Are They Using Compost at Hever Castle – Find Out Here.
One of the great pleasures of living in England and particularly in Kent, is that one is always within a spit of any number of notable gardens open to the public. It is not a cheap hobby, visiting these wonderful places, but even a single visit can open the eyes to possibilities.
Hever Castle, built originally in the 13th century, was the childhood home of Anne Boleyn, the second wife of Henry XIII. It is a stunning building with a double moat, ‘proper’ crenellations and creepers scrambling over honey-coloured stone. It is situated in Kent, and is just one of many fabulous manor-houses and castles that dot the countryside here. It is very romantic. The Tudor construction, built by the Boleyns, in the 1500s, was built inside the walls of the original castle. No prizes for guessing why that happened!
Grand, but at the same time small enough to be appreciated as a home, it passed through the hands of several famous families, until it was purchased 110 years ago by William Waldorf Astor. He carried out major restoration, built the ‘Tudor village’ and along with Joseph Cheal and Sons, constructed and laid out the Italian gardens which constitute an important part of the whole experience. These were built on the marshland which still surrounds the house, in order to display his very considerable hoard of Italian marbles, (including a spectacular wall from Pompei) some of which are up to 2000 years old.
For me, the best way to enter the gardens is on the high side, through the entrance by the old 14th Century church of St. Peter. Ann Boleyn’s father, Thomas Bullen is buried here. The entrance is through the gate house and once you are through, you can look down on the castle, over a large expanse of grass and get your first taste of the vast number of wonderful trees that are planted here. There is no wonder that this place is included in our list of favourite places to spend a day. It has everything that is needed – plenty of lawn and grass, superb trees, riveting history, great swathes of colour, originality, outstanding design, water features, places for children to play and for adults to relax with a book in a comfortable corner. It is the amalgam of all these things that, in my opinion, makes any garden notable.
There are many aspects to Hever Castle, however and each is worthy of attention in its own right. There is a charming Tudor flower bed, featuring roses and herbs typical of the time and a giant topiary chess set. There are 4 acres of formal lawns and plantings alongside a stunning walled rose garden boasting 4,000 roses, where you will breathe in the most fabulously perfumed air. To stretch your legs, there are glorious parkland walks, some around the 38 acre lake. There is a traditional yew maze and a funky water maze that will blow your socks off. The 100 mtr herbaceous border is planted with a dazzling array of flowers and opposite is a bed of the most flamboyant dahlias available. To top it all off, across the way is one of the oldest beech trees in England. Now 428 years old, it was just 8 when Sir F. Drake met with and punished, the Spanish Armada. (It certainly looks as though using compost will definitely be an important part of the gardening programme. Will they be making their own, though?)
This is a hidden treasure for everyone and around each corner you will make delightful discoveries, personal to you, some of which you will take away at the end of the day and remember always. After several visits here, I have many of these, from the head of the Italian Medusa draped with lush green Babies Tears in one of the several grottoes sited on the shady side of the formal area, to the meticulously trimmed maple with the ‘naughty’ statue. (nothing changes really) to the pungent lavender border against the stone wall at the café. Another ‘stand-out’ is the acreage of rough marshy ground at the back of the house and, in complete contrast, the Italian loggia on the shore of the lake.
Are they using compost?
Well, yes, they are using compost but they do not have a large composting programme.
I spoke with Darren, who is the assistant head gardener. He has been working at Hever Castle gardens for 13 years now and loves it. When I asked about their compost systems and re-cycling efforts, he explained that to compost in full gear would just be too expensive in terms of labour costs. There are only 8 members of staff do all the work and today, for instance, they are busy with seasonal tasks – trimming the topiary (yew and buxus) and dead-heading and lightly pruning the roses.They have no time to spend sorting materials, preparing them where necessary, watering, turning, in fact doing all those things that are needed to compost in optimum conditions. So the best they can do is to dump all their trimmings into a holding bin, turn it into another bin when the time is ripe and let it rot down by itself. This can take from 2-3 years and they are happy to wait. In the meantime, they buy in the bulk of the mulch that they need. Their boiler also works on bio-mass which they buy in and that takes up any excess wood chippings they may generate themselves.
It is sort of disappointing to learn that although using compost is an integral part of their routine, they can compost only casually. It is good to think that at least they don’t dump all their ‘waste’ in to a land-fill, though. They are proud that they are using bio-mass boilers to generate the power they need and they are looking to expand that capacity.
They also have their own ecologically sound sewage system installed, using the marshland that is their environment in the form of wetland beds and sewage lagoons. Over 20,000 plants have been added and this is succeeding to great effect with the result that wildlife is benefiting greatly and increased numbers and species of wet-land birds and land animals are moving in to settle and breed. The sewage is almost totally contained and any small amount that is left is sucked up by a stand of willow trees.
Now that is impressive.
Seasonal tasks – pruning roses and trimming topiary.
A selection of dahlias.
Wonderful Hever roses
Hever is definitely a notable garden and demonstrates just what a blessing a large garden can be. Families were there in abundance, children were running about sucking up the sunshine and releasing excess energy. Picnickers enjoyed relaxing on the great lawns and a lucky few were able to hire a dinghy and get in a bit of rowing on the lake. I love that places like this are all over the country to be enjoyed by anyone who cares. Shame they are so expensive. Perhaps doctors should be able to write a prescription for “a family outing at Hever. To be taken in one day.”
These notable gardens are one of England’s great blessings (and they are very enthusiastic about using compost!)