Scotney Castle – Kent
Today was the day. Off to Scotney Castle at Lamberhurst in Kent, to view the rhododendrons and azaleas for which the gardens are justly famous and to find out how they manage their composting requirements.
Major problem, guys. The rhododendrons aren’t out yet and there was not one person there who could talk to me about composting!
It has often been my fortune to turn up at the lesser-known museums on the day they are closed for ‘cleaning’ and to sundry attractions on the day that they close to give the volunteers a break. Now the problem is gardens that I visit at the wrong time of the year. I know it only takes a phone call, but…
Before my next visit, I will ring and arrange to speak to someone in power!
The place is still beautiful, though, with enormous promise for the summer to come. Once again the Quarry Garden leaves everything to my imagination. The last time I saw it, it was Autumn! It’s just too early yet and I had to be satisfied with the amazing primroses that poked up from the sheet of crunchy brown leaves that covered the floor of the garden. It is the first time I have seen such numbers in a naturalised state and they are all I could have hoped for. One day I promise myself, I will get to see this garden in its summer glory.
The other stars were the early magnolias. The Scotney estate includes around 770 acres of the always astonishing Kent countryside and the green fields and woods spread out towards the horizon – an extension of the more formal gardens. At the moment the trees on the farmland are still twiggy skeletons, waiting for their leaves to burst open and fill in the gaps, so the magnolias stand out – an explosion – a stunning burst of pink or white against this backdrop of green and hazy grey-brown.
The rhododendrons, of course, are a heavy green mass, with big fat flower buds that look as though they will open as soon as we leave. We plan to return soon.
This must surely be one of the most traditionally romantic sites in England and if tragedy is part of romance, there is plenty of that, too.
Scotney Old Castle and New Castle
The present Scotney Castle is perched on top of a hill, built to make the most of the incredible views. The original Scotney Castle is at the bottom of the hill, built over two small islands. The original or Old Castle was built around 1378, it seems as a defence against the forces of France. There had been attacks on nearby towns in the previous year. It was extensively remodelled in late C16 and early C17. During the 450 years from its inception it changed hands just once until in 1778 it was purchased by the Hussey family who hailed from the iron trade in Worcestor. They owned it and it was lived in by the family until 2006 when it was gifted to the National Trust.
The Hussey Family
The first Hussey, who made the purchase, Edward 1, committed suicide in 1816. His son, Edward 11 died a year later in London. His grand-son, Edward 111 returned to Scotney in 1828, fascinated by the architecture and landscape. He decided the old house was past its prime and opted to build a new Scotney which was designed by the architect Anthony Salvin. He moved there in 1836 and promptly had the old house knocked about a bit, so as to provide a ‘picturesque folly’ in the garden. An interesting decision and one which, no doubt has its detractors.
In any event, it certainly looks romantic enough, with loads of moss-covered rocks lining the walks, broken-down walls, empty windows and winding stone stairways. It is fabulous and definitely fairy-tale material.
Environment counts at Scotney
The National Trust continues doing lots of good things, offering education and demonstrating ways of supporting our environment. Here, a couple of years ago, I found out just what the ancient art of ‘coppicing’* is. They do it at several NT sites, including Scotney and part of the bio-mass they accumulate is used to fire the boiler that provides hot water and heating for the public areas of the estate. The visitors’ loos are cleaned and flushed by collected rain-water and eventually, the manor house itself will benefit from the same source of power and water. This has meant the closure of the old oil-fired boiler which is a great step forward. To read more about this venture, click here where you will find a case study that gives all the technical details, the facts and figures and the current out-comes.
A further example of the importance placed on conservation is the treatment of what were once the formal lawns that surrounded the manor house. These are now mown only once a year and are treated as a nutrient-poor grassland meadow, a fast disappearing environment in Britain. This has led to the re-establishment of various plants that were dying out in the wild including the Green Veined orchid which had become a rare find. The collection here is considered nationally significant and the garden has been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest. (SSSL)
As always, the experience offered by the National Trust is great. There is a pleasant courtyard and café where drinks and food are on offer. The volunteers who look after things in the manor are really friendly and willing to chat and there are guided walks available at no charge. Picnicking is encouraged, with charming meadows and nooks just begging for the rug and the bacon and egg pie to be laid out.
A great day out with the family if that is your thing and a great place to wander alone, too.