What a Perfect Flower looks like (Hmmmm....mine never look this good, and are always infested with ants).

What a Perfect Flower looks like (Hmmmm….mine never look this good, and are always infested with ants).

Miss Jekyll guards her Asparagus and Lettuce.

Miss Jekyll guards her Asparagus and Lettuce.

The most dramatic area at Stonecrop is the Lake, which is surrounded by the Hillside, and Rock Ledge Gardens. Per the Stonecrop Visitor’s Guide, “ With the exception of what is clearly massive rock ledge, all the rocks in this garden were placed, the smaller ones by hand, and the larger by machine. The Lake and surrounding landscape were finished in 1991. From the Rock Ledge, the land originally sloped down to the fields below. To give a natural surrounding to the new lake, fill was trucked in….to achieve the current landscape.”

A Giant Flint Stone forms a Footbridge across the Lake

A Giant Flint Stone forms a Footbridge across the Lake

Alpine Plants hug the contours of the Rock Ledge Garden

Alpine Plants hug the contours of the Rock Ledge Garden

Stepping Stones in the Lake

Stepping Stones in the Lake

The Rock Ledge Garden

The Rock Ledge Garden

Path leading out of the Rock Ledge Garden

Path leading out of the Rock Ledge Garden

The Lake and Rock Ledge Garden

The Lake and Rock Ledge Garden

The Lake and Rock Ledge Garden

The Lake and Rock Ledge Garden

In 1984, Cabot had a Wisteria Pavilion built at the south end of the Lake.

Entrance to Wisteria Pavilion

Entrance to Wisteria Pavilion

View of Lake and Rock Ledge Garden, from inside the Wisteria Pavilion.

View of Lake and Rock Ledge Garden, from inside the Wisteria Pavilion.

View through the Wisteria Pavilion

View through the Wisteria Pavilion

View of the Lake and Rock Ledge Garden, from inside the Wisteria Pavilion.

View of the Lake and Rock Ledge Garden, from inside the Wisteria Pavilion.

As is apparent, Stonecrop Gardens is not a place of Grand Vistas, of Endless Allees, or Tidy Parterres. Apart from the picturesque buildings which decorate the 12 tightly-packed acres of its display gardens, Stonecrop’s truest beauties are most apparent when the visitor inspects the ground, square-cultivated-yard by square-cultivated-yard. The most serious gardener will take copious notes as she surveys Stonecrop’s Systematic Order Beds, which represent over 50 plant families.

She’ll take close-up photos of the blossoms and foliage in the Rock Ledge Gardens, and of the choice dwarf bulbs that are tucked into every nook and cranny.

Frittilaria Maleagris. Image courtesy of Stonecrop Gardens.

Frittilaria Maleagris. Image courtesy of Stonecrop Gardens.

She’ll wonder how many of the primulas and saxifrages she’s seen in the Alpine House might do very well at her Own House.

The Primula and Saxifraga collections in full bloom, in the Alpine House. Image courtesy of Stonecrop Gardens.

The Primula and Saxifraga collections in full bloom, in the Alpine House. Image courtesy of Stonecrop Gardens.

She’ll pick the brains of the professional staff who are on site, and will then drive home, her car stuffed to nearly-exploding with the plants and shrubs that she’s purchased at Stonecrop’s Sales Benches. Leaving Stonecrop that afternoon without a single plant in my possession had required me to exercise extreme self-control: I was in the midst of a road-trip, and it was painful not to be able to adopt some of the exquisite specimen plants I’d admired. Although Stonecrop is clearly a Major Garden, it is also a place that’s straightforwardly about its PLANTS, and is thus UN-intimidating, even for Mere Gardening Mortals. After a couple of hours in the Garden-That-Cabot-and-Burgess-Built, the Visitor begins to imagine that she might indeed be able to combine plants in her own garden in the same charming ways as those of the Cold Spring Plant Masters.

With his gardening, Frank Cabot did great good in the world, and not just in his own back yards. He was Chairman of the New York Botanical Garden, and served as an advisor to both the Brooklyn Botanical Garden, and the Royal Botanical Gardens in Burlington, Ontario. But perhaps his most important accomplishment was that he made it possible for places as various as the inmates’ gardens at Alcatraz…

The Gardens of Alcatraz. Image courtesy of The Garden Conservancy. www.alcatrazgardens.org

The Gardens of Alcatraz. Image courtesy of The Garden Conservancy.
http://www.alcatrazgardens.org

…or the Pearl Fryar Topiary Garden in South Carolina…

The Pearl Fryar Topiary Garden. Image courtesy of The Garden Conservancy. www.pearlfryar.com

The Pearl Fryar Topiary Garden. Image courtesy of The Garden Conservancy.
http://www.pearlfryar.com

…or the cactus garden of Ruth Bancroft to be opened to the public.

Ruth Bancroft Garden. Image courtesy of The Garden Conservancy. www.ruthbancroftgarden.org

Ruth Bancroft Garden. Image courtesy of The Garden Conservancy.
http://www.ruthbancroftgarden.org

All of these extraordinary places have been preserved with the help of The Garden Conservancy, which Frank Cabot founded in 1989, to save some of America’s most exceptional gardens for the education and enjoyment of the public. Find more out about The Garden Conservancy at: http://www.gardenconservancy.org

Directions to Stonecrop Gardens (and remember that both your vehicle and your shoes should have good traction): 5 miles east of the Village of Cold Spring, on Route 301, or 3.5 miles west of the Taconic Parkway, on Route 301.

Open from April through October, Monday through Saturday.
Admission fee: $5.00

Stonecrop Gardens
81 Stonecrop Lane
Cold Spring, New York 10516
Phone ( 845 ) 265-2000
http://www.stonecrop.org

Springtime in Stonecrop's Enclosed Flower Garden. Image courtesy of Stonecrop Gardens.

Springtime in Stonecrop’s
Enclosed Flower Garden. Image courtesy of Stonecrop Gardens.

Very tired after my day of garden-tromping, I drove south for another hour and a half, to Croton-on-Hudson, where I’d made reservations at the Alexander Hamilton House, a rambling Victorian bed-and-breakfast inn that overlooks the Hudson River. I’d booked two nights in their top-floor Bridal Chamber, which they describe as “the ultimate hideaway for a couples weekend or a diva’s escape.” And so this Diva bathed very well …

The whirlpool tub in the Diva's Chamber at the Alexander Hamilton House

The whirlpool tub in the Diva’s Chamber at the Alexander Hamilton House

…and then slept very soundly.

The Bridal and/or Diva's Chamber. Alexander Hamilton House. 49 Van Wyck Street, Croton on Hudson, New York. 10520 phone (914) 271-6737. www.alexanderhamiltonhouse.com

The Bridal and/or Diva’s Chamber. Alexander Hamilton House. 49 Van Wyck Street, Croton on Hudson, New York. 10520
phone (914) 271-6737. http://www.alexanderhamiltonhouse.com

On the morning of June 7th, after a splendid breakfast cooked by my Innkeeper, I set out for Sleepy Hollow, where I had a 10AM reservation for a tour of Kykuit (pronounced to rhyme with “High-Cut”), the Rockefeller Family Estate. During my 30 minute, southward commute the rain intensified, and by the time I’d reached the Visitor Center at Philipsburg Manor, the deluge had become torrential.

Kykuit, the Rockefeller Family Estate, is in Sleepy Hollow, New York State, on the eastern banks of the Hudson River.

Kykuit, the Rockefeller Family Estate, is in Sleepy Hollow, New York State, on the eastern banks of the Hudson River.

As a seasoned Garden-Explorer, I’m never thwarted by inclement weather. With my Wellington boots, hooded raincoat and sturdy umbrella, I felt equal to the day’s meteorological challenges. Tours of Kykuit are managed by the Historic Hudson Valley Organization. I’d booked their “Selected Highlights Tour,” a 2- hour-and-15-minute-long tour designed for visitors who want a cursory peek at the Main House, and an extensive ramble through the gardens. As I waited for more people to assemble, and for the shuttle bus that would take us uphill from Sleepy Hollow Village to Kykuit, I realized that no other souls were gathering. A distinguished-looking gentleman approached, and introduced himself as the Guide. Michael Onofrio assumed that, due to the appalling weather, and the complete absence of everyone else who’d reserved tickets for that morning, I’d want to reschedule. I laughed: “I’m used to bad weather! If you’re up for getting soaked, I certainly am.” Mr. Onofrio regarded me, and then he smiled. Low and behold, what I’d expected to be a group tour (and I only grudgingly tolerate being herded, during such outings) suddenly became a private tour. The morning’s biblically-intense rain had just ensured that I’d have the best possible look at Kykuit’s gardens…with one of Kykuit’s most-seasoned guides. With Bad Weather, came Good Luck.

Kykuit: A National Historic Landmark

Kykuit: A National Historic Landmark

My purpose here is primarily to describe Kykuit’s gardens. I shall not recount the history of the ascent of Rockefeller family, which began with John D. Rockefeller’s founding of Standard Oil. In 1893, having become the wealthiest man in America, Rockefeller purchased land on the highest point of the Pocantico Hills and he named his property “Kykuit,” which, in Dutch, means “Look Out.” Rockefeller’s nearly 4000 acres overlooked the Tappan Zee, the widest point—at 3 miles—of the Hudson River.

John D. Rockefeller

John D. Rockefeller

JDR’s love was for the landscape, and throughout his long life (he lived to be 97, which suggests the benefits of being a teetotaler), he took great pleasure in designing scenic roads, fashioning lookouts, and transplanting trees in his not-so-little-Eden. Architecture was not one of Rockefeller’s interests: he wanted only a relatively modest home, one with a compact footprint. Delano and Aldrich (a distant family relative) were hired, and they designed a curious structure…a veritable architectural potpourri; one which combined rough-hewn fieldstone walls with delicately-detailed Colonial Revival porches, Tudor-beamed gables, and steeply-pitched, slate-beshingled French roofs. Yikes! Construction of the Main House at Kykuit, overseen by JDR’s son, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., became a misguided and chaotic affair.

John D. Rockefeller Junior

John D. Rockefeller Junior

In 1908, as soon as the six-year-long building process was completed, the house was found to be wanting, practically as well as stylistically. Fireplaces smoked, bedrooms were too small, and noise from the kitchen too great. The designer Ogden Codman Jr. (who you may recall from my article on The Mount was co-author, with Edith Wharton, of “The Decoration of Houses”), who’d already been commissioned to decorate the House’s interiors, was enlisted for a complete rethink and redesign of the Main House.

Ogden Codman Jr.

Ogden Codman Jr.

Ceilings were raised, and, working with the architect William Welles Bosworth, Codman designed entirely new facades which obliterated all traces of the original House. But, to my eyes, the most attractive features of the exterior of the House are the giant wisteria vines that climb over its walls and thus soften and mask the rather institutional look of the Codman/Bosworth “improvements.” Of the three generations of Rockefellers who lived at Kykuit, only Nelson, its final occupant, can be said to have possessed inherent, artistic vision.

Nelson Rockefeller

Nelson Rockefeller

It was Nelson’s inspired choice to plant those wisterias.

A Bird's Eye view of Kykuit. Image courtesy of "Kykuit," by Henry Joyce and the Historic Hudson Valley Press.

A Bird’s Eye view of Kykuit. Image courtesy of “Kykuit,” by Henry Joyce and the Historic Hudson Valley Press.

In the Above Photo: Foreground- The Grand Stairway, with its radiating zodiac mosaics. The Adam and Eve Fountain is at the base of the Stairway. At the top of the Stairway- the Oceanus Fountain. Approaching the House- the
Entrance Forecourt. To the West, the broad expanse of the Tappan Zee, the widest point of the Hudson River.

While the construction of the Main House at Kykuit was bumping along over its rocky course, the development of the landscape around the House was, in contrast, proceeding smoothly. In 1906, while JDR was abroad, Junior hired architect William Welles Bosworth to build extensive terraces and stairways and pavilions, as settings for gardens that would be planted on all sides of the House.

William Welles Bosworth

William Welles Bosworth

The gardens that we see today remain essentially unchanged from those that Bosworth designed, and are among the largest and best-maintained Beaux-Arts gardens in America. Bosworth’s other American masterpiece came later, in 1913, when he received the commission to design a new campus for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, along the Charles River, in Cambridge.

William Welles Bosworth designed the buildings and grounds for MIT's new campus.

William Welles Bosworth designed the buildings and grounds for MIT’s new campus.

By 1924, Bosworth had decamped to France, where he began to oversee the restorations of the Palace of Versailles, and the Chateau de Fontainebleau.

Map of the Gardens a Kykuit. Image courtesy of "The Rockefeller Family Home: Kykuit," by Ann Rockefeller Roberts.

Map of the Gardens a Kykuit. Image courtesy of “The Rockefeller Family Home: Kykuit,” by Ann Rockefeller Roberts.

Michael Onofrio began my tour with a dash through the rain, along the length of the Entrance Forecourt.

Entrance Forecourt

Entrance Forecourt

The Forecourt Facade of the Main House

The Forecourt Facade of the Main House

Bless those Beautiful Wisteria Vines

Bless those Beautiful Wisteria Vines

Gateway near Front Entry Loggia

Gateway near Front Entry Loggia

Grille set into wall near Front Entry

Grille set into wall near Front Entry

Peering through the Grille, toward the Entrance Forecourt, and the Oceanus Fountain

Peering through the Grille, toward the Entrance Forecourt, and the Oceanus Fountain

Opposite the Front Entry Loggia are these flame-form favrille-glass, electrified torches, which are mounted on massive, cast-iron urns.

Opposite the Front Entry Loggia are these flame-form favrille-glass, electrified torches, which are mounted on massive, cast-iron urns.

My view from the Front Entry, toward the Oceanus Fountain

My view from the Front Entry, toward the Oceanus Fountain

Pausing in the Loggia, I admired the first of many pieces from Nelson Rockefeller’s superb sculpture collection.

Brancusi's GRAND OISEAU (1970) is silhouetted against the greenery.

Brancusi’s GRAND OISEAU (1970) is silhouetted against the greenery.

Ceiling tiles and Tiffany glass lamps in the Front Entry Loggia

Ceiling tiles and Tiffany glass lamps in the Front Entry Loggia

Once inside, where photos are prohibited, I nevertheless did some Very-Fast-and-Naughty-Picture-Taking (thus the bad lighting, and not-crisp focus).

Office, with portrait of Benjamin Franklin (c.1792)

Office, with portrait of Benjamin Franklin (c.1792)

Drawing Room, in the style of Robert Adam. 18th century gilt-wood mirror over mantle.

Drawing Room, in the style of Robert Adam. 18th century gilt-wood mirror over mantle.

Butler's Pantry. A dumbwaiter connects this room to the main kitchen, which is directly below.

Butler’s Pantry. A dumbwaiter connects this room to the main kitchen, which is directly below.

An Enunciator Panel in the Pantry.

An Enunciator Panel in the Pantry.

Dining Room, with John Singer Sargent's portrait of JDR, painted in 1917. Flanked by two massive Meissen birds (c.1734)

Dining Room, with John Singer Sargent’s portrait of JDR, painted in 1917. Flanked by two massive Meissen birds (c.1734)

Library. Portrait of George Washington by Gilbert Stuart. I think the camel by the french doors is fabulous!

Library. Portrait of George Washington by Gilbert Stuart. I think the camel by the french doors is fabulous!

The Music Room. During the redesign of the interior of the House, Ogden Codman Jr. decided to knock a hole in the ceiling, so as to add an oculus and dome to this space. This posed serious structural challenges, as interior load-bearing beams had to be removed and then repositioned. All of the ornamental plasterwork in the house was designed by Codman.

The double-height Music Room

The double-height Music Room

After enjoying our brief, dry spell indoors, we headed toward the deluge, and the Inner Garden.

After enjoying our brief, dry spell indoors, we headed toward the deluge, and the Inner Garden.

Outside, on the West Porch, we began to get seriously wet. Here’s my photo-album of our soggy but very enjoyable garden explorations:

On the northeast corner of the West Porch: a view of the green roofs of the gazebos in the Rose Garden.

On the northeast corner of the West Porch: a view of the green roofs of the gazebos in the Rose Garden.

