Kent Alpine Gardener's Diary
This entry: 26 February 2014 by Tim Ingram
Goodnestone Park Garden in Kent
Goodnestone Park Garden in Kent
Gardening makes for relationships between people that can be very sustaining. For twelve years the Kent Hardy Plant Society has held a Snowdrop and Hellebore Day in association with Lady Margaret Fitzwalter who owns Goodnestone Park Garden, near to Wingham and just south-east of Canterbury. For many years before this both the HPS and NCCPG (Plant Heritage) in Kent held plant sales at Goodnestone, and a fine relationship has built up between the garden and local gardeners. Goodnestone had strong links with Jane Austen, and is a magnificent if imposing house, intimately associated with the village.
Margaret Fitzwalter is a very accomplished gardener, and rather remarkable lady, and was a fine pianist in her youth, and has been a generous and good friend in sharing the events at Goodnestone with our garden groups: both sides have benefited greatly over the years. Her brother was the renowned journalist and politician Bill Deedes, and one of her sons is Executive Director of the National Gardens Scheme, so they are an interesting family! For some time also Joanna Lumley lived in the village, so you can begin to imagine the place becoming a cross between 'Pride and Prejudice' and 'Absolutely Fabulous'. The first 'Snowdrop and Hellebore Extravaganza' was in February 2002 and the result of discussions between myself (as Treasurer of the Kent HPS), Graham Gough, who had been developing his own nursery, Marchants, over the previous three years, and Margaret, who was keen to emulate some of the more famous snowdrop gardens elsewhere. It was followed by a talk from Graham in a local village hall entitled 'A Nurseryman's Lot', which I had and still have a great empathy with. The whole event was a great success and has continued over the following years with the conversion of old estate buildings to make a dedicated lecture room and display area. We have had a series of well known speakers (to AGS members anyway), including Val Bourne and David Stephens, Ann Borrill, Rod Leeds and Katie Price, talking on different plants and aspects of winter. In 2012 we celebrated ten years of the event with a display of snowdrops and a 'snowdrop' cake.
This year the event was held on Sunday 23rd February, a sunny and breezy day that brought out over 600 visitors, and included a talk from the new (and first male) Head Gardener at Sissinghurst, Troy Scott-Smith (who worked previosly at Sissinghurst with Sarah Cook, and latterly has been Head Gardener at Bodnant in N. Wales - impressive qualifications!). The reason the event has maintained such good momentum over all this time is because of all the people who have been associated with it, and the fact that local gardeners are raring to get out and see the garden after the colder and shorter days of winter. These are a few pictures of the event this February, especially for those who have discovered the rather 'specialised' interest in snowdrops that I described in the first diary entry, or just simply enjoy getting out into the garden at this time of year.
Generally Narcissus pseudonarcissus flowers later into March, but a beautiful early form of this species studs the grass along with snowdrops near to the house, and must have been grown there for very many years. A more robust clump flowering on a bank also caught my eye.
Some of the best naturalised snowdrops follow an avenue of trees planted beyond the house, which take you round eventually into the woodland garden, and some magnificent and ancient specimens of Sweet Chesnut, dead ringers for the Ents of Tolkein's 'Lord of the Rings'.
The woodland garden includes many interesting trees, including species of Cornus, Stewartia and Magnolia, and fine specimens of Camellia and other understorey shrubs.
Graham Gough's association with the garden has resulted in a dedicated perennial planting, completely bare in the winter, but composed of grasses and tall summer species of Sanguisorba, Verbena, Rudbeckia nad other prairie-type plants - an amazing sight in high summer into autumn.
Amongst the nurserypeople, mostly small scale and specialised like ourselves, are two of the most well known and respected Kentish growers; William Dyson from Great Comp (who combines running this garden with his specialised interest in the genus Salvia) and Liam McKenzie, who with his wife Ylva (and children) runs Madrona Nursery, very well known for choice and unusual woody species, as well as many perennials and ferns. From Liam I picked up a nice plant of the daphne-relative Edgeworthia chrysantha, a species I have wanted to grow for many years. William Dyson is steadily building up stocks of choice snowdrops, including the famous G. 'John Gray' and more recent 'Modern Art', as well as Peter Moore's lovely selection of G. reginae-olgae, 'Tilebarn Jamie'.
Inside we prepared a small display of snowdrops and early flowering bulbs, including Ipheion 'Rolf Fiedler' (which would probably be regarded as the eqaul of 'Alberto Castillo' if it was reliably hardy in the garden). Others brought along hellebores and the early woodland Corydalis 'Beth Evans': by no means the equal of alpine displays at the Shows, but examples of excellent winter flowering plants for the garden. Most visitors have none of the horticultural sophitication of AGS members, but the event loses none of its enjoyment for that because of its traditions over the past years and the friendships maintained over that time.
But now only a few days to go and excitement of a very different order at the Early Spring AGS Show at Harlow, which could well be the first March entry on this diary, and a chance to see if all this 'Twittering' is having any effect!