The Rose Garden at Smallhythe

Last year one of our big projects at Smallhythe Place was to rejuvenate the rose garden which adjoins the house. Ellen Terry adored roses and as well as those scrambling over the walls of the house and barn theatre, Smallhythe also has a formal rose garden.  It is divided into four main beds and planted with a mixture of old fashioned shrub roses, floribunda and hybrid tea roses – including the beautiful yellow Rosa ‘Ellen Terry’.


The rose garden in spring last year


The first step was to clear the garden of all plants apart from the roses.  Although there were a lot of tulips and forget-me-nots for spring interest there was not much planting for colour later in the year. We then left the beds empty for several months to give us time to clear a lot of annual weed seeds as they germinated.  It also gave us a chance to eradicate the bindweed which was in all of the beds.


The four beds in the rose garden cleared and ready for new planting

We planted a mixed native hedge down the right hand side of the garden before erecting a temporary fence to prevent our pesky neighbourhood rabbits from getting in and eating all our new plants.


The newly planted hedge down the length of the rose garden

We started to put the new plants in at the end of May 2015 which was a big team effort with all our regular volunteers and some of our colleagues from Sissinghurst coming over for the day to give us a hand.


The garden marked out ready for planting


Jon checks the plans and lays out the plants


Our volunteers and the Sissinghurst gardeners at work



Planting nearly completed


The garden in the middle of June last year

The planting performed well for the first year and by September the later flowering plants had started filling out.

Rudbeckia fulgida var. deamii

Rudbeckia fulgida var. deamii

Anthemis tinctoria 'E. C. Buxton' beneath an unknown rose

Anthemis tinctoria ‘E. C. Buxton’ beneath an unknown rose



Rosa ‘Ispahan’ – a double pink damask rose with a strong fragrance


The rose garden in April this year


Tulipa ‘Don Quichotte’ and Tulipa ‘White Triumphator’


Rosa ‘May Queen’ at the back of the rose garden is one of the first rambling roses I pruned last winter.


Rosa ‘May Queen’ in June this year


The entrance to the rose garden in the middle of June


The view back towards the house


Rosa ‘Ferdinand Pichard’ – a repeat flowering old rose with a rich scent and pink flowers that are clearly striped with crimson and purple


Rosa ‘Madame Hardy’ – easily identified by the green eye in the centre this is a damask rose that has the slightest hint of blush as it opens but later becomes a pure glistening white



Rosa ‘De Rescht’ – a repeat flowering deep pink rose with double pom-pom flowers


The planting of Penstemon ‘White Bedder’, Geranium x magnificum, Alchemilla mollis, Salvia superba and Mentha ‘Eau de Cologne’ has established well


The new hedge has had its first trim and is already obscuring the wooden fence behind. The alpine Dianthus that we grew from one packet of seed has spread to form a colourful carpet at the foot of the hedge



The Plant Conservation Centre

Last week I was lucky enough to go on a three day course at the Plant Conservation Centre (PCC) in Devon.  The PCC is a specialist propagation facility for the National Trust and its main aim is to propagate the rarest and most threatened plants from around the UK.  The National Trust’s gardens contain one of the most important and diverse collections of cultivated plants in single ownership anywhere in the world and the collection includes specimens that were brought to the UK centuries ago from all corners of the globe by intrepid plant hunters.


As well as all the serious stuff we spent “Wiggy Wednesday” at the PCC looking stupid to raise money for children’s cancer charity Clic Sargent

The PCC was initially set up as a response to the Great Storm of 1987 when thousands of fallen and damaged plants suddenly needed propagation and, through the skills of their staff, the majority of important specimens were saved.  The role of the PCC is becoming more critical as new plant diseases arrive into the UK and long term climate change threatens many plants. One plant the PCC are currently helping to propagate is wild asparagus – once a plentiful plant in the UK but now, due to changes in land use, classed as an endangered species.

Due to the nature of its work the PCC operates under controlled, bio-secure conditions, meaning that every possible precaution is taken to protect the plants on site from pests and diseases.  The first step when new plants are brought to the PCC is for them to go into a quarantine area which consist of 2 greenhouses where plants are left for 6-8 weeks and monitored for the presence of any pests and diseases.


The quarantine area

Step 2 is that when entering the nursery any cross contamination is avoided by scrubbing and disinfecting footwear (which may contain soil-borne disease) by using brushes and footbaths.


No muddy boots allowed!

New plants start their life in the propagation house which contains normal potting benches, mist units, a micro-propagation unit and a hot pipe area for grafting new material onto root stocks.