The Very Soggy View from the West Porch--due west--toward an invisible Hudson River

The Very Soggy View from the West Porch–due west–toward an invisible Hudson River

At the northwest corner of the West Porch: the view down over the Orange Tree Terrace, with the Swimming Pool Terrace below that. The winged, black sculpture is by Jacques Lipchitz: THE SONG OF THE VOWELS (1932)

At the northwest corner of the West Porch: the view down over the Orange Tree Terrace, with the Swimming Pool Terrace below that. The winged, black sculpture is by Jacques Lipchitz: THE SONG OF THE VOWELS (1932)

Another view, when it's not pouring, of the Orange Tree Terrace. Image courtesy of "The Rockefeller Family Home: Kykuit" by Ann Rockefeller Roberts.

Another view, when it’s not pouring, of the Orange Tree Terrace. Image courtesy of “The Rockefeller Family Home: Kykuit” by Ann Rockefeller Roberts.

David Smith's THE BANQUET (1951) is mounted on the wall of the West Porch

David Smith’s THE BANQUET (1951) is mounted on the wall of the West Porch

Giant Etruscan Oil Jar, on the Linden Allee

Giant Etruscan Oil Jar, on the Linden Allee

The Linden Allee, which terminates at the Classical Temple/Temple of Venus

The Linden Allee, which terminates at the Classical Temple/Temple of Venus

A  Pool and Fountain, are set, mid-way along the Linden Allee. On the west terrace, the polished bronze of Peter Chinni's NATURA EXTENSE (1965) shines, even on an overcast day.

A Moorish Pool and Fountain are set, mid-way along the Linden Allee. On the west terrace, the polished bronze of Peter Chinni’s NATURA EXTENSE (1965) shines, even on an overcast day.

The jewel in the Linden Allee Pool is a fanciful, gilt-bronze fountain by Francois-Michel-Louis Tonetti

The jewel in the Linden Allee Pool is a fanciful, gilt-bronze fountain by Francois-Michel-Louis Tonetti

View from the Linden Allee, back toward the french doors of the Library. From this vantage point, the Main House  looks ungainly.

View from the Linden Allee, back toward the french doors of the Library. From this vantage point, the Main House looks ungainly.

The Inner Garden is bisected by a Rill, which terminates at the Tea House. Aristide Maillol's BATHER PUTTING UP HER HAIR (1930) is mounted, halfway along the Rill.

The Inner Garden is bisected by a Rill, which terminates at the Tea House. Aristide Maillol’s BATHER PUTTING UP HER HAIR (1930) is mounted, halfway along the Rill.

At the Tea House, a pool with more fountains by F.M.L.Tonetti. Mr. Onofrio's umbrella is keeping him only partially dry.

At the Tea House, a pool with more fountains by F.M.L.Tonetti. Mr. Onofrio’s umbrella is keeping him only partially dry.

A closer view of another exquisite Tonetti Fountain

A closer view of another exquisite Tonetti Fountain

A view of the Main House, from the Inner Garden

A view of the Main House, from the Inner Garden

More statues adorn the Inner Garden

More statues adorn the Inner Garden

Statue, in from the the grilled wall that separates the Inner Garden from the Brook Garden

Statue, in front of the grilled wall that separates the Inner Garden from the Brook Garden

Two's a crowd in the Inner Garden: Gaston Lachaise's STANDING WOMAN (1912-27), with her abstract counterpart

Two’s a crowd in the Inner Garden: Gaston Lachaise’s STANDING WOMAN (1912-27), with her abstract counterpart

Reg Butler's GIRL WITH A VEST (1953-54) poses as the east end of the Inner Garden

Reg Butler’s GIRL WITH A VEST (1953-54) poses as the east end of the Inner Garden

My intrepid guide, Michael Onofrio, hastens out of the Inner Garden

My intrepid guide, Michael Onofrio, hastens out of the Inner Garden

Just south of the Morning Garden is this 9-foot-tall display of Utter Goofiness: Karel Appel's MOUSE ON A TABLE (1971) !!!

Just south of the Morning Garden is this 9-foot-tall display of Utter Goofiness:
Karel Appel’s MOUSE ON A TABLE (1971) !!!

And near the Brook Garden, on the Tennis Lawn, is Pablo Picacco's THE BATHERS (1956-57)

And near the Brook Garden, on the Tennis Lawn, is Pablo Picacco’s THE BATHERS (1956-57)

The Tea House, as seen from the Morning Garden

The Tea House, as seen from the Morning Garden

Another view of the Tea House, from within the Morning Garden

Another view of the Tea House, from within the Morning Garden

Winged Victory, hovering above bushes in the Morning Garden

Winged Victory, hovering above bushes in the Morning Garden

Another view of Winged Victory

Another view of Winged Victory

Midway down the Grand Stairway is the Boxwood, or Italian Garden. This is the most untended of the gardens at Kykuit.

Midway down the Grand Stairway is the Boxwood, or Italian Garden. This is the most untended of the gardens at Kykuit.

Each quadrant of the Italian Garden is watched over by a stone figure that represents one of the Seasons

Each quadrant of the Italian Garden is watched over by a stone figure that represents one of the Seasons

Approaching the bottom of the Grand Stairway

Approaching the bottom of the Grand Stairway

The Zodiac Mosaic by the Adam and Eve Pool

The Zodiac Mosaic by the Adam and Eve Pool

George Gray Barnard's ADAM AND EVE (1916), above the pool at the base of the Grand Stairway

George Gray Barnard’s ADAM AND EVE (1916), above the pool at the base of the Grand Stairway

Climbing back up the Grand Stairway, we were confronted by the enormity of The Oceanus Fountain. Per Henry Joyce, “the Italian Renaissance prototype for the Kykuit Oceanus was a figure commissioned from the sculptor Giambologna about 1565 as the central feature of the Boboli Gardens at the Pitti Palace in Florence. Edith Wharton used illustrations of the fountain in her ‘Italian Villas and Their Gardens.’ The Kykuit Oceanus was made in Italy in 1913.”

Maxfield Parrish's illustration of the Oceanus Fountain in the Boboli Gardens. This image taken from my own copy of Edith Wharton's ITALIAN VILLAS AND THEIR GARDENS

Maxfield Parrish’s illustration of the Oceanus Fountain in the Boboli Gardens. This image taken from my own copy of Edith Wharton’s ITALIAN VILLAS AND THEIR GARDENS

My photo of the original Oceanus Fountain (seen looming in the background), taken in Florence's Boboli Gardens during my visit on Sunday, Sept. 9, 2012.

My photo of the original Oceanus Fountain (seen looming in the background), taken in Florence’s Boboli Gardens during my visit on Sunday, Sept. 9, 2012.

Another view of the original Oceanus Fountain in the Boboli Gardens. My photo, dated Sept. 9, 2012.

Another view of the original Oceanus Fountain in the Boboli Gardens. My photo, dated Sept. 9, 2012.

The Kykuit Oceanus Fountain, on June 7, 2013

The Kykuit Oceanus Fountain, on June 7, 2013

Kykuit's Oceanus Fountain, in better weather. Image courtesy of "The Rockefeller Family Home: Kykuit," by Ann Rockefeller Roberts

Kykuit’s Oceanus Fountain, in better weather. Image courtesy of “The Rockefeller Family Home: Kykuit,” by Ann Rockefeller Roberts

The Oceanus Fountain, seen from the top of the Grand Stairway

The Oceanus Fountain, seen from the top of the Grand Stairway

The Granite Bowl of the Oceanus Fountain is 20 feet in diameter and weighs 35 tons. It was produced in Maine, and shipped to Kykuit in 1914. I cannot imagine how difficult shipping this hunk of rock must have been.

The Granite Bowl of the Oceanus Fountain is 20 feet in diameter and weighs 35 tons. It was produced in Maine, and shipped to Kykuit in 1914. I cannot imagine how difficult shipping this hunk of rock must have been.

A pool is beneath the Giant Bowl

A pool is beneath the Giant Bowl

A closer view of the Oceanus Fountain, showing two of the three river gods who surround the central figure of Oceanus

A closer view of the Oceanus Fountain, showing two of the three river gods who surround the central figure of Oceanus

The Brook Garden

The Brook Garden. Rock was virtually all there was on this hill when the gardens began, so this brook had to be created. In the early Spring, pink blossoms adorn the weeping cherry trees.

..rain, Rain, RAIN...in the Brook Garden. Isamu Noguchi's BLACK SUN (1960-63) is mounted on a slim, gray pedestal

..rain, Rain, RAIN…in the Brook Garden. Isamu Noguchi’s BLACK SUN (1960-63) is mounted on a slim, gray pedestal

Another view of the Brook Garden

Another view of the Brook Garden

Grotto and Waterfall in the Brook Garden

Grotto and Waterfall in the Brook Garden

Waterside plantings in the Brook Garden

Waterside plantings in the Brook Garden

Stepping Stones in the Brook Garden

Stepping Stones in the Brook Garden

Japanese Bronze Lanterns, which have adorned the Brook Garden since 1908

Japanese Bronze Lanterns, which have adorned the Brook Garden since 1908

Steps leading away from the Brook Garden, as we head back toward the Temple of Venus

Steps leading away from the Brook Garden, as we head back toward the Temple of Venus

Temple of Venus/Classical Temple

Temple of Venus/Classical Temple. The Temple is placed within a small grove of American dogwood, and Japanese dogwood.

Another approach to the Temple of Venus

Another approach to the Temple of Venus

Venus gets her close-up

Venus gets her close-up. The statue is mounted on a revolving platform.

The domed ceiling, over Venus

The domed ceiling, over Venus

Balustrade of stairs that lead down from the south side of the Temple of Venus

Balustrade of stairs that lead down from the south side of the Temple of Venus

Stairs on the south side of the Temple of Venus

Stairs on the south side of the Temple of Venus

PAN, by Janet Scudder, is temporarily displaced from his niche on the path leading down to the Grotto that's beneath the Temple of Venus

PAN, by Janet Scudder, is temporarily displaced from his niche on the path leading down to the Grotto that’s beneath the Temple of Venus

And now Pan gets HIS close-up

And now Pan gets HIS close-up

The Grotto, beneath the Temple of Venus, is a circular room, and features a Guastavino tile ceiling and Moravian tile floors. Eight massive sandstone masks crown columns around the perimeter. Emil Siebern, who worked at Kykuit from 1909 until 1914, decorated the space with classical sculptures. A Punch of Serious Drama comes from Giacomo Balla’s series of wooden sculptures, FUTURISTIC FLOWERS, which Nelson Rockefeller added in the early 1970’s. All in all, the Grotto is a magical (and relatively DRY, despite its name) space.

The Grotto, beneath the Temple of Venus

The Grotto, beneath the Temple of Venus

Carved Sandstone Mask

Carved Sandstone Mask

Carved Sandstone Mask

Carved Sandstone Mask

Carved Sandstone Elephant

Carved Sandstone Elephant

Nan, reflected, as she goes about her business of taking pictures.

Nan, reflected, as she goes about her business of taking pictures.

One of Balla's FUTURISTIC FLOWERS, dramatically lit

One of Balla’s FUTURISTIC FLOWERS, dramatically lit

Another FUTURISTIC FLOWER

Another FUTURISTIC FLOWER

A flirtatious nymph, by Emil Siebern

A flirtatious nymph, by Emil Siebern

Emil Siebern's PAN

Emil Siebern’s PAN

Icicle-form Lights of frosted glass, designed by William Bosworth and made my Tiffany. Guastavino's arched, structural-tile ceiling may look familiar to you: he also did the ceilings in the concourses of Grand Central Station.

Icicle-form Lights of frosted glass, designed by William Bosworth and made by Tiffany. Guastavino’s arched, structural-tile ceiling may look familiar to you: he also did the ceilings in the concourses of Grand Central Station.

Floor Tile: one of the earliest designs made by Henry Mercer's Moravian Tileworks.

Floor Tile: one of the earliest designs made by Henry Mercer’s Moravian Tileworks.

Michael Onofrio leads me away from the blessed dryness of the Grotto, and downhill towards the Swimming Pool Terrace

Michael Onofrio leads me away from the blessed dryness of the Grotto, and downhill towards the Swimming Pool Terrace

At the edge of the Swimming Pool Terrace

At the edge of the Swimming Pool Terrace

The Swimming Pool Terrace. That day, we were so rain-soaked that we might as well have been IN this pool.

The Swimming Pool Terrace. That day, we were so rain-soaked that we might as well have been IN this pool.

Another view of the Swimming Pool Terrace

Another view of the Swimming Pool Terrace

A cast-stone mushroom table and chairs are under a pergola, on the level below the Swimming Pool Terrace

A cast-stone mushroom table and chairs are under a pergola, on the level below the Swimming Pool Terrace

On the path leading away from the Swimming Pool, past the Putting Green, and toward the Rose Garden

On the path leading away from the Swimming Pool, past the Putting Green, and toward the Rose Garden

Approaching the Putting Green

Approaching the Putting Green

The Putting Green

The Putting Green

The statue at the western edge of the Putting Green: Gaston Lachaise's MAN (1938)...on a day when it's not raining. Image courtesy of "The Rockefeller Family Home: Kykuit," by Ann Rockefeller Roberts

The statue at the western edge of the Putting Green: Gaston Lachaise’s MAN (1938)…on a day when it’s not raining. Image courtesy of “The Rockefeller Family Home: Kykuit,” by Ann Rockefeller Roberts

A sculpture of reclining lovers hides near the Putting Green: Gaston Lachaise's DANS LA NUIT (1935)

A sculpture of reclining lovers hides near the Putting Green: Gaston Lachaise’s DANS LA NUIT (1935)

The black steel of Alexander Calder's SPINY (1966) complements the wet bark of the trees along the Maple Walk.

The black steel of Alexander Calder’s SPINY (1966) complements the wet bark of the trees along the Maple Walk.

Further along the Maple Walk is James Rosati's LIPPINCOTT II (1965-69); painted, cor-ten steel.

Further along the Maple Walk is James Rosati’s LIPPINCOTT II (1965-69);
painted, cor-ten steel. And in the foreground, the snaking-line of BARBARA–HOMMAGE TO BARBARA REISE (1971-72), by Benni Efrat.

What James Rosati's sculpture looks like on a sunny day...along with a spectacular view of the Hudson River. Image courtesy of "The Rockefeller Family Home: Kykuit," by Anne Rockefeller Roberts.

What James Rosati’s sculpture looks like on a sunny day…along with a spectacular view of the Hudson River. Image courtesy of “The Rockefeller Family Home: Kykuit,” by Anne Rockefeller Roberts.

Henry Moore's KNIFE-EDGE, TWO PIECE, which Nelson Rockefeller commissioned, and then mounted on the grassy slopes below the Rose Garden

Henry Moore’s KNIFE-EDGE, TWO PIECE, which Nelson Rockefeller commissioned, and then mounted on the grassy slopes below the Rose Garden

Another view of Henry Moore's KNIFE-EDGE, TWO PIECE

Another view of Henry Moore’s KNIFE-EDGE, TWO PIECE

We approach the western edge of the Rose Garden

We approach the western edge of the Rose Garden

The Rose Garden, which originally contained an evergreen maze (which was removed in 1916).

The Rose Garden originally contained an evergreen maze (which was removed in 1916).

The Rose Garden's hybrid tea roses flower in late Spring, and again in the Fall.

The Rose Garden’s hybrid tea roses flower in late Spring, and again in the Fall.

Splish-Splash! The Rose Garden's fountain is a copy of yet another Medici fountain in Florence's Boboli Gardens. The fountain is topped by a stone figure based upon a Donatello sculpture.

Splish-Splash! The Rose Garden’s fountain is a copy of yet another Medici fountain in Florence’s Boboli Gardens. The fountain is topped by a stone figure based upon a Donatello sculpture.

A closer look a the Rose Garden's Fountain

A closer look a the Rose Garden’s Fountain

A dry-ish corner under the Rose Garden Loggia

A dry-ish corner under the Rose Garden Pergola

Wall detail of Rose Garden Loggia

Wall detail of Rose Garden Pergola

Rose Garden Loggia

Rose Garden Pergola

Max Bill's TRIANGULAR SURFACE IN SPACE (1962) is mounted at the west end of the Rose Garden Loggia

Max Bill’s TRIANGULAR SURFACE IN SPACE (1962) is mounted at the west end of the Rose Garden Pergola

So….what to make of this splendor on the hillsides of the Hudson River? I’ve referred to many books about Kykuit, but Tim Richardson’s GREAT GARDENS OF AMERICA presents the best summary…and critique… of the Rockefeller family home. Here, some selections from Richardson’s book (which is much more than the coffee-table tome it seems at first glance to be).

The best book about America's greatest gardens.

The best book about America’s greatest gardens.

“As a God-fearing Baptist, JDR preferred simplicity in all things, whereas his only son Junior had decidedly grander…tastes.”

