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Garden of the month: Hall Place and Gardens

PUBLISHED: 10:56 03 October 2015 | UPDATED: 10:56 03 October 2015

Hall Place & Gardens, Bexley

Hall Place & Gardens, Bexley

Archant

There is plenty of seasonal foliage colour to enjoy at the splendid gardens at historic Hall Place in Bexley, where impressive topiary and towering trees are on the turn

Cold, clear nights brightening into sunny days, the shafts of slanting light intensifying the rich hues of russets, crimsons and golds; these are the days of autumn that we all anticipate.

Deciduous trees and shrubs don their cloaks of many colours before disrobing into the bare beauty of skeletal forms. This is one of nature’s most stunning evolutionary tricks, caused by deciduous plants slowing their metabolism.

The chlorophyll content of leaves aids photosynthesis and keeps them green through spring and summer, before shorter days and cooler temperatures trigger a reduction in chlorophyll production within the leaves, ceasing to mask the other colour pigments present in the foliage.

The plants prepare for winter when they rest and live off the food they stored during summer. Plants use this time to recycle nutrients from the foliage and deposit hard-to-eliminate waste products inside the leaves before they are shed.

However, we can just admire the beauty while the science takes care of itself. The autumn scene of burnished leaves, glistening berries and the last burst of colour from flowering perennials can be enjoyed in a handful of gardens across the county.

As the open season comes to an end there are still some wonderful choices. I went along to the historic Hall Place and Gardens set on the banks of the River Cray in Bexley to discover what the gardens are like at this time of year. The fine Grade I listed house, formerly a stately home, was built in 1537 for Sir John Champneys, a wealthy merchant and former Mayor of London.

A series of owners and tenants have put their mark on the property and today it is run by the Bexley Heritage Trust, an independent charity set up to preserve and enhance the buildings, collections, 75 hectares of gardens and parkland, and used for events, functions and activities.

Although there is an admission charge to visit the house, the gardens, visitor centre, Riverside café and glasshouses are free, and at my visit there were many people taking the opportunity to enjoy the autumn sunshine in the extensive grounds. You enter past a nursery, on the site of the former kitchen gardens, with tropical glasshouses and model gardens, including a potager, before arriving in the formal gardens.

The most impressive part of the gardens is the yew topiary lawn started by the last private tenant, Lady Limerick, with heraldic chess pieces. It was completed in 1953 to mark Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation, with the addition of the Queen’s beasts modelled from those at Kew Gardens, including a griffin and dragon.

Ten heraldic figures echo the sentinels at the entrance to Westminster Abbey, where The Queen’s coronation took place. It takes two to three weeks each July to cut the topiary.

The Hall Place gardens are one of a handful of sites in the UK to have won the Civic Trust’s Green Flag award each year and also have Green Heritage Site status. Wildlife is encouraged, you may even spot the resident kingfisher skimming the river and children will delight in the array of ducks and geese. You’ll find herbaceous borders, rock gardens, seasonal bedding, meadows and wonderful mature trees to stroll under and watch the confetti leaf fall. Allow plenty of time to sit and relax in this green space, sample the café and admire the sense of history that pervades.

To complete your day, for a separate charge, there is a Butterfly Jungles experience where you can walk through a rainforest with free flying butterflies. Look out also for the new bird hide in the nursery, next to the schools’ wildlife corner. It’s free and popular with families. w

Get in touch

Hall Place and Gardens

Bourne Road, Bexley DA5 1PQ

www.bexleyheritagetrust.org.uk/hallplace

Admission: house £8, child £6, National Trust partner, members 50 per cent discount, Butterfly Jungles, £4, child £3 (10am-5pm). You don’t need a ticket to visit the gardens, visitor centre or café

Open: daily (9am-5pm or dusk)

Get the look

• trees for autumn foliage: acer, amelanchier, crataegus, fagus, fraxinus, liquidambar, malus, nyssa, parrotia, quercus, sorbus, tilia

• shrubs with glorious autumn foliage: berberis, cornus, cotinus, disanthus, enkianthus, euonymus, fothergilla, hamamelis

• autumn berries: callicarpa, cotoneaster, malus, nandina, pyracantha, sorbus, symphoricarpos, viburnum

• autumn flowers: asters, autumn crocus, gentiana, hydrangea, nerine,

• Conifers and other evergreens act as a foil

Planting tips

• Best time to plant trees, shrubs and bare-rooted herbaceous plants is between November and March. Planting before Christmas allows better establishment as soil is warmer

• Check mature size is suitable for your space

• Consider mature shape – some are broad, some narrow

• Colour co-ordinate against your evergreens

• Check aspect and soil needs

• Many offer foliage, flowers, fruit and bark for year round interest

Plant of the month

Euonymus hamiltonianus sieboldianus

Hamilton’s spindle tree

• large deciduous shrub

• autumn colour

• China pink fruits and orange-red arils

Growing notes

• tolerant of most conditions

• grows in almost any soil

• prefers well-drained loamy soil

• suited to dry shade

• they don’t need annual pruning

• for good shape can remove oldest shoots every few years

• grows to 6m x 6m

Jobs to be done

• Garden tasks are mostly tidying up, giving opportunities also to browse catalogues and order seeds and plants for next year.

• Lift and divide overcrowded herbaceous plants. Many make large clumps that can die off in the middle, reducing the flowering. Division is an economical way of increasing your plants.

• Lift tender plants you want to overwinter inside. With dahlias, it’s best to wait until a couple of frosts have blackened them, then cut them down to the ground, before lifting them or mulching if leaving in the ground

• Cut back plants in the border after the first frosts but leave some seedheads for the birds and some natural cover for wildlife

• Prepare your soil for easier planting in spring by digging in compost and manure now

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