The propagation house

Here cuttings are taken and start off in small plugs.  We were excited to spot one of the plants we sent to the PCC recently from Chartwell – Kalmia latifolia ‘Clementine Churchill’ – a cultivar named after Sir Winston’s wife.  Whilst we have surviving plants in situ at Chartwell they are not in the best of health and this means that taking successful cuttings from them is challenging.


Each plant has a unique number so that it can be entered and found on the National Trust database.  I had never seen our Kalmia in flower before.

Sharing the propagation house with our Kalmia was a row of lime trees that have been propagated to replace the magnificent lime avenue at Stowe in Buckinghamshire.


The original lime avenue at Stowe was planted in 1720 by Charles Bridgeman, a predecessor to Lancelot “Capability” Brown and the original trees are near the end of their life expectancy

The PCC does not use any chemical sprays to control pests and instead relies on biological pest control methods, meaning that natural pests are encouraged to pray on unwanted aphids and insects.


Pots of the marigold Tagetes minuta, sweet alyssum and fuschia are simply placed in the doorway of the greenhouses and attract aphids away from other plants

Another plant that was doing a good job at controlling sciarid fly was Pinguicula moranensis which was placed between rows of cuttings.


Pinguicula moranensis


This genus of carnivorous plants use sticky, fleshy leaves to lure, trap and digest insects

Once newly propagated plants are ready to be potted on they are moved to the growing on house and then to polytunnels before reaching the main growing house.


Checking for pests in one of the polytunnels

In one polytunnel we saw Gladiolus brenchleyensis which was one of Gertrude Jekyll’s favourite plants.  It had become so rare that it was thought lost to cultivation until spotted in a garden in the Isle of Man around 5 years ago.  The PCC are now building up a stock of the plant.


Gladiolus brenchleyensis

Once plants have grown large enough to be moved into 3 litre pots they are transferred into the main growing house.


The main growing house has automated irrigation and automatic fans to keep plants at the ideal temperature

In the main growing house we found another plant with a connection to our property at Toy’s Hill – Rosa ‘Octavia Hill’.


Rosa ‘Octavia Hill’ named after one of the founders of the National Trust


The unit at present can handle approximately 12,000 plants at a time

One particularly famous tree that the PCC are propagating that we saw in the main growing house is an apple tree called Malus domestica ‘Flower of Kent’.  While this cultivar is commercially available the one at the PCC derives from a cutting taking from the very same tree that dropped an apple on Sir Isaac Newton’s head and inspired his theory of gravity.  The tree itself is still alive after more than 350 years but as this is well beyond the usual life expectancy of any apple tree the National Trust is looking to the future to make sure a genetically identical tree can take its place and continue the story.




The New Pergola

Ellen Terry and her daughter Edith Craig (known as Edy), who donated Smallhythe Place to the National Trust, were both very keen on pergolas and used them throughout the gardens during the time they lived here.


Pergolas running along the side and front of Smallhythe Place in the early 1900’s

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Ellen’s son  Edward Gordon Craig and his family playing cricket in front of one of the pergolas

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Ellen Terry with her younger sister  Marion Terry by the rose pergola next to the well, at the far end of the garden


The well as it is today with St. John’s Church in the background and Priest’s House (where Edy lived) to the left

The only pergola that has remained in living memory at Smallhythe Place is the one at the far end of the garden near the well. By the end of last year it had become a little bit wonky, as the wooden posts rotted at the bottom, and it was also impossible for anyone over 5ft 6 to walk underneath it without stooping.  We wanted to restore the pergola to its former glory and, as the Barn Theatre at Smallhythe Place is sometimes used for weddings and the pergola makes a romantic spot for photographs, make the pergola a bit higher so that brides and grooms can walk through it comfortably.


The pergola in spring last last year

Thanks to a very kind donation from the Tenterden and District National Trust Association we were given funding at the beginning of the year to buy the materials and start work on building a new pergola.


We took the old structure down in March


Starting to measure out where the new pergola would go at the beginning on April

The small beds next to the pergola made it very difficult to mow and so we decided to turf them over for easier maintenance. The new roses will simply be planted around the bottom of the posts.