“The overall effect of the [house] exterior is reminiscent of a pretentious provincial hotel.”

“The gardens, on the other hand, were a great success. They can be considered to have developed in three main phases from 1906 which mirror the periods JDR, Junior, and Junior’s son Nelson Rockefeller spent at Kykuit. They moved in, respectively, in 1908, 1937, and 1960.”

“In terms of landscape ideas, JDR was interested in the notion of the ‘picturesque’ landscape: flowing greensward, groves of copper beeches, stands of native elm and oak, and above all the fine vistas out across the Hudson River. His philosophy—perhaps inherited from his father, a successful farmer—was to massage the landscape a little to bring out its best qualities, but otherwise to leave it alone. This was certainly a cost-effective approach, too.”

“Junior, on the other hand, favored the Beaux Arts style which was fashionable in the decades around the turn of the twentieth century—an eclectic, eminently acquisitive mode of design which ‘quoted’ or ‘performed’ aspects of old French, Italian and English gardens while giving them a glamorous contemporary spin through the addition of elements such as modern figurative sculpture (very often nudes). The impetus in Beaux Arts design was for distinct themes in different parts of the garden, to engender a wide variety of garden experiences and moods. Anyone who commissioned something in the Beaux Arts style had to be content for their wealth to show.”

“The final phase occurred in the later twentieth century when Nelson Rockefeller added a great deal of sculpture to the landscape; interventions which perhaps constitute the most aesthetically successful period of the garden’s development and the aspect that qualifies Kykuit most convincingly as a ‘great garden.’ “

“It is in the lawns and parks to the north and north-east that the influence of Nelson Rockefeller can be felt most keenly, for here can be found some of the most arresting of the seventy or so pieces of sculpture placed throughout the garden. After Junior’s death in 1960 his second oldest son, Nelson, moved in, with the agreement of his siblings. Here was an art collector, politician (he was vice-president in the mid-seventies), and sometime president of the Museum of Modern Art in New York—a man of discernment. Nelson had realized that he would probably be the last of the Rockefellers who would be able to maintain Kykuit as a private home, and envisaged his tenure as an act of transition to the estate opening to the public. His main contribution to the garden remains the outdoor sculpture collection, work which ranges from the classicism of Maillol to the austere abstraction of Brancusi. It remains today one of the best and most ambitions examples of the integration of sculpture into an existing formal garden setting. Nelson Rockefeller integrated modern sculpture in some surprising places—such as the ammonite abstract sculpture TRIANGULAR SURFACE IN SPACE (1962) by Max Bill, now at the end of the pergola in the Rose Garden—but he invariably seems to have got it right. The modern sculpture collection adds an exciting contemporary zip to this classic Beaux Arts garden.”

On that stormy morning in June, Nelson Rockefeller's sculptural addditions

On that stormy morning in June, Nelson Rockefeller’s sculptural additions to the garden seemed magical

Over 100 years ago, as architect William Welles Bosworth drafted his plans for the gardens which would embrace John D.Rockefeller’s country home, he looked back in time to Italy, to the villas and gardens of another impossibly wealthy and profoundly powerful family. As politicians, ruthless businessmen, and patrons of the arts, the Medici of Renaissance Florence were obvious models. (Note: For a refresher-course, read my article “Florence & Lucca: The villas, gardens & treasures of Tuscany,” which features several Medici gardens.) When I first arrived at Kykuit, I immediately recognized the Oceanus Fountain as a copy of the fountain in the Boboli Gardens, and my first thought was “How absurd! Why mimic Florence? Why not an Original, for this oh-so-American family?” But, forever-over-time, men of newly-acquired wealth and recently-born power have attempted to secure a footing in history for themselves, and for their descendants. As a rapid way of establishing gravitas and respectability, they’ve adopted the symbols and styles of their most-admired history-book predecessors. Such symbols, conspicuously displayed, serve as shorthand. The Oceanus Fountain devised by Junior’s architect announced: “We are mindful of what has passed before. We are cultured. We are rich as the Medici.” This is an assertion made mostly loudly by the Second-Generation; by the offspring of founders who were too busy empire-building to find time to also build palaces for themselves. By the time Junior’s son Nelson took over Kykuit, the Rockefellers’ places in American history were secure: symbol-borrowing time was done. From his secure perch, Nelson was able to approach the decoration of Kykuit’s gardens idiosyncratically, and he adorned his home in a way that harmonized with his particular, restless aesthetic sense. There are sections of the gardens where an over-abundance of art detracts from each, individual piece: along the wall of the Inner Garden, within the Grotto, and on the West and Orange Tree Terraces too many sculptures, in too many styles, vie for breathing room. But even in these areas of Too-Muchness, there’s a vestige of the exuberance of the Collector: Nelson Rockefeller’s sheer excitement about choosing, and then positioning these creations is still palpable. Visit Kyuit…and pray that it rains. From the day’s inclemency I gained the highest luxury; that of utter privacy as I sloshed and splashed and explored the homestead of this imposing American family. Of course, it remains to be seen if, 600 years from now, the Rockefellers are remembered with an awe equal to that with which we of today remember the Medici! But this is just one more of the millions of things we’ll never know….

Kykuit: The Rockefeller Estate
Open from early May through late September
Tours assemble at the Visitor Center of Philipsburg Manor
381 North Broadway
Sleepy Hollow, New York 10591
Phone ( 914 ) 631-8200
http://www.hudsonvalley.org

Coming Soon: I’ll begin my Five-Part Series on the Gardens and Estates of Kent, England.

The circular, late 14th century tower at Scotney Castle, near Royal Tunbridge Wells, in Kent, England. I took this photo on August 6, 2013."

The circular, late 14th century tower at Scotney Castle, near Royal Tunbridge Wells, in Kent, England. I took this photo on August 6, 2013.”

Copyright 2014. Nan Quick—Nan Quick’s Diaries for Armchair Travelers.
Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express &
written permission from Nan Quick is strictly prohibited.

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Hudson River Valley Gardens: Part One–Innisfree

Innisfree Garden, in Millbrook, New York. June 6, 2013. The Yarimizu--or oxbow stream--in the Meadow.

Innisfree Garden, in Millbrook, New York. June 6, 2013. The Yarimizu–or oxbow stream–in the Meadow.

December 2013

Now that the first traces of snow have settled upon New England, contemplating greenness—and gardens—seems more therapeutic than ever. Perhaps I’d dawdled about writing this report of my June trip to New York State’s Lower Hudson River Valley because I knew that the pleasure I’d get from thinking about those days would be greater, once wintertime had come.

My continuous quest for Significant Gardens isn’t being done merely to collect postcard-pretty-photos. I’m searching for built landscapes which have retained echoes of the spirits and minds that originally designed them. I’m seeking gardens that were made passionately and intelligently; gardens that have endured…despite passage of time (whether measured in decades or in centuries), cycles of seasons upon seasons, and inevitable changes-of-fortune. The Holy Grails in this search of mine are gardens that are simultaneously supple and refined; gardens where one’s initial pleasure at experiencing spaces and scents is matched afterwards by one’s satisfaction in learning about the intentions of the makers of those places. Intellectualism without sensuality becomes brittle. Sensuality without thoughtfulness becomes base. In the best gardens there’s a dialogue between the voluptuous and the ethereal, a conversation where these opposite qualities affect a garden-visitor so powerfully that ever afterwards, the wonder of having inhabited those spaces, however briefly, is transformed into memories which feed the soul. As I drove south along the Taconic Parkway I hoped that at least one of the gardens on my List might indeed be this marvelous…

Map of New York State's Lower Hudson River Valley

Map of New York State’s Lower Hudson River Valley

But always, my first priority when I’m out and about is to find a quiet place where I can restore my energies and rest my head. In late afternoon, on June 5th, after taking a few seriously-wrong turns (no GPS for me….I’m strictly-paper-map), I arrived at The Millbrook Inn, which, continuing my good-travel-karma, turned out to be the most-top-notch of any B&B I’ve ever visited.

The Inn, a rambling white, clapboard farmhouse with interiors that have been completely renovated, is surrounded by verdant fields and mature woodlands in Millbrook, which is Serious Horse Country. I chose the Inn because of its proximity to Innisfree,the first of three gardens on my Hudson River Valley agenda, but as soon as I stepped into the Inn’s reception area, I realized that, for a traveler in need of comfort and serenity, the Inn itself is worthy of being called a Destination.

The Millbrook Inn. 3 Gifford Road, Millbrook, New York 12545. phone# (845) 605-1120. www.themillbrookinn.com

The Millbrook Inn. 3 Gifford Road, Millbrook, New York 12545. phone# (845) 605-1120.
http://www.themillbrookinn.com

Late afternoon, at The Millbrook Inn

Late afternoon, at The Millbrook Inn

The Camby, my room at The Millbrook Inn

The Camby, my room at The Millbrook Inn

My bathroom at The Millbrook Inn

My bathroom at The Millbrook Inn

Really...the floor in my bathroom was so impeccably clean that I could have eaten off of it without worry!

Really…the floor in my bathroom was so impeccably clean that I could have eaten off of it without worry!

The view from my room at The Millbrook Inn on the morning of June 5, 2013

The view from my room at The Millbrook Inn on the morning of June 6, 2013

On the morning of June 6th, fortified by a Millbrook-Inn-Breakfast (aka “A Feast”), I made the 15 minute drive to Innisfree, which, now seen, I must certainly name as one of the most mesmerizing gardens of the world…and one upon whose grounds far-too-few garden-aficionados have trodden. During the four hours I spent at Innisfree, I crossed paths with no more than a half dozen other visitors. Granted, the day was overcast, but less-than-blue skies never inhibit serious garden-gawkers. Innisfree is a Public Garden in its purest form: no Information Center, no Café, no Guided Tours. Apart from an enthusiastic docent to collect one’s $5.00 admittance fee in exchange for a map of the grounds—and a single (but scrupulously-well-maintained) porta-potty at the far edge of the parking lot—there’s nothing there but the Great Outdoors. But however graceful and natural those 185 acres that surround a glacial lake seem, one must not be hoodwinked. The stroll-gardens at Innisfree are mind-boggling demonstrations of garden-design artifice: of land-shaping and mood-making executed in most subtle and cunning fashion. Who were the tricksters who made this enchanted landscape?

As always, I refrain from wheel-reinvention, and so quote the Innisfree Foundation’s summary of the Garden’s history:

“Over fifty years in the making, Innisfree is a powerful icon in 20th century landscape design.Largely the work of landscape architect Lester Collins (1914-1993), with important contributions by his client, the artist Walter Beck, it is a site-specific distillation of Modernist ideas with traditional Chinese and Japanese garden design principles.”

“In the late 1920’s, Walter Beck and his wife Marion (nee Burt), an heiress, began work on Innisfree, their country residence. Walter Beck’s fascination with Asian art….led him to Chinese and Japanese garden design, which became his lasting inspiration for Innisfree. In 1930, Beck discovered the work of eighth-century Chinese poet, painter, and garden maker, Wang Wei. Beck observed that Wang created carefully defined, inwardly focused gardens and garden vignettes. Thinking of these as ‘cup gardens,’ Beck took great pleasure in creating small, three-dimensional pictures at Innisfree, often incorporating rocks from the site and horticultural advice from his wife. Unlike Wang Wei…Beck gave little thought to how his creations related to each other or the landscape as a whole. This was the genius of Lester Collins.”

Landscape Architect Lester Collins

Landscape Architect Lester Collins

“Walter and Marion Beck met Lester Collins early in 1938 when Collins was an undergraduate at Harvard, and they were soon working together on the Millbrook landscape.” After extensive travels throughout Asia, during which Collins worked with a
“Japanese scholar to translate the 1000 year old SENSAI HISHO, the seminal SECRET GARDEN BOOK, which urges gardeners to study nature and great gardens but to build the essence rather than the copy,” Collins returned to the U.S. to go into private practice, and also continued his work at Innisfree.

“Innisfree is perhaps unique as the creation of a single, major landscape architect in its incarnations both as a private and a public garden. Organizationally, Lester Collins helped the Becks craft the original mission for the Innisfree Foundation and then shaped the nonprofit that exists today. Throughout his fifty-year association with the garden, Lester Collins evidenced a superb ability to sculpt the land and choreograph movement through space. Drawing on these particular skills as a landscape architect, as well as the Alice in Wonderland aspects of traditional Chinese and Japanese gardens, the jazz-like syncopations of Modernism, and the ideas of occult or asymmetrical balance common to all three, Collins created the dreamlike sequence of vignettes that defines Innisfree.”

Of course none of these syntheses would have been possible without the perfect setting first provided by the Becks’ lake and acreage in Millbrook. Any Chinese garden worth its salt has to represent Nature’s totality, with a harmony of water and mountains. And so Innisfree’s deep and calm lake became the heart and the focus for the hills and the substantial granite cliffs that circled it. The Yin (receptive and yielding) and Yang (upright and hard) of things were in place, ready for the eccentric, creative energies of the designers.

Innisfree Garden Map

Innisfree Garden Map

I passed the Picnic Area and Overlook…

Picnic Area

Picnic Area

Overlook

Overlook

…and the Entrance to the Garden…

Welcome to Innisfree

Welcome to Innisfree

…and followed the Lake Path…

Wisteria Arch on Lakeside Path

Wisteria Arch on Lakeside Path

Rocks by Lakeside Path

Rocks by Lakeside Path

…past the Bog Garden…

Bog Garden

Bog Garden

Bog Garden, with Pine Island and Fountain Jet in the far distance.

Bog Garden, with Pine Island and Fountain Jet in the far distance.

…toward the base of the Mist Waterfall. Beck had to do quite a bit of tinkering to find a way for a water jet to produce just the right pressure and volume for misting.

Path near the base of the Mist Waterfall

Path near the base of the Mist Waterfall

Path by the base of the Mist Waterfall

Path by the base of the Mist Waterfall

Walter and Marion Beck's exquisite composition, at the base of the Mist Waterfall

Walter and Marion Beck’s exquisite composition, at the base of the Mist Waterfall

The Mist Waterfall itself seems utterly natural, although one knows it cannot be.

The Mist Waterfall. In Chinese gardens, rainbows and mist are feminine, and associated with the supernatural powers of fertility.

The Mist Waterfall. In Chinese gardens, rainbows and mist are feminine, and associated with the supernatural powers of fertility.

At the Lip Waterfall, Beck modulated the flow of water over rocks to create subtle variations of sound.

Lip Waterfall

Lip Waterfall

Lakeside Path by the base of Lip Waterfall

Lakeside Path by the base of Lip Waterfall

Up the steps by Tiptoe Rock…

View from Tiptoe Rock Steps back toward Lake

View from Tiptoe Rock Steps back toward Lake

Steps by Tiptoe Rock

Steps by Tiptoe Rock

Tiptoe Rock Steps

Tiptoe Rock Steps

…and down the other side of the hill toward the North Lawn:

Looking down at the North Lawn from Tiptoe Rock

Looking down at the North Lawn from Tiptoe Rock

Crossing the Brook by the North Lawn

Crossing the Brook by the North Lawn

North Lawn. All of the berms throughout the Gardens were designed by Lester Collins, and have been built since 1980.

North Lawn. All of the berms throughout the Gardens were designed by Lester Collins, and have been built since 1980.

Climbing to the higher reaches of the North Lawn.

Climbing to the higher reaches of the North Lawn.

Even with a Map of Innisfree in hand, it had taken me only 15 minutes to become disoriented. Instead of continuing around the edge of the Lake, I’d climbed the mossy stone steps near the Mist Waterfall up to Tiptoe Rock, and then tripped down the back side of the hill into the North Lawn, where I found undulating grassy hillocks which were hemmed in by steep slopes of deciduous trees. With no points of reference—the Lake had disappeared, I hadn’t long views of any of the other garden areas indicated on the Map, and the white glare of an overcast sky obscured the position of the sun—my sense of direction had vanished. This part of Innisfree proved impossible to photograph. The abrupt compression of space, and the funhouse-like level-variations of the mounds: these qualities that most define this particular ‘cup garden’ could NOT be captured by my (very good) camera lens, which somehow smoothed and lessened the contrasts. Moral: enjoy my pictures, but lace up your hiking boots and get yourself to Innisfree.

Much later, back home, and buttressed by piles of reference books—particularly by Maggie Keswick’s superb study of THE CHINESE GARDEN—I began to make sense of how Chinese landscape painting had influenced the gardens at Innisfree.Per Keswick:

“Unfortunately, none of Wang Wei’s original works survive.” [Note: Walter Beck studied copies-of-copies-of-copies of Wang’s scrolls.] “Wang Wei is sometimes credited with inventing a new format: the scroll painting which one unwinds from right to left. Each space is separated, but linked to the next by water and mist.”

