Amanda Cottrell, chairman of Kent Tourism Alliance on her garden in Challock
PUBLISHED: 18:04 02 August 2010 | UPDATED: 15:18 20 February 2013
Amanda Cottrell, chairman of Kent Tourism Alliance, patron of Produced in Kent and former High Sheriff of Kent, shares the secrets of her beautiful garden in Challock
Former High Sheriff of Kent, Amanda Cottrell is extremely active in her local and county-wide community but somehow still manages to find time for gardening at her home, Laurenden Forstal, in Challock.
Two acres of roses, woodland and billowing borders enfold the attractive 14th-century house and the effervescent garden reflects many of Amanda's passions and interests, thriving with life and colour, just like its owner.
When Amanda moved to Laurenden Forstal with her husband and four young children 40 years ago, the priority was for a family garden. "In the early days, the garden was in turn a football or cricket pitch, or simply an exciting series of paths and grassy spaces for exploring and riding very small ponies," she explains.
For the past 12 years, since the sad passing of her husband, plants
have become a passion and the garden became both sanctuary and salvation. "Enormously hard physical work was cathartic, enhancing existing views, planning and digging large borders, moving tons of flints and moving in tons of soil improvers, trees and shrubs," she recalls.
"Gardening here, high on the North Downs of Kent, is a challenge. There
is an old saying that even a rabbit would starve in Challock, as the soil is clay with flints, and every cultivatable inch must be fought for!"
Inspiring the re-direction of the garden was the concept of using many of the existing Victorian features, such as walls, mature yew hedges, paths and lawns, as a framework for the extensive garden project. The large - now resplendently wildlife-friendly - pond was dug out of an old Victorian sunken garden.
"I tried to puddle it in the clay but it leaked like a sieve, so a liner was installed, and I began the long and fascinating process of planting both the oxygenators and marginals necessary for the eco-balance of a healthy pond," Amanda explains.
Now it is edged with dense plantings of loosestrife in soft mauves and pinks, ligularia, drifts of candelabra primulas, hundreds of iris and dogwood. Many species have set up home in this established eco-system. "Frogs and newts live happily alongside a family of moorhen, who rear several broods a year, they take their chicks - who look like raisins on legs - to filch corn from the chickens, who roam free in the orchard," she says. The garden has been divided into a series of 'rooms', backed by tall yew hedges to frame the borders and provide windbreaks.
"I try to confine certain explosions of colour to each area," she explains. "I also allow free seeding of wild flowers, such as rosebay willow herb, catmint, lobelia, aquilegia, allium and foxgloves."
Colour themes in the garden range from areas of soft pastels to hot beds of yellows, oranges and vibrant reds.
A much-loved feature is a long rose-covered walkway draped with 12 varieties of scented ramblers, forming a central axis view from the house. Some stand-out favourite roses for Amanda include Just Joey, Marion Harkness, Etoille de Hollande, Queen Elizabeth, Eglantyne and High Sheriff, planted as a reminder of what she describes fondly as "one of the most astonishing years of my life."
From the rose arbour, a Victorian ladies' walk leads to two distant meadows that change from a sea of spring bulbs to a waving tapestry of grasses and daisies, thrift, ragged robin and other wildflowers through summer. A meandering mown grass path leads to a stone seat and lovely views over nearby Eastwell Park.
Other areas in the garden include a wooded glade, courtyard with white flowers and a small raised-bed vegetable garden made in the base of a dilapidated Victorian greenhouse. "The old walls are still there, and the beds raised on sleepers for my old age, but also in the hope that rabbits are too lazy to jump: so far, so good," laughs Amanda.
Growing and harvesting
As patron of Produced in Kent, the issue of locally grown food in season is close to her heart. Growing and harvesting an array of produce from aubergines and salads to medlars and blackberries is an obvious enjoyment.
Amanda's family life, personal passions and interests permeate the very essence of the garden. "There are a number of special focal points in the garden - a living willow-covered seat, made by Alan Sage and overlooking the pond, where I can sit in the late evening and watch the bats flitting about - I am a trustee of the Kent Wildlife Trust, a lifelong passion."
She adds: "There's a tree-house for my grandchildren, three bronze sheep, a ewe and two lambs, standing in the long grass at the edge of the wood to remind me of the Herdwick sheep from my family home in the Lake District."
Sharing the garden comes naturally, both with family and friends and the wider community. A large medieval barn in the garden is frequently used for pantomimes and charity events and the garden is open three times a year. "For me, a garden is very much to share and to enjoy in the company of friends and especially family. I have four children and eight grandchildren - a veritable dynasty - all of whom visit regularly.
"All those who love gardening know that it is a constant challenge, a progressive passion, always more to learn and mistakes to be made. I am a watercolourist with a great love of form and colour, and a garden to me is simply another way of expressing just that."