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