Wang Chuan scroll (detail). Copy after Wang Wei (699--791). Image courtesy of THE CHINESE GARDEN, by Maggie Keswick.

Wang Chuan scroll (detail). Copy after Wang Wei (699–791). Image courtesy of THE CHINESE GARDEN, by Maggie Keswick.

In Chinese gardens, “there is no overwhelming sense of an ending, as there is at the Palace of Versailles. Although there is a complicated order that can finally be perceived, the Chinese did not lay out their gardens to be conceptualized from above, as the French or Italians did. The Chinese garden was to be perceived as a linear sequence—the scroll painting you enter in fancy—that seems infinite. The internal boundaries were made to feel vague or ambiguous, time was made to stop and space become limitless.” A proper Chinese garden had “deliberately confusing boundaries, no clear order, and certainly no symmetry.”

SO….instead of plummeting down a rabbit hole, I’d climbed up and over a rocky crag, breathed the moist air of a Mist Waterfall, stepped carefully down alongside the banks of an iris-lined brook, and strolled out onto a vast, undulating, funhouse lawn. I’d arrived at a place which seemed divorced from the reality of the Hudson River Valley.

Not until I’d reached the top of the North Lawn did long views reappear…

Huge retaining wall at the top of the North Lawn

Huge retaining wall at the top of the North Lawn

Looking up at the Huge Retaining Wall

Looking up at the Huge Retaining Wall

A glimpse of the Lake from the topmost portions of the North Lawn

A glimpse of the Lake from the topmost portions of the North Lawn

…but this landscape, which at first had seemed quite normal, suddenly became anything BUT:

Stem Column Water Sculpture, concealed behind severely-pruned Gingko Trees

Steam Column Water Sculpture, concealed behind severely-pruned Gingko Trees

I heard a hissing sound, which confused me, and I strained my eyes to locate the source, which seemed to be uphill, past a grove of severely-pruned Gingko Trees. Clouds of steam were the cause of the sound: they billowed from a huge, columnar sculpture. I walked toward the cloud, and then into it. I cooled myself in the mist, and looked upward toward the hazy sky, through an artificial rainbow.

Gingko Trees and Water Sculpture/Steam Column

Gingko Trees and Water Sculpture/Steam Column

Another view of the recently-installed Steam Column, which looks as if it's constructed of kor ten steel...but which is actually painted wood.

Another view of the recently-installed Steam Column, which looks as if it’s constructed of kor ten steel…but which is actually painted wood.

Gingko biloba. The Gingko was discovered in China (probably in 1879) by plant explorer Ernest Wilson

Gingko biloba. The Gingko was discovered in China (probably in 1879) by plant explorer Ernest Wilson

Looking downward toward the North Lawn, from the Steam Column

Looking downward toward the North Lawn, from the Steam Column

I was about to cool myself in the Mist, which felt great

I was about to cool myself in the Mist, which felt great

Just uphill from the Steam Column is a Hillside Cave…

Hillside Cave, near Steam Column

Hillside Cave, near Steam Column

…and nearby is a wall festooned with climbing hydrangeas, and punctuated with a circular grotto, with rocks chosen and mounted by Walter Beck. Lester Collins was undoubtably responsible for linking Walter Beck’s many “cup gardens” into a coherent whole, but Beck’s particular genius was in his appreciation, and inspired placement of, the countless specimens of rocks—mostly large….VERY large—which serve as the Garden’s sculptural adornments. As Maggie Keswick writes:

“The Chinese have loved and revered rocks almost in a way that we have admired and collected religious icons. Stone-loving began in ancient times when mountains seemed to be imbued with supernatural power. Large and strangely-shaped boulders were felt to be powerful and were worshipped as local gods. Appreciation of single rocks…was elevated to connoisseurship.”

Typical decorative use of large rocks; these in China's Yu Garden, which was built in the 16th century. Image courtesy of THE CHINESE GARDEN, by Maggie Keswick.

Typical decorative use of large rocks; these in China’s Yu Garden, which was built in the 16th century. Image courtesy of THE CHINESE GARDEN, by Maggie Keswick.

Throughout the ages, Chinese nobility spent untold fortunes to acquire, move, and then mount enormous boulders, and we can be certain that Walter Beck also spared no expense when it came to providing Rocks of Character for his beloved Innisfree.

Climbing Hydrangeas and Circular Grotto

Climbing Hydrangeas and Circular Grotto

Waterfall near Circular Grotto

Waterfall near Circular Grotto

Circular Grotto. Walter Beck's particular genius lay in his choice, and positioning of, rocks on his property.

Circular Grotto. Walter Beck’s particular genius lay in his choice, and positioning of, rocks on his property.

More perfectly-placed Walter Beck rocks

More perfectly-placed Walter Beck rocks

When Walter and Marion Beck first moved to Innisfree, they built their home just east of the area now occupied by the Gingko Trees and Steam Column. The style of their house, a reproduction of Wisley, the experimental headquarters of England’s Royal Horticultural Society, had no relevance to the Asian-inspired gardens that sprang up around it. In 1982, once both Walter and then Marion had died, Lester Collins had the structure razed.

The home of Marion and Walter Beck. Image courtesy of INNISFREE: AN AMERICAN GARDEN, by Lester Collins

The home of Marion and Walter Beck. Image courtesy of INNISFREE: AN AMERICAN GARDEN, by Lester Collins

In today’s garden, the Brick Terrace is all that remains of the Beck homestead.

The Brick Terrace--all that remains of the Beck home

The Brick Terrace–all that remains of the Beck home

View from the Brick Terrace, down over the Meadow

View from the Brick Terrace, down over the Meadow

View from Brick Terrace, down toward Dumpling Knoll

View from Brick Terrace, down toward Dumpling Knoll

Another view down from the Brick Terrace

Another view down from the Brick Terrace

View from Brick Terrace down over Peony Tai

View from Brick Terrace down over Peony Tai

Clematis on the Brick Terrace's lower retaining wall

Clematis on the Brick Terrace’s lower retaining wall

Walter Beck crafted the decorations for the Brick Terrace…

Paving on the Brick Terrace

Paving on the Brick Terrace

Paving on the Brick Terrace

Paving on the Brick Terrace

Paving on the Brick Terrace

Paving on the Brick Terrace

Paving on the Brick Terrace

Paving on the Brick Terrace

Wall Decoration near the Brick Terrace

Wall Decoration near the Brick Terrace

…and supervised the construction of the retaining walls and stairs in the gardens that abutted his house.

Upper Lotus Pool & Grotto near Brick Terrace

Upper Lotus Pool & Grotto near Brick Terrace

Steps from the Brick Terrace down to the Upper Lotus Pool

Steps from the Brick Terrace down to the Upper Lotus Pool

Garden below the Brick Terrace

Garden below the Brick Terrace

Steps below Brick Terrace

Steps below Brick Terrace

Garden below Brick Terrace

Garden below Brick Terrace

Garden below Brick Terrace

Garden below Brick Terrace

Garden below Brick Terrace

Garden below Brick Terrace

Japanese Maples below the Brick Terrace

Japanese Maples below the Brick Terrace

View of the Upper North Lawn, from below the Brick Terrace

View of the Upper North Lawn, from below the Brick Terrace

Down-slope from the Brick Terrace is the Peony Tai:

The Peony Tai in full-flower

The Peony Tai in full-flower

View from Peony Tai, down to the Lake

View from Peony Tai, down to the Lake

View from the Peony Tai, down toward the Oxbow Stream

View from the Peony Tai, down toward the Oxbow Stream

Underground Room, near the Peony Tai

Underground Room, near the Peony Tai

From the Peony Tai, the Meadow below, with its undulating Yarimzu (or Oxbow Stream) can be seen. The Meadow Garden and Stream were the most elaborate and costly of Lester Collins’ designs for Innisfree. Once again, photographs cannot adequately describe the sense of surprise—and then delight— that come with one’s first glimpse of this fairy-tale scene.

A glimpse of the Yarimizu

A glimpse of the Yarimizu

The Yarimizu

The Yarimizu

The Yarimizu

The Yarimizu

The Yarimizu in a different light. Image courtesy of the Innisfree Foundation.

The Yarimizu in a different light. Image courtesy of the Innisfree Foundation.

Another view of the Yarimizu

Another view of the Yarimizu

Bridge to the Meadow and the Dumpling Knoll

Bridge to the Meadow and the Dumpling Knoll

The Meadow and the Dumpling Knoll

The Meadow and the Dumpling Knoll

Clipped Pear Trees in the Meadow. Image courtesy of the Innisfree Foundation.

Clipped Pear Trees in the Meadow. Image courtesy of the Innisfree Foundation.

Meadow, Dumpling Knoll, and Yarimizu.

Meadow, Dumpling Knoll, and Yarimizu.

The Serene slopes of the South Lawn:

South Lawn, with view across Lake toward Pine Island and Fountain Jet.

South Lawn, with view across Lake toward Pine Island and Fountain Jet.

South Lawn, in early morning light. Image courtesy of the Innisfree Foundation.

South Lawn, in early morning light. Image courtesy of the Innisfree Foundation.

South Lawn, with view uphill back to Steam Column

South Lawn, with view uphill back to Steam Column

South Lawn, with view toward Stone Hill, and The Point

South Lawn, with view toward Stone Hill, and The Point

South Lawn, by the Lake

South Lawn, by the Lake

South Lawn

South Lawn

South Lawn

South Lawn

South Lawnchairs

South Lawnchairs

Really! No People here. And on a warm day in June...

Really! No People here. And on a warm day in June…

Walter Beck built a Stone Hill at the base of the South Lawn:

Stone Hill

Stone Hill

Waterway through Stone Hill

Waterway through Stone Hill

Waterway through Stone Hill

Waterway through Stone Hill

Stone Hill

Stone Hill

Stone Hill

Stone Hill

The formations at The Point are Walter Beck’s most famous uses of rock.

The 3 large rocks on The Point are named: Turtle Rock (left). Dragon Rock (center). Owl Rock (right). Image courtesy of the Innisfree Foundation.

The 3 large rocks on The Point are named: Turtle Rock (left). Dragon Rock (center). Owl Rock (right). Image courtesy of the Innisfree Foundation.

Looking uphill from The Point, toward South Lawn.

Looking uphill from The Point, toward South Lawn.

Getting to The Point

Getting to The Point

The Point

The Point

Paving and Moss at The Point

Paving and Moss at The Point

Rocks and Greenery at The Point

Rocks and Greenery at The Point

Give a boulder some feet and it'll become a Dragon.

Give a boulder some feet and it’ll become a Dragon.

The Owl: My absolute, most-favorite boulder at The Point.

The Owl: My absolute, most-favorite boulder at The Point.

More rocks at The Point

More rocks at The Point

Roots ROCK at The Point

Roots ROCK at The Point

Leaving The Point, the West Walk skirts the Lake…

West Walk

West Walk

…and leads to the Channel Crossing Bridge…

Channel Crossing Bridge

Channel Crossing Bridge

View from the Channel Crossing Footbridge toward The Point

View from the Channel Crossing Footbridge toward The Point

Water Lily Heaven

Water Lily Heaven

…which delivers us to Pine Island. A single, 60-foot high jet of water, which leans with the winds, is the visual and emotional anchor of the Island. Although traditional Chinese gardens rarely included fountains and other water amusements, Walter Beck’s restrained use of fountains throughout the garden is consistent with the habit of China’s Emperors, who delighted in carefully-placed water-toys (aka “Hydraulic Elegancies”).

Pine Island and Fountain Jet

Pine Island and Fountain Jet

Pine Island

Pine Island

Fountain Jet

Fountain Jet

Fountain Jet

Fountain Jet

Fountain Jet

Fountain Jet

A Foo Dog guards the path to the Corncrib Crossing…

A Fierce Garden Guardian

A Fierce Garden Guardian

Approaching the Corncrib Crossing

Approaching the Corncrib Crossing

How to recycle a corn crib

How to recycle a corn crib

Framing a View

Framing a View

…which passes a Bog Garden…

Delicate Bog blooms

Delicate Bog blooms

Bog Garden

Bog Garden

…and points us to the Hemlock Woods overlooking the Lake.

Hemlock Woods...with more empty chairs.

Hemlock Woods…with more empty chairs.

Hemlock Woods

Hemlock Woods

Lake, at Hemlock Woods

Lake, at Hemlock Woods

Our stroll around the Lake comes to an end as we approach the great Willow, and five Columnar Sugar Maples…

The East Side of the Lake

The East Side of the Lake

…and the Pink Haze of the Smoke Trees.

Smoke Trees

Smoke Trees

As I hiked through the Gardens, I assigned myself the exercise of picking a spot, and stopping. I’d stand and stare at the vista before me. Then I’d turn 45 degrees and stare again. After giving myself many, full-360-degree looks throughout Innisfree, I discovered that, from no angles were the views anything but varied and beautiful and thought-provoking. This is truly a garden that’s designed to be lingered in, to be puzzled by, to be entered “in fancy”…a place that’s simultaneously calming and exciting.

I’ve photographed many gardens, but no garden has posed such picture-taking challenges as Innisfree did on that hazy Wednesday in June. Certainly, I was able to capture images of great beauty, but the gardens in Millbrook have a soul, a gentleness, and a good humor—-along with deep contradictions–which can neither be explained by pixels, nor contained by a frame. Perhaps only the ancient art form of a scrolled, painted landscape could begin to suggest the atmospheres there. I would dearly like to see how 21st century scroll-painters might depict Innisfree’s shy corners and moody panoramas.

Even though the designers are long gone, Innisfree continues to evolve with the help of Lester Collins’ wife. Petronella Collins is President of the Innisfree Foundation, and each summer she takes up residence…the better to oversee her small staff, and to guide the subtle developments which continue to transform the gardens.

With his “cup gardens,” Walter Beck created a series of freestanding jewels. With the broad strokes of his landscaping, Lester Collins threaded those jewels into a magical necklace, one which glimmers on the slopes of a hidden and tranquil Lake. If you’re still fleet of foot, love gardens, and haven’t yet been to Innisfree, please find time to make your way to Millbrook. Be sure to wear sturdy shoes, and barricade your body behind long sleeves and trousers and high socks…because (alas), no matter how lovely your thoughts, or how beautiful the scenery, ticks abound in New York State. Yessir…BUGS will always drag us down to Earth, and back to Reality.

Innisfree Garden
Open from early May to late October
Wednesday through Friday: 10AM to 4PM
Weekends and Holidays: 11AM to 5PM
362 Tyrrel Road, Millbrook, New York 12545
http://www.innisfreegarden.org

Coming Next: Part Two of Hudson River Valley Gardens—Stonecrop, a plant-lover’s paradise; and then Kykuit, the Rockefeller-extravaganza in the Pocantico Hills.

Copyright 2013. Nan Quick—Nan Quick’s Diaries for Armchair Travelers.
Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express &
written permission from Nan Quick is strictly prohibited.

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Grand Gardens of the Berkshire Hills: Fletcher Steele’s Naumkeag, & Edith Wharton’s The Mount

The Blue Steps, at Naumkeag, in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. The Steps, built in 1938, are being restored, and the birch trees surrounding the Steps have all been replaced.

This is how the Garden-Sausage is made. The Blue Steps, at Naumkeag, in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. The Steps, built in 1938, are being restored, and the birch trees surrounding the Steps have all been replaced. Other areas at Naumkeag are also undergoing long-needed restorations.

October 2013. As I approach the 12-month-mark of publishing my Diaries for Armchair Travelers, I marvel that the things which obsess me have been at least of passing interest to readers in 83 countries. Blogging (and I must declare that I continue to abhor the word “blog,” which is clunky and inelegant) is as optimistic and impractical an activity as shoving scrawled messages into bottles, and then lobbing the fragile containers into the sea. But web-trawlers keep finding my little missives, and so I keep dispatching more, toward parts unknown. Now that my traveling and picture-taking and writing occupy most of my time, people ask: “Why and how did you begin?” ….funny how unintentional, sideways sliding can ease us into some of our happiest endeavors.

