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Kent in Bloom

Hever Castle

Hever Castle

Featuring 30 acres of classical and natural landscapes, the spectacular gardens at Hever Castle were laid out at the turn of the 20th century.

It’s easy to see why the county of Kent is dubbed the “Garden of England.” A breathtaking carpet of lush gardens, valleys and woodlands, the county starts just 10 minutes east of London and stretches 80 miles east across country to a rugged, chalky coastline. At easy reach by train or car, Kent is the perfect counterpoint to the bustling English capital. It’s where you can kick back, unwind and take in the best of the charming British countryside.

The legend of Kent as the “Garden of England” actually has its roots long ago, in the early 16th century, when the fruit grower for King Henry VIII—a monarch who was notorious for his lavish appetite—planted England’s first apple and cherry trees across the county. Throughout the centuries, Britain’s brightest gardeners and landscapers have been drawn to Kent’s mild climate and fertile soil, and have left a remarkable legacy of living history. From the rigid Tudor gardens at Hever Castle, to the rhododendrons and azaleas tumbling around the ruins of a 14th-century castle at Scotney, Kent boasts a wide range of fine gardens, both formal and relaxed, which span the centuries.

The best time to visit is from late spring to early autumn, so take your time, steel your stomach at breakfast by eating some divine local cakes and marmalades, and take to the scenic winding Kent roads with our guide to the best gardens in the “Garden of England.”

Scotney Castle & Garden
Lamberhurst, Tunbridge Wells, Kent
Famous For: Its superb displays of rhododendrons and azaleas.
Background: It’s one of England’s most romantic gardens, set next to an idyllic lake. Created in the 1830s by landscaping talent William Sawrey Gilpin, the Tudor castle’s formal gardens have views of the ruins of a 14th-century castle and distant Kent landscapes.

Goodnestone Park Gardens
Goodnestone Park, Canterbury, Kent
Phone: 011-44-130-484-0107
Famous For: Novelist Jane Austen was a frequent visitor here, as her brother Edward married into the FitzWalter family, which has called Goodnestone home since the early 18th century.
Background: Goodnestone’s gardens are a result of the cumulative efforts of the FitzWalter family. Twelve generations of the family have lived at Goodnestone Park, and Lord Julian FitzWalter is still in residence. The gardens have had various manifestations, according to the horticultural trends of the time, but were restored to their 19th-century glory thanks to Margaret FitzWalter, who began working on the garden in the mid-1960s. The walled garden’s famous walls are carpeted with climbers and wall plants, including clematis, jasmine, California glory and Carpentaria californica.

Hever Castle
Hever, Nr Edenbridge, Kent
Famous For: Formal gardens
in the Italian style and for being set in the childhood home of Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII’s fated second wife.
Background: Featuring 30 acres of classical and natural landscapes, the spectacular gardens at Hever Castle were laid out at the turn of the 20th century by landscapers Joseph Cheal and Son. The castle dates back much further however. Hever Castle’s pièce de résistance is the spectacular Italian-influenced garden designed to display William Waldorf Astor’s collection of Italian sculpture. The garden is only now reaching full maturity and includes the colorful walled rose garden, which contains more than 3,000 plants. More than 1,000 men worked on Hever Castle’s garden design from 1904 to 1908. The design also includes an impressive 35-acre lake.

Sissinghurst Castle Gardens
Sissinghurst, Nr Cranbrook, Kent
Famous For: Its formidable creator, the poet, novelist, gardening expert and women’s rights activist Vita Sackville-West, who counted Virginia Wolf among her lovers.
Background: Situated in the Weald of Kent—which has been designated by the English National Trust as having “outstanding natural beauty”—Sissinghurst Garden was created in the 1930s by Sackville-West and her husband Harold Nicolson. Set within the remains of a 16th-century manor house, the garden is epic in its proportions and considered one of the world’s greatest.

This article has been adapted from the original, which was published in March 2006 by MSP Communications.

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