Garden of the month: Mount Ephraim, Hernhill

PUBLISHED: 15:52 12 September 2015 | UPDATED: 15:52 12 September 2015

Mount Ephraim Gardens, Hernhill

Mount Ephraim Gardens, Hernhill


Enjoy the late summer days as they melt into the promise of autumn at Mount Ephraim Gardens, with dazzling colour in the borders from dahlias and the first foliage changes on the bough.

Nine acres of gardens form the heart of the 800-acre estate of pastures, woodland and fruit at Mount Ephraim in Hernhill.

Home to the Dawes family for more than 300 years, Sandys and his wife Lesley are carrying on the family tradition of care as they continue the evolution of the estate and gardens.

The gardens were laid out in the 1900s with successive generations adding their touch, most notably from the late Mary Dawes, affectionately known as ‘Miz,’ who had great interest in the garden, its plants and colour combinations.

Holding views that were the antithesis of the late Christopher Lloyd, she was never one for clashing colours but preferred softer harmonies. As well as influencing the colour schemes of the borders, the atmospheric ‘Mizmaze’ designed by local garden designer Sarah Morgan will always be synonymous with Mary, as it was built in 2004 to mark her 90th birthday.

In addition to the maze, which is full of texture and movement from the dancing grasses and perennials in September, there is much to savour as you wander these atmospheric gardens.

From the rock and water gardens, the rose terraces enjoying a late-season flush of bloom, the impressive topiary garden, the beds and borders or the fine trees starting to turn, allow yourself plenty of time for a wander.

Backed by beautiful views and the foil of dark green topiary, the mellow colours of golds and burgundies in the landscape have a timeless, almost magical feel.

The odd splash of red berries and a glimpse of old stone balustrade also draw the eye.

A highlight in September is the pair of long herbaceous borders near the house that stretches out full of billowing blooms, protected by an old south-facing brick wall, reaching its zenith in late summer to early autumn.

It’s an eclectic blend of jostling perennials that pop up each year, many of which have variety names now lost in time, with star turns from showy dahlias and dainty asters.

Much of the design and colour palette is as Mary set it, although head gardener Mark James is introducing some new varieties and brighter colours into the planting palette. “Mrs Dawes did plans every year and was very particular about the colour combinations she liked,” he explains.

“I’ve started jazzing things up a bit, adding things like foxgloves, poppies and aquilegia, and brighter colours that seem popular with the visitors these days.”

Dahlias are particular favourites and flower well into autumn until they are cut down by frosts. “We don’t need to lift them over winter as the wall protects them and sometimes they flower until quite late as we don’t tend to get prolonged frosts. Each year varies and we tend to cut the border back when it gets scruffy rather than at a set time,” adds Mark.

At my visit there were dark-leafed, apricot-toned open dahlias akin to the Bishop series, candy pink showy varieties and iridescent ‘Red Fox’ vying for attention among domes of achillea, purple spires of monkshood, ruby penstemons, clouds of Verbena bonariensis and tactile maroon sedums.

On the turn were fading heleniums, their deep brown seedheads giving architectural form among the ephemeral mass of aster flowers. Amber sunflowers punctuated the border and the final flush of sweet peas on a willow tunnel created a path between the borders.

The gardens and tearoom are open to visitors until the end of the month, with a special NGS day as well on 27 September. Since 1982 the Dawes family has been welcoming the public to share in the continuing evolution and new projects that unfold, with many return visitors having season tickets so they can pop in multiple times for a refreshing stroll.

Well worth a long visit, schedule some time in your diaries for a lovely day out in these beautiful and peaceful surroundings.

Children in particular will love weaving around the labyrinth of the mizmaze surrounded by the towering wafting plumes. Unlike the traditional universal labyrinth, which leads the visitor to the centre without deviation, Sarah has incorporated a few false paths to add to the fun.

At the centre there are some tiny cut log seats and as the planting is not as high or dense as a hedge maze, there is no sense of claustrophobia and parents can sit at the side in a picnic area and watch their children or join in. w

Get in touch

Mt Ephraim Gardens, Hernhill, Faversham ME13 9TX

Until end Sep

Wed to Sun, 11am-5pm

For National Gardens Scheme, 27 Sep

Admission £6. Children £2.50


Get the look

– to keep the colour zinging

• Plan protection with a wall or hedge for a long herbaceous border

• Use a succession of bloom in the border for late interest, with long-flowering plants such as dahlias, achilleas, sedums, penstemons and heleniums

• Deadhead flowers to prolong flowering

• Leave seedheads on some plants to collect the seeds for free plants next season, including poppies, foxgloves and aquilegia

• Dahlias are a must and can even be grown in pots in the tiniest of gardens

• Cut down border when looking messy, after prolonged frosts, which can be autumn to early spring

• Feed plants once they start to show some reasonable growth in spring

• Include some roses that have a long flowering time and are repeat bloomers

• Fill in gaps with plants you have propagated and are ready in the wings. You can even place the pot into the soil rather than planting out

• Add some annuals such as cosmos for extra colour

• Lift, divide and replant perennials every three to four years, to get plants for free and also to re-invigorate the parent plant

• Link the border by repeating some plants down the length or echoing the colours

Plant of the month

Helianthus, sunflower

• bright, daisy flowers

• great diversity in size and colour

• yellow, cream, red, bronze flowers

• annuals and perennials

• a favourite for children’s gardens

• good for cutting

• showy in borders

Growing notes

• hardy

• reasonably fertile, well-drained soil

• full sun

• water well in growing season

• sow seed in spring

Jobs to be done

• Now is a good time to look over borders and decide any changes while enjoying late season colour

• Plant new perennials while soil is still warm

• Keeping on top of weeds now will pay off next spring

• Plant some spring bulbs, such as daffodils, crocus, hyacinths and scilla

• Take a critical look at the lawn and repair or create new lawns with turf or seed

• This is the time to collect ripe seeds to dry and store to replenish your garden, though leave some on the plants for the birds that visit

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