In the fall of 2008 David Patrick Columbia, the editor of NEW YORK SOCIAL DIARY, invited me to begin writing about the international wanderings that were a byproduct of the promotional work I did for my garden furniture design business. Over the next four years, as David published my occasional travel diaries, I found that exploring and photographing and researching suited me well. With each article, my author’s footing became more secure. And as I progressed, my articles stretched their legs and lengthened their stride and finally burst through some seams: no longer could they fit within the tightly-tailored fabric that NYSD’s daily web pages required (And no….NYSD isn’t for the vapidly social. If you savor Anthony Trollope, you’ll enjoy David Patrick Columbia’s musings.). With David’s encouragement, my longer-format Diaries for Armchair Travelers commenced, and being able to allow each of my topics to be revealed unhurriedly, as I amble along ever-more-circuitous paths, has become one of my greatest pleasures.

I’ve recently returned from a month in England, which will eventually yield ten new Diaries. But since I usually write chronologically, I have some catching-up to do, and so now take you along with me on my early-June jaunt to the Berkshire hills of Massachusetts: to visit Naumkeag, one of the world’s most quietly idiosyncratic masterpieces of garden design; and then to The Mount, the home that Edith Wharton built.

Map of the Berkshire Hills of Western Massachusetts

Map of the Berkshire Hills of Western Massachusetts

Many of us who are fortunate enough to own a tract of land hanker for a proper garden. There are those for whom hiring a designer would be unthinkable (that would be me…not because I’m enormously talented, but because I LIKE shoveling dirt and piling rocks and growing plants), and then there are others who prefer to engage a partner to guide them as they plan their little Edens. Whichever our gardening-approach, most garden-makers think in terms of creating “rooms” outside; discrete but connected spaces through which to stroll. I have succumbed to that room-making impulse, again and again, but only in modest fashion:

The gardens I made at my previous home in New Hampshire. Pen, ink & watercolor sketch done by Nan, in Feb. 2002

The gardens I made at my
previous home in New Hampshire. Pen, ink & watercolor sketch done by Nan, in Feb. 2002

In 1929, Mabel Choate inherited a rambling, shingle-style house on 48 acres that hugged a west-facing slope in Stockbridge, Massachusetts.

Mabel Choate and her pooch on the newly-planted Arborvitae Walk. Image courtesy of FLETCHER STEELE, LANDSCAPE ARCHITECT, by Robin Karson.

Mabel Choate and her pooch on the newly-planted Arborvitae Walk. Image courtesy of FLETCHER STEELE, LANDSCAPE ARCHITECT, by Robin Karson.

The house, designed by the architect Stanford White, had been her family’s summer residence, and was one of many grand homes constructed on the Berkshire hills during the late 1800s, when a summertime influx of wealthy New Yorkers caused the area to be called “the inland Newport.”

The 44-room summer home of the Choate family, designed by Stanford White

The 44-room summer home of the Choate family, designed by Stanford White

East-facing Service Court entry to Naumkeag, with the tail-end of my trusty Toyota Highlander (note my little Mona Lisa bumper sticker).

East-facing Service Court entry to Naumkeag, with the tail-end of my trusty Toyota Highlander (note my little Mona Lisa bumper sticker).

Front Hall at Naumkeag

Front Hall at Naumkeag

Approach to the basement Gift Shop on the west side of House

Approach to the basement Gift Shop on the west side of House

The West-facing, Top Lawn side of the House

The West-facing, Top Lawn side of the House

Porch overlooking the Top Lawn

Porch overlooking the Top Lawn

Even before she came into possession of the property her father had called “Naumkeag” (which referenced the original, Native American name of Salem, Massachusetts, his hometown), Mabel, by then a woman in her 50s, had her own ideas about how the quite presentable formal gardens, developed in 1890 by the designer Nathan Barrett, might be refined and expanded.

Bird's Eye View of Naumkeag

Bird’s Eye View of Naumkeag

Key to the Garden Areas at Naumkeag

Key to the Garden Areas at Naumkeag

An arborvitae allee and two terraces at the north end of the property existed, but Mabel, who’d traveled the world and had thus learned the difference between the merely good and the truly great when it came to garden design, was on the lookout for someone to help her better link her home to the beautiful landscape surrounding it.

Nathan Barrett's Arborvitae Walk; looking toward the House.

Nathan Barrett’s Arborvitae Walk; looking toward the House.

Arborvitae Walk; approaching the Evergreen Garden.

Arborvitae Walk; approaching the Evergreen Garden.

Arborvitae Walk; with a glimpse of the Evergreen Garden.

Arborvitae Walk; with a glimpse of the Evergreen Garden.

Nathan Barrett's Evergreen  Garden; with view toward the Western hills.

Nathan Barrett’s Evergreen Garden; with view toward the Western hills.

Evergreen Garden; with view of House

Evergreen Garden; with view of House

Evergreen Garden; with view uphill toward the walled, Chinese Garden.

Evergreen Garden; with view uphill toward the walled, Chinese Garden.

Urn in the Evergreen Garden

Urn in the Evergreen Garden

In 1926, while attending a lecture at the Lenox Garden Club, Mabel found that Someone.

Landscape Architect Fletcher Steele--in 1925.

Landscape Architect Fletcher Steele–in 1925.

The next afternoon, Mabel invited the speaker to tour her gardens, with the aim of creating an “outdoor room” where she might sun herself. As they discussed her modest goal, little did she or Fletcher Steele suspect they’d just begun what would become a close friendship, and an obsessive, sometimes exasperating and always-costly 30-year-long project of garden transformation. As Steele perused the Choate set-up, he declared “I couldn’t possibly work for anyone whose back door looks like that!” Unoffended by his candor, Mabel decided that her back door was indeed “dreadful,” and thus approved Steele’s proposal for a new wall and service court which would create a sheltered area just outside her library, at the south end of her house.

The service court wall and gate that Steele insisted be built, and which then Began It All!

The service court wall and gate that Steele insisted be built, and which then Began It All!

View from the the Service Court through the Gate, and down toward the Water Runnel and the Blue Steps

View from the the Service Court through the Gate, and down toward the Water Runnel and the Blue Steps

The Afternoon Garden, at Naumkeag, in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. Mabel Choate and landscape designer Fletcher Steele worked together for 30 years to develop the landscape around her shingle-style vacation retreat. The Afternoon Garden--begun in the late 1920s-- was the first of many garden designs at Naumkeag that Steele did for Mabel .Choate

The Afternoon Garden, at Naumkeag, in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. Mabel Choate and landscape designer Fletcher Steele worked together for 30 years to develop the landscape around her shingle-style vacation retreat. The Afternoon Garden–begun in the late 1920s– was the first of many garden designs at Naumkeag that Steele did for Mabel Choate. In the distance, the South Lawn stretches out toward the Pagoda and the Linden Walk.

Birds-eye view of Afternoon Garden, drawn in 1930 by Henry Hoover, who worked for Steele. Steele was a gifted designer, but a mediocre draughtsman. Hoover’s renderings of Steele’s designs became an important sales tool; so expressive were his drawings that clients could see exactly how their finished gardens would appear.

Birds-eye view of Afternoon Garden, drawn in 1930 by Henry Hoover, who worked for Steele.
Steele was a gifted designer, but a mediocre draughtsman.
Hoover’s renderings of Steele’s designs became an important sales tool; so expressive were his drawings that clients could see exactly how their finished
gardens would appear. Image courtesy of FLETCHER STEELE, LANDSCAPE ARCHITECT, by Robin Karson.

Mabel Choate and Fletcher Steele, both in the Afternoon Garden

Mabel Choate and Fletcher Steele, both in the Afternoon Garden

Fletcher Steele was a well-established landscape architect by the time his path crossed Mabel Choate’s, and his bounty of garden design commissions ensured that he could be selective when choosing clients. So…who was this design-despot; this person too persnickety to work for any client in possession of a less-than-elegant back door?

At first, it seemed that Steele might be destined for dilettantism. He was born in Rochester, New York, in 1885, to parents who were comfortably-situated and highly intellectual. Steele never felt less than coddled and adored: from the start, his idiosyncrasies and verbal precociousness were encouraged; as a self-defined “talker,” Fletcher learned that his powerful ability to chat and charm opened almost any door in life. Fletcher could easily have whiled his life away as a chatterer; by the time he was indifferently studying at Williams College his only apparent specialties were raconteuring and drinking…two skills which he continued to hone for the rest of his life. Steele was prone to depression and fussy about the company he kept, but altogether unimpressed by others’ wealth. He said “I decided that almost everybody was amusing but not bright. I have kept that opinion—reinforced it, rather. Also I think that education is much overrated.”

Graduated from Williams, Fletcher enrolled in Harvard’s recently-established program in landscape architecture, but stayed for only two years. It was afterward, during his six-year apprenticeship with Warren Manning–one of America’s best landscape architects–as Manning groomed Steele to be his right-hand-man-on-the-job and sent him out across America to supervise the construction of hundreds of commissions, that Steele matured and acquired the nuts-and-bolts skills which would eventually allow him crystallize his own thoughts about how his ideals of Beauty might be used to design landscapes that harmonized with those provided by Mother Nature.

In his unpublished essay, “Where Art and Nature Overlap,” Steele, highly analytical but also equally, intensely intuitive, wrote of his profession:

“It is not the thing itself with affects the landscape architect, but its bulk and position as related to the other matter round about it and to himself. Its individual virtues do not count if it is too large or too small or in the wrong place…this feeling that things are in the way where he wants free space or, conversely, that an open hole would be better if filled, is a strong component of his procedure when composing a landscape. Without it an equally agreeable pattern might be contrived… But for plastic quality derived from modeling the earth till it makes him feel good, fixing points of vantage higher or lower than suggested by existing circumstances and regulating the size and location of foliage masses, the landscape architect depends upon a physical sense refined until it is affected by solid material and empty space.”

Steele’s response to life—-simultaneously intellectual and sensual—-was an ideal combination of attributes for a designer of gardens and landscapes. It’s all good and well for historians that Steele was so voluble about his design philosophies (and SO exhaustive in his accounts of the trials and tribulations which accompanied the making of each of his gardens), but even if he hadn’t left behind masses of words, walking through the gardens at Naumkeag—his most important commission, and one of the very few of his more than 700 works which remains intact—tells the complete tale about how, over the course of thirty years, his vision developed. Steele’s work began as referential and derivative, and then broadened and refined itself into the abstract and lyrical.

The Trustees of Reservations' multi-year plan for the restoration of Naumkeag's gardens.

The Trustees of Reservations’ multi-year plan for the restoration of Naumkeag’s gardens.

Here now are my photos of Naumkeag, taken during the long, golden-lighted afternoon of June 4th, where—apart from the construction crews who were working on the millions’-of-dollars-worth of restorations across the grounds which have recently begun—I had the place virtually to myself.

I’ve organized Steele’s “rooms” at Naumkeag by their dates of inception, beginning with the Afternoon Garden, and ending with the Rose Garden.

AFTERNOON GARDEN—1928

Approaching the Afternoon Garden from the Top Lawn

Approaching the Afternoon Garden from the Top Lawn

The slightly-tipsy columns of the Afternoon Garden

The slightly-tipsy columns of the Afternoon Garden

The Afternoon Garden's carved and gaily-painted oak columns

The Afternoon Garden’s carved and gaily-painted oak columns

Inside the Afternoon Garden; facing West

Inside the Afternoon Garden; facing West

Inside the Afternoon Garden; facing Southwest

Inside the Afternoon Garden; facing Southwest

Inside the Afternoon Garden; facing Southeast

Inside the Afternoon Garden; facing Southeast

The canopy of vines over the Eastern side of the Afternoon Garden

The canopy of vines over the Eastern side of the Afternoon Garden

As the sun moves, the vine-roof filters light into infinite patterns.

As the sun moves, the vine-roof filters light into infinite patterns.

New light under the vine-roof

New light under the vine-roof

A play of shadows

A play of shadows

Fletcher Steele's Roman Thrones

Fletcher Steele’s Roman Thrones

Per Robin Karson, in FLETCHER STEELE, LANDSCAPE ARCHITECT: “Roman thrones and matching footstools were constructed of concrete according to Steele’s design. Choate was a large woman, and after 30 years of sitting in those chairs she once remarked to him how horridly uncomfortable they were. ‘But Mabel,’ he replied, ‘you’re NOT supposed to sit in them, you are supposed to look at them!’”

Ahem…a digression. As a furniture designer, I beg to differ. Steele’s remark is an example of the worst artistic arrogance. Homes, gardens and furniture must serve and comfortably accommodate the humans who use them. To make furniture that’s beautiful but back-breaking is sheer laziness: the goal to which a designer must always aspire is to combine purity of line with comfort. Since Mabel Choate’s gardens were funded without financial limitations, Steele had no excuse for outfitting them with chairs that tortured her. Fie on Fletcher: in this one respect, he should have served his client better.

Now, back to more glimpses of the Afternoon Garden:

Another uncomfortable bench in the Afternoon Garden

Another uncomfortable bench in the Afternoon Garden

Detail of bench-back

Detail of bench-back

Frederick MacMonnies' statue, YOUNG FAUN WITH HERON, perches on the Southwest corner of the Afternoon Garden

Frederick MacMonnies’ statue, YOUNG FAUN WITH HERON, perches on the Southwest corner of the Afternoon Garden

Sculpture, constantly transformed by light.

Sculpture, constantly transformed by light.

The Afternoon Garden, in low, late-day light

The Afternoon Garden, in low, late-day light

The currently-dry pools and fountains in the Afternoon Garden

The currently-dry pools and fountains in the Afternoon Garden

Enchanting patterns and shadows in the Afternoon Garden

Enchanting patterns and shadows in the Afternoon Garden

More shadow-play in the Afternoon Garden

More shadow-play in the Afternoon Garden

TOP LAWN—1932

View toward the Western hills, from the Top Lawn

View toward the Western hills, from the Top Lawn

Another view from the Top Lawn

Another view from the Top Lawn

Walkway at the edge of the Top Lawn

Walkway at the edge of the Top Lawn

View from the Top Lawn toward the Arborvitae Walk and the Chinese  Garden

View from the Top Lawn toward the Arborvitae Walk and the Chinese
Garden

View from the edge of the Top Lawn toward the Evergreen Garden

View from the edge of the Top Lawn toward the Evergreen Garden

The crumbling Great Seat, which is at the Southwest edge of the Top Lawn's terrace. Mabel Choate's guests converged here at day's end, to watch the sunset.

The crumbling Great Seat, which is at the Southwest edge of the Top Lawn’s terrace. Mabel Choate’s guests converged here at day’s end, to watch the sunset.

The Great Seat will be restored

The Great Seat will be restored

View from the Great Seat

View from the Great Seat

Another view from the Great Seat

Another view from the Great Seat

PERUGINO VIEW—1934

Henry Hoover's drawing of The Perugino View. Image courtesy of FLETCHER STEELE, LANDSCAPE ARCHITECT, by Robin Karson.

Henry Hoover’s drawing of The Perugino View. Image courtesy of FLETCHER STEELE, LANDSCAPE ARCHITECT, by Robin Karson.

Perugino View today:  foreground much changed, but with Monument Mountain still where it's always been.

Perugino View today:
foreground much changed, but with Monument Mountain still where it’s always been.

The Oak Lawn, seen from the Perugino View

The Oak Lawn, seen from the Perugino View

SOUTH LAWN & PYRAMID STEPS— 1933-1935

The Pyramid Steps descend from the Afternoon Garden

The Pyramid Steps descend from the Afternoon Garden

Detail of the Pyramid Steps

Detail of the Pyramid Steps

View from base of Pyramid Steps across the South Lawn, toward the Pagoda

View from base of Pyramid Steps across the South Lawn, toward the Pagoda

View from mid-way along the South Lawn, back toward the Afternoon Garden

View from mid-way along the South Lawn, back toward the Afternoon Garden

Five-o-clock shadows decorate the South Lawn

Five-o-clock shadows decorate the South Lawn

OAK LAWN—1935

The sinuous retaining wall of the Oak Lawn, with fields and hills in the distance

The sinuous retaining wall of the Oak Lawn, with fields and hills in the distance

Another view of the Oak Lawn, and lower fields

Another view of the Oak Lawn, and lower fields

New cedar posts have been  installed as the retaining wall at the Western edge of the Oak Lawn

New cedar posts have been installed as the retaining wall at the Western edge of the Oak Lawn

A close-up of the Oak Lawn's new cedar post retaining wall

A close-up of the Oak Lawn’s new cedar post retaining wall

Detail of Oak Lawn retaining wall

Detail of Oak Lawn retaining wall

View from Oak Lawn up toward the newly-planted birch trees of the Blue Steps

View from Oak Lawn up toward the newly-planted birch trees of the Blue Steps

Late afternoon, on the Oak Lawn

Late afternoon, on the Oak Lawn

Late afternoon view, from the Oak Lawn

Late afternoon view, from the Oak Lawn

The tall Swamp White Oak on the Oak Lawn casts magnificent shadows

The tall Swamp White Oak on the Oak Lawn casts magnificent shadows

Another heavenly view from the Oak Lawn

Another heavenly view from the Oak Lawn

TREE PEONY TERRACE—1935

Photo taken as the fieldstone terraces of the Peony Terrace--at the Southwest end of the Top Lawn--were being constructed. Image courtesy of FLETCHER STEELE, LANDSCAPE ARCHITECT, by Robin Karson

Photo taken as the fieldstone terraces of the Peony Terrace–at the Southwest end of the Top Lawn–were being constructed. Image courtesy of FLETCHER STEELE, LANDSCAPE ARCHITECT, by Robin Karson

Approaching the Tree Peony Terrace, from the base of the Rose Garden

Approaching the Tree Peony Terrace, from the base of the Rose Garden

The Tree Peony Terrace. Perversely, Naumkeag is closed during peak-Peony-bloom-time. Perhaps in future years the Trustees of Reservations will decide to open Naumkeag at the beginning of May...for the peony-lovers?