The new pergola will eventually be extended to run the length of the tennis court as it did originally but we are doing the building in stages as time allows


Stage one of the construction complete


The view towards the daffodils in the orchard

The pergola will be planted with a selection of roses which all pre-date 1928, the year of Ellen Terry’s death. Some of the roses we will be planting include:

alexandre girault

Rosa ‘Alexandre Girault’ which has deep rose pink coloured double flowers with a strong scent

Rambling rector

Rosa ‘Rambling Rector’ (also known as Shakespeare’s Musk) which is a well known vigorous rambler smothered in semi-double white clusters of flowers in July with masses of hips in the autumn


Rosa multiflora ‘Cathayensis’ has single blush pink flowers and hips in the autumn


Rosa ‘Adelaide d’Orleans’ with semi-double flowers that start with soft pink buds that gradually fade to creamy white flowers

All of the roses are quick growing ramblers so we hope that it will not be too long before the new pergola will be smothered in blooms as it was in Ellen Terry’s time.



The Nuttery

One of the ongoing projects at Smallhythe Place is the renovation of the Nuttery. The Nuttery is home to 2 different varieties of hazelnut – the traditional Kentish cobnut and Purple Filberts.


The Nuttery in February 2016

When Jon took over the running of the garden at Smallhythe Place in the summer of 2014 the Nuttery had not been maintained for many years and had lost much of its charm and character.  It had become very dark and dismal and was in need of a drastic overhaul.


The Nuttery as it was in 2014 – dark and waterlogged

Jon made the decision to put the Nuttery back to how an old Kentish Nuttery should be and got advice from the Kentish Cobnut Association on how to prune the trees properly.

A cobnut is simply a cultivated variety of hazelnut, just as a Cox is a cultivated variety of apple. Cultivated hazelnuts have been grown in gardens and orchards since at least the 16th century and many new cultivars were bred in the 19th century. The variety Kentish Cob was probably introduced in about 1830 and was so successful it soon took over from most other varieties. Cobnut production increased greatly, especially in the home counties and by 1913 plantations extended to over 7,000 acres with most of the orchards or ‘plats’ being in Kent.

After the First World War, labour became more expensive, and home produce had to compete with imported fruit and nuts, which became increasingly available as transport and refrigeration improved. By 1951, the area of cobnuts in Kent was estimated at no more than 730 acres  and by 1990 this had declined to about 250 acres.

The first major prune of the Nuttery at Smallhythe took place in February 2015 and all of the trees were reduced significantly.


The Nuttery in the spring after its first big prune

If left unpruned a cobnut will grow to more than 7m tall meaning that you would not be able to reach the nuts while they are in their ‘green’ succulent stage. The traditional method of pruning cobnut trees involves checking the height of the tree to about 2m so that the fruit is within the reach of a picker, about 2m . The branches are thinned out and trained outwards to make a bowl-shaped tree on a short trunk.


The Nuttery recovered well over the summer and we have now started to train it by thinning it out again this winter so a structural shape can start to form.


The Nuttery in summer 2015

It is estimated that it will take about 5 years from the first major prune for the trees to have the effect that we’re aiming for.  There is also a decision to be made about whether we should remove the Purple Filberts as not being in keeping with the rest of the Nuttery.


The Purple Filberts in the Nuttery


The trees after pruning in 2016



Toys Hill Scrub Bash

Tim Parker, our Gardens and Estate Manager, is responsible not just for the gardens at Chartwell but at a number of other National Trust locations and one of the areas in this portfolio is the land at Toys Hill.  Toys Hill was the place that inspired Octavia Hill (along with co-founders Robert Hunter and Hardwicke Rawnsley) to found the National Trust.

Octavia, who was active in the early development of social housing in London believed

There are indeed many good things in life which may be unequally apportioned and no such serious loss arise; but the need of quiet, the need of air, and I believe the sight of sky and of things growing, seem human needs, common to all men.’

Toys Hill has some of the best views across the Weald of Kent to the Ashdown Forest in the far distance but over the last few years the view has started to become obscured by young trees.  We therefore organised a scrub bash – calling on all our staff and volunteers from Chartwell and surrounding properties – to come and help clear an area of woodland to open up the view.


The view at the start of the day



Undeterred by the density of the trees…


…our volunteers got to work clearing the area by the path.


Thankfully, despite a very wet month we were blessed with a beautiful day


We started a bonfire…


and soon had enough wood to fuel several fires.


Most of the trees were small enough to cut with bow saws but Ben (one of the Chartwell garden team) was on hand to help out with a chainsaw


He was soon joined by Tim, our head gardener


A very hearty bbq lunch was provided by Chris and Di


Claire was in charge of building the oven for our baked spuds



53 perfectly cooked baked potatoes


Some of our most dedicated volunteers tuck into lunch.


Back to work in the afternoon



By the end of the day we had cleared a huge area on both sides of the path


The last job as the light started to fade was to make sure all of our bonfires had been extinguished



Our fantastic team of staff and volunteers kept working until the sun went down


With the view of the Weald behind us