Dappled delight

PUBLISHED: 13:05 21 April 2010 | UPDATED: 17:04 20 February 2013

Dappled delight

Dappled delight

Explore the delights of spring in the dappled dell of Abbotsmerry Barn at Penshurst

This spring may well be the last chance to see this charming garden, as owners Margaret and Keith Wallis are selling their much-loved Penshurst property. The garden has been developed from scratch over the past 26 years.
Creating our garden has given us a great sense of achievement (as well as cramp in the night and numerous aches and pains!), say the couple.
Since we found it necessary some 10 years ago to supplement our own efforts with additional help, it has also been a pleasure to work alongside friends who share our enthusiasm.
The continual development (and sometimes demise) of the planting never allows the task to become a matter of routine the trick and the satisfaction is to try where possible to turn problems into opportunities to introduce something new, they add.
The seven-acre garden, set on a south-west-facing slope, spreads down from a converted Kentish barn and has a lovely backdrop of panoramic views towards Penshurst. We came across the barn by chance in April 1984 when visiting another property and were so struck by its position overlooking the Eden valley and by its potential that we made a virtually immediate offer, says Keith.
The barn itself was in disrepair and full of straw. The ground, which slopes away from the barn, comprised largely derelict farmland littered with long lengths of hopwire and discarded farm machinery especially in the old stone quarry, which had evidently been used as a tip for farm and household rubbish for generations.
There was a bramble-infested wood at the north-east corner and an overgrown hedge dividing the property and running to the south east. We started work on clearing the quarry and the ground close to the barn in August 1984, well before the conversion work began, and moved into the barn two years later, he adds.
From the outset, the aim has been for year-round interest and to make the most of the position of the garden, taking advantage of the existing natural contours. We also wanted to ensure that what we planted would harmonise with the rest of the valley countryside without any sharp contrasts, says Margaret.
The challenge was nothing new for this green-fingered couple, who have created gardens at their previous homes; both grew up with parents and grandparents who were also keen gardeners. An interest in gardening has also been augmented with avid reading of authors such as Beth Chatto and Christopher Lloyd, visiting gardens in England and abroad, as well as joining the Kent branch of the Hardy Plant Society.
Work began with areas close to the barn, planting terraces and placing seats to make the most of the views. In the quarry, a pond was dug and
the surroundings planted with azaleas, cistus, maples and camellias which have all flourished, despite the claggy and rocky soil.
Trees and hedges were planted at the southwestern boundary as windbreaks and mulching with compost and shreddings has also been important to improve the soil.
Today, the garden is a picture of harmony within its setting. At my visit, sunlight glinted through the trees, lighting up a haze of bluebells and hints of colour down grassy steps into the transformed quarry, complete with a sprinkling of blossom confetti from an appropriately gnarled cherry.
In contrast to the dappled woodland areas, there are open lawns, borders and beds filled with a wide variety of flowers and foliage, a sun-loving terrace and a gravel section. The eye is also drawn to the borrowed landscape views framed by planting.
Keith and Margaret have opened their garden to visitors for many years, firstly with the Kent Hardy Plant Society and from 1995 through the National Gardens Scheme.
Since 2006 it has opened by appointment only and as 2010 is
their last year, only to the end of June.

Opening times
Abbotsmerry Barn, Penshurst
Visitors welcome by appointment
until end Jun,
01892 870900
Admission: 4, children free

Plant of the month
Rhododendron Seven Stars
tall hybrid rhododendron
pale pink flowers opening from red-purple buds
dappled shade
sheltered position
moist well-drained soil
acid soil, pH5 or less
dig in plenty of organic matter before planting
shallow planting is essential
avoid forking around base so as not to disturb roots
deadheading after flowering improves growth

To taste
tie in shoots on trained fruits, such as peaches, nectarinesand cherries
remove unwanted shoots from raspberries
net soft fruit
continue successional sowings of salad crops
sow French and runner beans, pumpkin, beetroot, peas,radish, cabbage, cucumbers, spinach, sweetcorn,cauliflowers and purple sprouting broccoli

Something extra
Plant hanging baskets and window boxes for a display by summer in doorways, porches, pergolas and conservatories. Reliable choices include trailing lobelia, campanulas, fuchsias, pelargonium, petunias and tradescantia. Colour can also come from foliage such as cordylines and grasses. Ensure plenty of plants to cover the containers wire or structure. You could include some edibles as well, such as parsley or nasturtiums. Keep well watered.

Ornamental tasks
clumps of spring bulbs and primroses can be divided after flowering
with weather warming up, keep an eye out for pests; weed and water as needed
lift spring bedding and plant summer bedding at end of the month
many perennials, such as rudbeckia and sedum, may benefit from the Chelsea chop the practice of cutting back by half to make plants bushier and sturdier
good time to divide and plant waterlilies and plant up bog gardens

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