The Tree Peony Terrace. Perversely, Naumkeag is closed during peak-Peony-bloom-time. Perhaps in future years the Trustees of Reservations will decide to open Naumkeag at the beginning of May…for the peony-lovers?

A few Peony-Stragglers held on...for my June 4th visit

A few Peony-Stragglers held on…for my June 4th visit

The last Peony bush in full flower

The last Peony bush in full flower

One giant Peony blossom, for me to fondle

One giant Peony blossom, for me to fondle

PAGODA—1936

The Pagoda, before the current reconstruction of the gardens

The Pagoda, before the current reconstruction of the gardens

The Pagoda's garden is being rebuilt

The Pagoda’s garden is being rebuilt

In the distance, beyond the Pagoda, the long Linden Walk is being replanted and reconstructed.

In the distance, beyond the Pagoda, the long Linden Walk is being replanted and reconstructed.

WATER RUNNEL—1938

The currently-dry Water Runnel, which courses past the base of the Pyramid Steps and down toward the top of the Blue Steps

The currently-dry Water Runnel, which courses past the base of the Pyramid Steps and down toward the top of the Blue Steps

View up the Water Runnel toward gate to the Eastern Service Court

View up the Water Runnel toward gate to the Eastern Service Court

Another view of the dry Water Runnel

Another view of the dry Water Runnel

Detail of Water Runnel..the Rill that is temporarily NOT a Rill

Detail of Water Runnel..the Rill that is temporarily NOT a Rill

Once water resumes flowing in the Runnel, it will pour into the system of waterfalls and fountains that course down alongside the Blue Steps

Once water resumes flowing in the Runnel, it will pour into the system of waterfalls and fountains that course down alongside the Blue Steps

THE BLUE STEPS—1938

The Blue Steps, before the current reconstructions of the gardens

The Blue Steps, before the current reconstructions of the gardens

The Water Runnel meets the top of the Blue Steps

The Water Runnel meets the top of the Blue Steps

I ignored this sign...but later on asked the construction crew for permission to trespass...which they kindly granted.

I ignored this sign…but later on asked the construction crew for permission to trespass…which they kindly granted.

The construction crew on the Blue Steps

The construction crew on the Blue Steps

Work being done on the Blue Steps

Work being done on the Blue Steps

At the base of the Blue Steps

At the base of the Blue Steps

All of the old birch trees surrounding the Blue Steps have been removed, and on June 4th, the final batch of new trees were being hoisted into place.

All of the old birch trees surrounding the Blue Steps have been removed, and on June 4th, the final batch of new trees were being hoisted into place.

This gentleman was happy to provide human scale, next to a new birch.

This gentleman was happy to provide human scale, next to a new birch.

The birch begins its trip uphill

The birch begins its trip uphill

The slope is steep

The slope is steep

The site of Mabel Choate's former cutting and vegetable gardens, at the base of the Blue Steps. Once the trees that are being stored here have been transplanted around the Blue Steps, these defunct gardens will be recreated.

The site of Mabel Choate’s former cutting and vegetable gardens, at the base of the Blue Steps. Once the trees that are being stored here have been transplanted around the Blue Steps, these defunct gardens will be recreated.

Mabel Choate's former potting shed, adjacent to the Blue Steps

Mabel Choate’s former potting shed, adjacent to the Blue Steps

The graceful swoops of the stair railing

The graceful swoops of the stair railing

Newly-planted groves of birches, alongside the Blue Steps

Newly-planted groves of birches, alongside the Blue Steps

In late-afternoon, the railings of the Blue Steps cast perfect circle-shadows.

In late-afternoon, the railings of the Blue Steps cast perfect circle-shadows.

More wonderful shadows

More wonderful shadows

Looking down the Blue Steps

Looking down the Blue Steps

Detail of Fountain

Detail of Fountain

Detail of Stairs

Detail of Stairs

Western sunlight casts its glow

Western sunlight casts its glow

Even in the Blue Steps' unfinished state, stairs and water and railings and birches and shadows meld...

Even in the Blue Steps’ unfinished state, stairs and water and railings and birches and shadows meld…

CHINESE GARDEN— 1936-1955

The Great Wall that encloses the Chinese Garden

The Great Wall that encloses the Chinese Garden

From inside the Chinese Garden, one can peer out toward the Western hills through perforations in the masonry.

From inside the Chinese Garden, one can peer out toward the Western hills through perforations in the masonry.

Another peep-hole

Another peep-hole

A glimpse of the Evergreen Garden

A glimpse of the Evergreen Garden

Fletcher Steele was specific about the colors to be painted upon the Chinese Garden's Wall. His instructions are etched into the wall.

Fletcher Steele was specific about the colors to be painted upon the Chinese Garden’s Wall. His instructions are etched into the wall.

More Color-Directives!

More Color-Directives!

A Temple adorns the highest point in the Chinese Garden

A Temple adorns the highest point in the Chinese Garden

The Temple

The Temple

The Temple

The Temple

Stairs to the Temple flank an ancient carving

Stairs to the Temple flank an ancient carving

Temple Stairs

Temple Stairs

Ferocious Foo Dogs guard the Temple

Ferocious Foo Dogs guard the Temple

A little Shrine inside the Temple

A little Shrine inside the Temple

View from the Temple

View from the Temple

Another view from the Temple

Another view from the Temple

Stone Table and Chairs

Stone Table and Chairs

Stone Chair and Columbine

Stone Chair and Columbine

Another view of the Chinese Garden

Another view of the Chinese Garden

Dry Rills

Dry Rills

Even in its disheveled state, the Chinese Garden is beautiful.

Even in its disheveled state, the Chinese Garden is beautiful.

Peeling tree bark is like a living shadow.

Peeling tree bark is like a living shadow.

Another dry waterway

Another dry waterway

MOON GATE— 1955

Approaching the Chinese Garden's Moon Gate

Approaching the Chinese Garden’s Moon Gate

The Moon Gate

The Moon Gate

View from the Moon Gate, into the yet-to-be-restored Chinese Garden

View from the Moon Gate, into the yet-to-be-restored Chinese Garden

View through the Moon Gate, out toward the Arborvitae Walk, and the Western hills.

View through the Moon Gate, out toward the Arborvitae Walk, and the Western hills.

View from the Chinese Garden, out through the Moon Gate, toward my Trusty Chariot, and the Choate House.

View from the Chinese Garden, out through the Moon Gate, toward my Trusty Chariot, and the Choate House.

ROSE GARDEN— 1953-1955

Rose bushes, past their blooming-prime, always manage to look scabrous.
Steele’s still-to-be-restored Rose Garden cleverly distracts us from dwelling upon forlorn and bloom-free branches. Once things here have been spruced up, we’ll be able to admire the undulations of freshly-installed pink gravel, contrasting with green grass. The presence or absence of flowers will be irrelevant.

The Rose Garden was designed to be seen from above. Here, the view from the walkway at the lower edge of the Top Lawn.

The Rose Garden was designed to be seen from above. Here, the view from the walkway at the lower edge of the Top Lawn.

The Rose Garden....with giant crane, hills, and sky.

The Rose Garden….with giant crane, hills, and sky.

Terrace that overlooks the Rose Garden

Terrace that overlooks the Rose Garden

View from Terrace overlooking Rose Garden

View from Terrace overlooking Rose Garden

View from Top Lawn over Rose Garden

View from Top Lawn over Rose Garden

Stairs down to Rose Garden

Stairs down to Rose Garden

Rose Garden Stairs

Rose Garden Stairs

View uphill, from the Rose Garden

View uphill, from the Rose Garden

View toward House, from Rose Garden

View toward House, from Rose Garden

Each rose bush is planted in a cloud-shaped garden bed.

Each rose bush is planted in a cloud-shaped garden bed.

New, Pink Gravel will eventually be installed in the Rose Garden.

New, Pink Gravel will eventually be installed in the Rose Garden.

The VERY influential CURVES of the 1953 Rose Garden

The VERY influential CURVES of the 1953 Rose Garden

The Curves of Roberto Burle Marx's 1970 pavement design for the boardwalk at Rio de Janeiro's Copacabana Beach. I'll bet anything that Mr. Marx had seen photos of Naumkeag's Rose Garden.

The Curves of Roberto Burle Marx’s 1970 pavement design for the boardwalk at Rio de Janeiro’s Copacabana Beach. I’ll bet anything that Mr. Marx had seen
photos of Naumkeag’s Rose Garden.

The Trustees of Reservations, who now own and manage Naumkeag, and who have recently begun a three-year, 2.6 million dollar process of garden restoration, make this apology about the current state of the property:

“Fletcher Steele’s intricately detailed, finely crafted gardens are in need of polish: plants are aging, views are diminished, and harsh New England weather has taken its toll on this landmark.”

But during the four, nearly-solitary hours I spent at Naumkeag in early June, I felt that the Essence of the Place was intact and very much alive…and that no apologies by the Management were necessary. The stylistically various elements of the gardens that Steele knitted together over three decades for Mabel Choate—a great lady whose outlook was international, and to whom we must endlessly give thanks for WANTING such wonderful gardens to be created—merge harmoniously, despite the intense individuality of each of the garden “rooms.” Whether we’re sitting in the Afternoon Garden (where nonsensical, landlocked Venetian gondola posts support swags of vine-covered rope, and a Baroque knot garden serves as a watery carpet) , or climbing up the Blue Stairs (where shadows and the objects which cast them seem to merge) , or gazing down at the Rose Garden (which, almost Dali-esque, seems more a Dream of a Garden than a place of actual dirt and plants), or ambling across the Oak Lawn (where the sinuous line of the cedar-post retaining wall…abstract and sculptural…mimics the profile of the distant hilltops), each of the various aspects of Naumkeag BELONGS on this particular hillside, and to this particular, be-shingled house. The unity of Steele’s masterwork came about because he NEVER forgot to link his foreground with the background. Here, to prove that God is always in the details, just a few more examples of Steele’s meticulous eye:

The Chinese Garden

The Chinese Garden

Rope Bannister and Ornate Steel Medallion near the Top Lawn

Rope Bannister and Ornate Steel Medallion near the Top Lawn

Detail of Walkway at Top Lawn

Detail of Walkway at Top Lawn

Steps up to Top Lawn

Steps up to Top Lawn

Terrace on Top Lawn

Terrace on Top Lawn

Masonry detail: The Chinese Garden's Great Wall

Masonry detail: The Chinese Garden’s Great Wall

Retaining Wall

Retaining Wall

Decorative Urn near entry to Basement Gift Shop

Decorative Urn near entry to Basement Gift Shop

On the Terrace above the Rose Garden: Fletcher Steele planned for everything...even the Shadows.

On the Terrace above the Rose Garden: Fletcher Steele planned for everything…even the Shadows.

Shady Stairway, leading up from the Rose Garden, to the Top Lawn Walkway.

Shady Stairway, leading up from the Rose Garden, to the Top Lawn Walkway.

The Perfect Place to end my day at Naumkeag

The Perfect Place to end my day at Naumkeag

NAUMKEAG.
House & Gardens are open daily from Memorial Day weekend to Columbus Day. 10AM—5PM. 45-minute guided tours of the house. Self-guided tours of the gardens. There is a nominal admission fee. The driveways on the property can accommodate only a few vehicles at a time….you’ll NOT find tour-bus crowds at Naumkeag.
5 Prospect Hill Road, Stockbridge, Massachusetts 01262
(413) 298-3239 http://www.thetrustees.org

That evening, my head still abuzz with thoughts about my afternoon at Naumkeag, I hunkered down at The Red Lion Inn, in Stockbridge. Happily, my room had a big bathroom…with an enormous tub…and so I was able to calm my brain with a long soak. The Red Lion isn’t fancy—it’s actually a fudgy old pile of a place, which doesn’t seem to have been spruced up much since its last major redecoration, which occurred in 1956. BUT, for the past 241 years, the Inn has been THE place to rest one’s head while in Stockbridge. (A Short Inn-History:1773—first Inn built, to which higgledy-piggledy additions were made. 1886—Fire destroys entire building. 1887—Inn rebuilt into the same, rambling pile which accommodates us today.)

My rooms at the Red Lion were under the two dormers, farthest to the left in this illustration.

My rooms at the Red Lion were under the two dormers, farthest to the left in this illustration.

My enormous soaking tub at The Red Lion Inn

My enormous soaking tub at The Red Lion Inn

The Red Lion Inn. 30 Main Street, Stockbridge, MA 01262. (413) 298-5545. www.redlioninn.com

The Red Lion Inn. 30 Main Street, Stockbridge, MA 01262. (413) 298-5545.
http://www.redlioninn.com

On a late spring evening; by the Veranda at the Red Lion Inn.

On a late spring evening; by the Veranda at the Red Lion Inn.

Wednesday morning, after I’d fortified myself with a farmer’s-sized breakfast at The Red Lion, I headed North toward nearby Lenox, Massachusetts, to see The Mount, Edith Wharton’s famous country home.

A Falcon's View of The Mount. Image courtesy of "Edith Wharton at Home: Life at The Mount," by Richard Guy Wilson.

A Falcon’s View of The Mount. Image courtesy of “Edith Wharton at Home: Life at The Mount,” by Richard Guy Wilson.

Unlike Naumkeag, which, surprisingly, is unknown to the masses, The Mount is much-celebrated, and is thus a favorite stop for the tour-bus mobs. But I arrived at opening time sharp, and was able to walk alone through the manicured woodlands and gardens that surround the Main House.

To welcome visitors to The Mount, The Edith Wharton Foundation compresses Wharton’s amazingly-productive existence into these two paragraphs:

“Edith Wharton (1862-1937) was one of America’s greatest writers, producing over 40 books in 40 years, including novels, collections of short stories and poems, and authoritative works on architecture, gardens, interior design, and travel. She was the first woman awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, the first woman to receive an honorary doctorate from Yale, and the first woman elevated to full membership in the American Academy of Arts and Letters.”

Edith Wharton, as she was busy planning her Dream Home. Image courtesy of "Edith Wharton at Home:Life at The Mount" by Richard Guy Wilson.

Edith Wharton, as she was busy planning her Dream Home. Image courtesy of “Edith Wharton at Home:Life at The Mount” by Richard Guy Wilson.

“Wharton designed and built The Mount. Though she was already 40 when she moved in in 1902, she considered it to be her ‘first real home.’ Five years before, she had published THE DECORATION OF HOUSES, in which she and co-author Ogden Codman, Jr. denounced the excesses of Victorian interior decoration and urged a return to the classical virtues of proportion, harmony and simplicity. The Mount became a laboratory for exploring [her design] principles. Wharton worked with architects…in planning the house, but it is clear that she orchestrated every detail and was ultimately The Mount’s designer.”

Wharton & Codman's guide to Good Taste

Wharton & Codman’s guide to Good Taste

But, before visitors can gaze upon Wharton’s turn-of-the-century homestead, they must first walk past the Stable…

Stable, at The Mount

Stable, at The Mount

…and then ramble through the woodlands that flank the long, maple-lined approach drive, which was designed by Wharton’s niece, the noted landscape architect Beatrix Farrand.

Beatrix Farrand, Edith Wharton's niece. Note: I've written about Farrand's work before, when I covered her masterpiece, Dumbarton Oaks, in my July 2012 article for New York Social Diary, titled "Gardens & Estates Along the Potomac." In a future Armchair Diary article, I'll revisit Dumbarton Oaks, for an early-Springtime look at those Georgetown gardens.

Beatrix Farrand, Edith Wharton’s niece. Note: I’ve written about Farrand’s work before, when I covered her masterpiece, Dumbarton Oaks, in my July 2012 article for New York Social Diary, titled “Gardens & Estates Along the Potomac.” In a future Armchair Diary article, I’ll revisit Dumbarton Oaks, for an early-Springtime look at those Georgetown gardens.

Map of the Grounds at The Mount

Map of the Grounds at The Mount

On that sunny June morning, as shafts of sunlight pierced the tree canopy and birds chittered, I discovered these contemporary sculptures, which are carefully-sited throughout the grounds. This soon-to-close outdoor exhibition, titled “2013–Sculpture Now at The Mount,” consists of large-scale pieces by 24 nationally-acclaimed artists, and reflects the Edith Wharton Foundation’s goal to transform The Mount into a place that doesn’t just look backwards toward Wharton’s artistic achievements; there’s room at The Mount—both physically and spiritually—for plenty of new creative energy and work.

Matt Harding. "The 13th Piece Was a Shape Switch"

Matt Harding. “The 13th Piece Was a Shape Switch”

Antoinette P. Schultze. "Summit"

Antoinette P. Schultze.
“Summit”

Antoinette P.Schultze. Detail of "Summit."

Antoinette P.Schultze.
Detail of “Summit.”

Near the Stable, we approach Leon Smith's "Circles."

Near the Stable, we approach Leon Smith’s
“Circles.”

Leon Smith. "Circles."

Leon Smith. “Circles.”

Paulette Carr. "Longcoat"

Paulette Carr. “Longcoat”

George Rickey. "Four L's Eccentric II"

George Rickey. “Four L’s Eccentric II”

Allen Williams. "Erratic"

Allen Williams. “Erratic”

A closer look at Allen Williams' "Erratic"

A closer look at Allen Williams’ “Erratic”

Thomas Matsuda. "Purification"

Thomas Matsuda. “Purification”

Another look at Thomas Matsuda's "Purification."

Another look at Thomas Matsuda’s “Purification.”

Robin Tost. "Mrs.Wharton Takes a Walk."

Robin Tost. “Mrs.Wharton Takes a Walk.”

Gary Orlinsky. "Proscenium in Green."

Gary Orlinsky. “Proscenium in Green.”

View through "Proscenium in Green" toward the Main House.

View through “Proscenium in Green” toward the Main House.

Jonathan Prince. "Bore Block"

Jonathan Prince. “Bore Block”

Another look at Jonathan Prince's "Bore Block."

Another look at Jonathan Prince’s “Bore Block.”

Richard Erdman. "Continuum"

Richard Erdman. “Continuum”

Murray Dewart. "Sabbath Loaf"

Murray Dewart. “Sabbath Loaf”

Henry Royer's sculpture "Igneous" captures my reflection.

Henry Royer’s sculpture
“Igneous” captures my reflection.

Henry Royer. "Igneous"

Henry Royer. “Igneous”

Eyes invigorated by my sculpture-stroll, I approached Edith Wharton’s gardens, which she herself designed. Wharton–well-traveled, and much-opinionated about the grand gardens of Europe–boasted to friends that she considered herself a better landscape gardener than a novelist. As she laid out her gardens at The Mount, Wharton was also working with the illustrator
Maxfield Parrish on her book, “Italian Villas and Their Gardens.”

My own, much-thumbed copy of Wharton & Parrish's guide to Italy's gardens

My own, much-thumbed copy of Wharton & Parrish’s guide to Italy’s gardens

Maxfield Parrish's illustration of Florence's Boboli Gardens

Maxfield Parrish’s illustration of Florence’s Boboli Gardens

Maxfield Parrish's illustration of the Gardens at Villa Gamberaia

Maxfield Parrish’s illustration of the Gardens at Villa Gamberaia

My Constant Readers will recognize both the Boboli Gardens, and the gardens of the Villa Gamberaia at Settignano, from my earlier Armchair Diary, “Florence & Lucca: The Villas, Gardens & Treasures of Tuscany.” And really observant Readers will recognize the water gardens of Gamberaia as the header photo which I use for all of my Armchair Diaries. SO….Edith…Beware! I KNOW my Italian gardens well. I advanced skeptically toward Edith’s gardens, the ones in which she said she aimed to distill and surpass all of the garden-lessons she’d learned during her Italian travels.

I offer my Verdict first…there’s no point in a Long Tease. Wharton’s gardens are banal, and the siting of her lumpish house is awkward. I much prefer her writing skills to her designing skills. (And My God…if you’ve read Wharton’s erotic stories, you’ll blink, rethink your image of Edith as a stuffed-shirt, and then set her alongside Anais Nin as the OTHER greatest Goddess-of-Love-Writing!) But Wharton’s not-so-good-landscape-design serves as a necessary contrast, one which makes a garden-seeker all the more appreciative of truly inspired spaces…such as those which Naumkeag presents.

Here now, a tour of Edith Wharton’s perfectly-nice, but uninspiring Gardens, which, after much restorative work, once again appear as they did when they were new.

Path to the Flower Garden

Path to the Flower Garden

Approaching the Flower Garden

Approaching the Flower Garden

Finally....in the Flower Garden

Finally….in the Flower Garden

Trellis-work Niche in Flower Garden

Trellis-work Niche in Flower Garden

View of the Main House, from the Flower Garden

View of the Main House, from the Flower Garden

Flower Garden Fountain

Flower Garden Fountain

The Lime Walk, so-named for its Linden Trees. In England, Linden Trees are known a Lime Trees.

The Lime Walk, so-named for its Linden Trees. In England, Linden Trees are known as Lime Trees.

View from the Lime Walk of swampy Laurel Lake

View from the Lime Walk of swampy Laurel Lake

On Lime Walk

On Lime Walk

On Lime Walk; looking toward the Walled Garden

On Lime Walk; looking toward the Walled Garden

Stairs at mid-point on Lime Walk, which lead up to the Terrace of the Main House

Stairs at mid-point on Lime Walk, which lead up to the Terrace of the Main House

Lilacs on Lime Walk

Lilacs on Lime Walk

Steps down to Walled Garden, from the Lime Walk

Steps down to Walled Garden, from the Lime Walk

Walled Garden

Walled Garden

Rustic Pergola in the Walled Garden

Rustic Pergola in the Walled Garden

Pergola view of Laurel Lake

Pergola view of Laurel Lake

Restored Fieldstone Walls of the Pergola

Restored Fieldstone Walls of the Pergola

View from outside of the Walled Garden, looking back through the Pergola

View from outside of the Walled Garden, looking back through the Pergola

My view in early June: from the Walled Garden, up toward the Main House.

My view in early June: from the Walled Garden, up toward the Main House.

An Autumn view from the Walled Garden

An Autumn view from the Walled Garden

Twig Bench in Walled Garden

Twig Bench in Walled Garden

Rustic Fountain in Walled Garden

Rustic Fountain in Walled Garden

View from the Walled Garden up toward the Lime Walk

View from the Walled Garden up toward the Lime Walk

Stairs at Terrace of Main House

Stairs at Terrace of Main House

View from Terrace, down to Lime Walk

View from Terrace, down to Lime Walk

View from Terrace, down toward Walled Garden

View from Terrace, down toward Walled Garden

View from Terrace, down toward Flower Garden

View from Terrace, down toward Flower Garden

View from Terrace, down over the Rock Garden's Grass Steps, toward the Flower Garden, and The Lime Walk

View from Terrace, down over the Rock Garden’s Grass Steps, toward the Flower Garden, and The Lime Walk

Rock Garden, seen from Flower Garden Lawn

Rock Garden, seen from Flower Garden Lawn

Grass Steps in Rock Garden

Grass Steps in Rock Garden

As I ambled through The Mount’s gardens, I felt as if I were exploring a country club, and not a home. Every aspect of The Mount’s landscaping feels institutional, rather than domestic. Perhaps the interior of Wharton’s home would feel less bland? I joined a small group of fellow visitors at the Forecourt of the Main House, and waited for our tour to begin.

Front Gate, at the Forecourt

Front Gate, at the Forecourt

Side Gate, to Forecourt

Side Gate, to Forecourt

Statue in Forecourt

Statue in Forecourt

Ground Floor Entry

Ground Floor Entry

House Plans for the Main Floor, and for the Bedroom Floor of The Mount. Image courtesy of "Edith Wharton at Home: Life at The Mount," by Richard Guy Wilson.

House Plans for the Main Floor, and for the Bedroom Floor of The Mount. Image courtesy of “Edith Wharton at Home: Life at The Mount,” by Richard Guy Wilson.

Ground Floor Entrance Hall

Ground Floor Entrance Hall

Marble fountain with bronze statue of Pan in Entrance Hall

Marble fountain with bronze statue of Pan in Entrance Hall

The Ground Floor Entrance Hall was conceived as a Grotto, with stylized plaster-work simulating mossy, water-soaked walls.

The Ground Floor Entrance Hall was conceived as a Grotto, with stylized plaster-work simulating mossy, water-soaked walls.

Gallery, on Main Floor. This was essentially a hallway, along with a place for the display of the objects that Wharton collected on her European travels. The floor is terrazzo.

Gallery, on Main Floor. This was essentially a hallway, along with a place for the display of the objects that Wharton collected on her European travels. The floor is terrazzo.

Detail of ceiling, in Main Floor Gallery

Detail of ceiling, in Main Floor Gallery

Decoration over the door in the Gallery that leads to the study of Wharton's ineffectual husband, Teddy. Teddy's story is long and depressing...suffice it to say that Edith eventually had to leave him, along with her beloved home. This bas relief depicts John the Baptist as in infant.

Decoration over the door in the Gallery that leads to the study of Wharton’s ineffectual husband, Teddy. Teddy’s story is long and depressing…suffice it to say that Edith eventually had to leave him, along with her beloved home.
This bas relief depicts John the Baptist as an infant.

Edith Wharton's Library on the Main Floor. Wharton liked to gather friends here for literary readings.

Edith Wharton’s Library on the Main Floor. Wharton liked to gather friends here for literary readings.

Another view of The Library

Another view of The Library

Drawing Room on the Main Floor. This is the largest room in the house, measuring 36 feet long by 20 feet wide. Brussels tapestries are set into the walls.

Drawing Room on the Main Floor. This is the largest room in the house, measuring 36 feet long by 20 feet wide. Brussels tapestries are set into the walls.

Another view of the Drawing Room, which has the most elaborate ceiling treatment of all of the house's rooms. Our Guide is holding forth, in front of the fireplace. She was vivacious, charming and FULL of information about Mrs. Wharton and her home.

Another view of the Drawing Room, which has the most elaborate ceiling treatment of all of the house’s rooms. Our Guide is holding forth, in front of the fireplace. She was vivacious, charming and FULL of information about Mrs. Wharton and her home.

Dining Room on the Main Floor. This is my favorite room in Edith's home: airy & humorous & clearly a great place for a party! Wharton believed that decorations for a dining room should reflect the food eaten there, and so the walls are gaily festooned with plaster garlands of fruits, birds & fish. Fabulous!

Dining Room on the Main Floor. This is my favorite room in Edith’s home: airy & humorous & clearly a great place for a party! Wharton believed that decorations for a dining room should reflect the food eaten there, and so the walls are gaily festooned with plaster garlands of fruits, birds & fish. Fabulous!

Elevations for the Dining Room. Image courtesy of "Edith Wharton at Home: Live at The Mount," by Richard Gus Wilson.

Elevations for the Dining Room. Image courtesy of “Edith Wharton at Home: Live at The Mount,” by Richard Gus Wilson.

Place setting on the round Dining Room table

Place setting on the round Dining Room table

A contemporary sideboard decoration in the Dining Room...quite in keeping with the jolly vibe of the room.

A contemporary sideboard decoration in the Dining Room…quite in keeping with the jolly vibe of the room.

Edith Wharton's Boudoir--or Sitting Room, which is on the Bedroom Floor. The Boudoir was designed by Odgen Codman, Jr., and is the most elaborately-outfitted room on the Bedroom Floor.

Edith Wharton’s Boudoir–or Sitting Room, which is on the Bedroom Floor. The Boudoir was designed by Odgen Codman, Jr., and is the most elaborately-outfitted room on the Bedroom
Floor. The room is dominated by 8 floral still-life paintings set into paneling, which was imported from Milan.

Mantle in the Boudoir

Mantle in the Boudoir

Edith Wharton's Bedroom. Wharton did most of her writing in this room; she would awaken early and write in bed, dropping the finished pages to the floor, where her secretary would eventually collect them. The Bedroom furnishings we see today  are not originals...no one alive knows exactly what this room looked like during Edith's tenure at The Mount. Interior decorators have followed the design rules in "The Decoration Houses," and are confident that the rather spare appearance of the room is in keeping with Wharton's design approach.

Edith Wharton’s Bedroom.
Wharton did most of her writing in this room; she would awaken early and write in bed, dropping the finished pages to the floor, where her secretary would eventually collect them. The Bedroom furnishings we see today are not originals…no one alive knows exactly what this room looked like during Edith’s tenure at The Mount. Interior decorators have followed the design rules in “The Decoration Houses,” and are confident that the rather spare appearance of the room is in keeping with Wharton’s design approach.

Edith Wharton's simply-decorated Bedroom overlooked her gardens.

Edith Wharton’s simply-decorated Bedroom overlooked her gardens.

Edith Wharton's Bed (imagined by today's interior designers)...which seems almost to be awaiting her.

Edith Wharton’s Bed (imagined by today’s interior designers)…which seems almost to be awaiting her.

So, is traveling to Western Massachusetts expressly to visit The Mount’s gardens worthwhile? Probably not, especially since the contemporary sculpture show in the woodlands is about to be dismantled. But if your primary interest in Wharton is literary and historical, then a visit to Lenox will be rewarding. And although the exterior architecture of The Mount is lumpish, some of the interior spaces come close to being divine (i.e. The Gallery, and The Dining Room), and even in rooms that aren’t perfect there are many fine little design-innovations to appreciate. Wharton’s then-radical tenets of house decoration (remember, she was rebelling against suffocatingly-overstuffed Victorian rooms) look rather unremarkable today, but she was championing a simplicity (I know….”simplicity” when a very wealthy person is fashioning a home for herself is rarely a humble thing) that, over the decades since she built The Mount, has been hugely influential.

THE MOUNT.
House and grounds open from early May until Halloween.
10AM to 5PM. Arrive early, as I did, and you’ll have the place to yourself.
And, year-round, there are lectures and programs which celebrate Wharton’s
many passions: the literary arts, interior design and decoration, garden and landscape design, and the art of living well.

2 Plunkett Street, Lenox, Massachusetts 01240
(413) 551-5111 http://www.edithwharton.org

Copyright 2013. Nan Quick—Nan Quick’s Diaries for Armchair Travelers.
Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express &
written permission from Nan Quick is strictly prohibited.

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The Disparate Delights of Four Low Country Plantations

Drayton Hall, a National Historic Landmark & the oldest preserved plantation house in America. 3380 Ashley River Road, Charleston, South Carolina.

Drayton Hall (begun in 1738), a National Historic Landmark & the oldest preserved plantation house in America. 3380 Ashley River Road, Charleston, South Carolina.

In late April, as I completed my lengthy Armchair Traveler Diary about Historic Charleston, I promised a soon-to-follow companion-piece describing four nearby plantations in South Carolina’s Low Country. I attacked composition of that new article with my usual vigor, by beginning to sift mountains of books and photos. But, mid-sift, a small miracle occurred. After an unbearably lengthy winter, Spring arrived in New Hampshire. My Gardener-Self cast aside every part of life not associated with dirt or mulch or seeds or weeds. I pulled on jeans, wooly-sweater, Wellies and gloves, and headed outdoors with my pruning shears and shovel to tend my several acres of the Earth. As I cleared away dead foliage, and pried deeply-rooted invasive plants out of my perennial beds, I was a willing servant to my land, which rewarded me with these first blooms.

My East Garden...before deer decapitated the Tulips.

My East Garden…before deer decapitated the Tulips. The bands of reddish-brown vegetation separating the flowers are a creeping sedum that will turn scarlet during the summer.

Here now, before we get back to the business of visiting South Carolina’s Grand Landscapes: photos of my much-humbler but finally-awakened gardens,as they bloomed, from April through early June.

Red species Tulips and Red-Twigged Dogwood

Red species Tulips and
Red-Twigged Dogwood

The petals on these Tulips open to the sunlight, and close as evening approaches.

The petals on these Tulips open to the sunlight, and close as evening approaches.

The Harmony of Yellow Daffodils and Red Tulips

The Harmony of Yellow Daffodils and Red Tulips

Daffodils in the West Garden

Daffodils in the West Garden

Newly-planted Japanese Holly (Ilex crenata 'Sky Pencil') on the South Terrace. In theory, these now-crooked shrubs will straighten up and grow right, to a mature height of 5 feet. We shall see...

Newly-planted Japanese Holly (Ilex crenata ‘Sky Pencil’) on the South Terrace. In theory, these now-crooked shrubs will straighten up and grow right, to a mature height of 5 feet. We shall see…

Nothing's more cheerful than these first flowers of Spring.

Nothing’s more cheerful than these first flowers of Spring.

The path between the Daylily beds, and the summer cutting flower beds.

The path between the Daylily beds, and the summer cutting flower beds.

My All-Purpose, Backyard Deity. Hermes--protector and patron of travelers & poets--is the god of boundaries and transitions, message-carrier between the mortal and divine worlds.  This is a tricky fellow, whose mercurial nature is never quite clear. He watches over me...but keeps me on my toes.

My All-Purpose, Backyard Deity. Hermes–protector and patron of travelers & poets–is the god of boundaries and transitions, message-carrier between the mortal and divine worlds.
This is a tricky fellow, whose mercurial nature is never quite clear. He watches over me…but keeps me on my toes.

My Ornamental Pear tree in beautiful, blowzy-bloom.

My Ornamental Pear tree in beautiful, blowzy-bloom.

This what The Whole Nine Yards looks like. My fate, over the next month, will be to distribute this smelly, steaming pile of organic compost/mulch/and peat humus over the garden beds that need nourishment.

This what The Whole Nine Yards looks like. My fate, over the next month, will be to distribute this smelly, steaming pile of organic compost/manure/and peat humus over the garden beds that need nourishment.

Wisteria cascades from an Arbor

Wisteria cascades from an Arbor

In early June, tulips and daffodils have disappeared under waves of Canadian Anenome, Ragged Robin, Violas and Chives.

In early June, tulips and daffodils have disappeared under waves of Canadian Anemone (a hated invasive, but pretty right now and thus temporarily forgiven), Ragged Robin, Violas and Chives.

Purple Salvia and Ornamental Grasses begin to emerge

Purple Salvia and Ornamental Grasses begin to emerge

Lady's Mantle and Iris begin to flower

Lady’s Mantle and Iris begin
to flower

My White Fringe Trees begin to flower

My White Fringe Trees begin to flower

Butterflies return

Butterflies return

Purple Allium peek out from behind golden shrubs

Purple Allium peek out
from behind Gold-flame Spirea shrubs

Foliage plumps out under blue skies

Foliage plumps out under blue skies

Giant Foxgloves begun from seed in the Spring of 2012 finally bloom

Giant Foxgloves begun from seed in the Spring of 2012 finally bloom

Rain and cool temperatures preserve blooms for weeks and weeks

Rain and cool temperatures preserve blooms for weeks and weeks

Depending upon one’s attitude, gardening is either servitude or bliss. Perhaps because of my farmer forebears, I argue for the bliss side (despite the huge pile of steaming compost and manure I’ve been spreading)…but that’s only because my annual negotiations with Mother Nature are voluntary.

In any case, now that we’re in a properly agricultural state of mind, let’s proceed to the Low Country: inland and just east of Historic Charleston.

Early on March 13, 2013, Greg “Big Daddy” Patterson collected me and Donn Brous (my friend since our girlhoods) at the Mills House Hotel in Charleston. I’d told Greg I wanted to touch down at as many nearby plantations as could be crammed into nine hours, but, apart from Middleton Place (which I’d read about and hankered to see for many years), I’d trust Greg’s judgment about which other plantations we should visit, and in what sequence. Greg mulled my request: “I THINK you can squeeze in four …but nobody I’ve ever driven has asked to see that many in one day.” I laughed: ”I’m a power-tourer! You have NO idea how much I can take in. Let’s do it!” And so we did.

The weather was perfection: clear, cool and sunny. There’d be no unladylike perspiration marring our foreheads on that Wednesday!

As we settled into his car, Greg told us we’d begin the day with a visit to Boone Hall, which is one of the most-photographed and filmed of the Low Country plantations, due largely to its spectacular Avenue of Oaks.

This way to Boone Hall

This way to Boone Hall

Yes, that’s the famous Avenue of the Oaks behind the cast of the 1985 TV miniseries NORTH & SOUTH, which was filmed at Boone Hall.

Yes, that’s the famous Avenue of the Oaks behind the cast of the 1985 TV miniseries
NORTH & SOUTH, which was filmed at Boone Hall.

But the first treat of our morning happened as we crossed the Cooper River, and admired the elegant construction of the Arthur Ravenel Jr.Bridge.

The Ravenel Bridge, with a main span of 1546 feet, is the third-longest cable-stayed bridge in the Western Hemisphere.

The Ravenel Bridge, with a main span of 1546 feet, is the third-longest cable-stayed bridge in the Western Hemisphere.

On the Ravenel Bridge

On the Ravenel Bridge

All of the Low Country plantations were built on the banks of the rivers which feed into Charleston Harbor. These rivers were the highways of yesteryear.

All of the Low Country plantations were built on the banks of the rivers which feed into Charleston Harbor. These rivers were the highways of yesteryear.

After our 30-minute commute to Mount Pleasant, Greg turned into the mouth of Boone Hall’s ¾-mile-long approach drive, and killed the engine. He grinned and watched our jaws drop as we beheld the low morning sunlight filtering through the lacy canopy of Spanish moss festooning the Avenue’s oak trees, which were planted in 1743. No photograph can do justice to the quality of light that enveloped us, but I pointed my camera, and made my best attempt to capture what I saw as I walked down the empty road toward a plantation that began in 1681, as a land grant from the English Lords Proprietors to John Boone.

The Avenue of Oaks, at Boone Hall Plantation. The Plantation is located next to Wampancheone Creek, which flows into Horlbeck Creek, and then into the Wando River. The Wando then flows into the Cooper River, on which one can ride the tide right into Charleston.

The Avenue of Oaks, at Boone Hall Plantation. The Plantation is located next to Wampancheone Creek, which flows into Horlbeck Creek, and then into the Wando River. The Wando then flows into the Cooper River, on which one can ride the tide right into Charleston.

A proviso: One cannot visit a plantation without the specter of slavery at the forefront of one’s mind, and, at Boone Hall, which once encompassed over 1700 acres and depended upon more than 200 slaves at any given time, slavery is an inescapable fact. From the beginning of recorded history, slavery has occurred in almost every civilization: America’s own indulgence in human trafficking must be included on this sorry list. But, for the purposes of this travel diary, I shall concentrate upon how the physical environments of beautiful estates and plantations that were wrested from the South Carolinian wilderness resonated with me. A wise visitor, however, must appreciate that these landscapes could not have been domesticated and developed without the labor of a portion of the millions of slaves who, over time, made their involuntary journeys via the Middle Passage of the Triangle Trade to the New World, and thus to Charleston.

The Triangle Trade: How Slaves arrived in Charleston. The Boone Hall Plantation offers comprehensive exhibits about Black History in America, Slave Life at Boone Hall, and the Gullah Culture of the Low Country.

The Triangle Trade: How Slaves arrived in Charleston. The Boone Hall Plantation offers comprehensive exhibits about Black History in America, Slave Life at Boone Hall, and the Gullah Culture of the Low Country.

Map of Boone Hall Plantation

Map of Boone Hall Plantation

After encountering the spectacular Avenue of Oaks, Boone Hall’s actual plantation is a bit of a let-down, at least in aesthetic terms. The Main House, which we toured, is an undistinguished brick Colonial Revival structure, circa 1935. I’ve since realized that the chief merit of Boone Hall for today’s visitors lies in the many educational exhibits and tours offered, which include Black History in America; Slave Life at Boone Hall; Gullah Culture; and the Agriculture & Natural History of one of America’s Oldest Working Plantations.

Boone Hall Plantation. 1235 Long Point Road, Mt. Pleasant, SC 29464. phone# 843-884-4371.
website: http://www.boonehallplantation.com

Here now, a short tour of the grounds, where the grass was still dew-soaked, and the morning air was moist and fresh and subtly perfumed with the scent of camellia blossoms.

Wrought Iron front gate

Wrought Iron front gate

Azaleas in bloom

Azaleas in bloom

Looking back from Front Gate down along the Avenue of Oaks

Looking back from Front Gate down along the Avenue of Oaks

Front of Main House. Arbors and Folding Chairs at the ready: this is a Major Venue for wedding celebrations.

Front of Main House.
Arbors and Folding Chairs at the ready: this is a Major Venue for wedding celebrations.

View from front steps of the Main House

View from front steps of the Main House

Shady terrace, on the Creek side of the Main House

Shady terrace, on the Creek side of the Main House

Gardens along Wampancheone Creek

Gardens along Wampancheone Creek

Donn inspects the Smoke House, which is the oldest structure at the Plantation

Donn inspects the Smoke House, which is the oldest structure at the Plantation

Smokehouse Plaque...with the Photographer's Shadow

Smokehouse Plaque…with the Photographer’s Shadow

Nan, getting her feet VERY wet in the dew-soaked grass, near an enormous Live Oak tree.

Nan, getting her feet VERY wet in the dew-soaked grass, near an enormous Live Oak tree.

Donn, trying on a Live Oak tree for size

Donn, trying on a Live Oak tree for size

Spanish Moss in a Live Oak

Spanish Moss in a Live Oak

Good Neighbors

Good Neighbors

My first encounter with a Real-Life Cotton Field

My first encounter with a Real-Life Cotton Field

Boone Hall was primarily a cotton plantation, but brick was also produced in the colder months. Pecans, cattle and vegetables have also been raised. Illustration courtesy of IMAGES OF AMERICA:BOONE HALL PLANTATION, by Michelle Adams.

Boone Hall was primarily a cotton plantation, but brick was also produced in the colder months. Pecans, cattle and vegetables have also been raised. Illustration courtesy of IMAGES OF AMERICA:BOONE HALL PLANTATION, by Michelle Adams.

Ravishing Camellias

Ravishing Camellias

Wherever we go, lovely animals gravitate to Donn. You may recall a photo of Donn with a friendly dog-- at Villa Gamberaia--in my article, FLORENCE & LUCCA: THE VILLAS, GARDENS & TREASURES OF TUSCANY.

Wherever we go, lovely animals
gravitate to Donn. You may recall a photo of Donn with a friendly dog–
at Villa Gamberaia–in my article, FLORENCE & LUCCA: THE VILLAS, GARDENS & TREASURES OF TUSCANY.

After our pleasant but in no way breathtaking visit to Boone Hall (but no…I must correct myself: its Avenue of Oaks WAS indeed breathtaking, but rather over-inflated my hopes about the rest of Boone Hall), I was eager to reach THE plantation of the day: Middleton Place. Greg drove us northwest of Mount Pleasant, toward the Ashley River.

The three remaining plantations on our day’s itinerary are sited along the Ashley River.

The three remaining plantations on our day’s itinerary are sited along the Ashley River.

I had no doubt that Middleton Place would be lovely, but was very shortly pleased to discover that its actual beauty surpassed that of all the coffee-table-book pictures I’d studied over the years. The Butterfly Lakes alone cause the plantation to be included on lists of America’s greatest gardens–and rightly so.

Only the birds can see Middleton Place in all its glory.

Only the birds can see Middleton Place in all its glory. Image courtesy of the Middleton Place Foundation.

There are many approaches to planning a Major Garden. Garden beds and features can be made to nestle into the embrace of the land. Or the lay of the land can be cunningly reshaped to resemble an idealized version of Nature. Or geometry can be superimposed upon that land, in which case soil and rocks must then be moved to conform to a draughtsman’s plan.

The Geometry of Middleton Place's Gardens

The Geometry of Middleton Place’s Gardens. Image courtesy of the Middleton Place Foundation.

Per the Middleton Place Foundation’s definitive publication, MIDDLETON PLACE: A PHOENIX STILL RISING: Henry Middleton ”used the east-west axis as a base from which to triangulate his bold garden plan, mainly to the north, with perfect mathematical balance, and to organize a variety of geometrical rooms and spaces. The main axis runs west to east straight from the gates on the highway, through the center of the house, down the middle of the curving terraces and between the Butterfly Lakes, to follow to course of the river until it disappears into the wilderness beyond the distant marsh. The formal garden, based on a large right isosceles triangle that organizes along its hypotenuse the major garden spaces in varying geometric shapes, lies mostly north and west of the house and is divided by parallel and perpendicular paths and allees. The allees, trimmed now to green walls, lead from one axis to another, partitioning off a series of small enclosed garden rooms and periodically affording unexpected views of river, marsh and woodland. It is fortunate and important that the main axis runs from due east to due west: thus producing, a couple of hours before sunset, dramatic shadow-sculpted definition for the terraces.”

The Plan of Middleton Place's Garden, as it has been since 1925. Image courtesy of the Middleton Place Foundation.

The Plan of Middleton Place’s Garden, as it has been since 1925. Image courtesy of the Middleton Place Foundation.

What I found most clever about Middleton Place is the way that its precise geometric engineering ISN’T overwhelming when one is actually IN the gardens. Indeed, the magnificence of the landforms which lead down to and then form the Butterfly Lakes is more apparent to swooping seagulls than to strolling tourists; it’s almost as if in 1741, when Henry Middleton began planning his gardens, he decided to offer his best views to Low Country birds, for only from high above can the Butterfly Lakes–whose shapes give a nod to those airborne creatures–be appreciated in their entirety. The influence of the French landscape architect Andre Le Notre upon Henry Middleton’s design is indisputable…

Andre Le Notre's design for the Gardens at Chantilly.

Andre Le Notre’s design for the Gardens at Chantilly.

… but because the site for Henry Middleton’s great garden was situated upon a bluff overlooking an S-curve in the Ashley River, strict Le-Notre-geometric-grandiosity was of necessity tempered by the greater Power of Mother Nature, in all Her irregularity.

Because the axes upon which the main thoroughfares and views are laid down lead the eye inevitably to the sinuous curves of River, and then beyond to where the flat marsh lands meet the sky, one forgets entirely about geometry, even though ruled lines are governing one’s progress through the gardens. The tension between Middleton Place’s straightaways and the undulations of the River teases and then rewards the garden-goer with delights at every turn.

Here, some glimpses of our stroll across the grounds of Middleton Place.

Gate to the Sheep Meadow

Gate to the Sheep Meadow

Buttressed brick wall separating Sheep Meadow from the Gardens

Buttressed brick wall separating Sheep Meadow from the Gardens

Peeking over the wall into the Sheep Meadow, with the sole remaining original house of the property in the distance.

Peeking over the wall into the Sheep Meadow, with the sole remaining original house of the property in the distance.

Viewed head-on, the heavy brick wall becomes light-pierced and almost lace-like.

Viewed head-on, the heavy brick wall becomes light-pierced and almost lace-like.

A Better View of the Sheep Meadow, and Greensward Circle. Image courtesy of the Middleton Place Foundation.

A Better View of the Sheep Meadow, and Greensward Circle. Image courtesy of the Middleton Place Foundation.

The huge, rectangular Reflection Pool, enclosed by precisely-positioned Southern Magnolias.

The huge, rectangular Reflection Pool, enclosed by precisely-positioned Southern Magnolias.

The Reflection Pool's swans...always ready for a handout.

The Reflection Pool’s swans…always ready for a handout.

Approaching The Sunken Octagonal  Garden, which is near to the site of the Main House. In late afternoons this garden was sheltered from the sun, and gentlemen retreated to the shade to play bowls, while their ladies watched from the    raised, grassy terraces.

Approaching The Sunken Octagonal Garden, which is near to the site of the Main House. In late afternoons this garden was sheltered from the sun, and gentlemen retreated to the shade to play bowls, while their ladies watched from the raised, grassy terraces.

The Octagonal Garden, in full, early-morning sun.

The Octagonal Garden, in full, early-morning sun.

Long Walk near the Secret Garden

Long Walk near the Secret Garden

Secret Garden Goddess

Secret Garden Goddess

Another of the Goddesses who represent the Four Seasons, in the Secret Garden.

Another of the Goddesses who represent the Four Seasons, in the Secret Garden.

Camellia 'Alba Plena,' along an Allee near the Secret Garden.

Camellia ‘Alba Plena,’
along an Allee near the Secret Garden.

The rubble of the original, Main House, which was built in 1705.

The rubble of the original, Main House, which was built in 1705.