Garden of the month: St Clere estate, Kemsing

PUBLISHED: 15:58 19 June 2013 | UPDATED: 15:58 19 June 2013

St Clere, Kemsing

St Clere, Kemsing


Eliza and Simon Ecclestone are gradually developing the estate as a venue for a range of events

Eliza Ecclestone has taken on the mantle of her family’s estate, St Clere in Kemsing. She and her husband Simon, the former Somerset CC cricketer, set up home here with their young family in 2010 and are gradually developing the estate as a venue for a range of events.

“My parents had kept the garden to exceedingly high standard, helped by their two full-time gardeners,” Eliza says.

“We decided to cut back on the amount of gardening and for a while the garden was rather left to its own devices with our two part-time gardeners doing everything they could to keep it looking beautiful.

“A couple of years later we started to open St Clere as a venue for corporate events and the occasional wedding, so it became vital that the garden looked good all year round.

“Therefore we have been looking at how to keep it under control and at its best; minimal labour hours for maximum impact,” she explains.

Spreading across four acres, the garden consists of a series of lawns and formal terraces with flowerbeds, cascading roses, wildflower meadows, a lime walk, shrub borders and a kitchen garden.

“I have found that the bare bones of the garden, the walls, lawns, beds and trees are so stunning that my rather casual approach seems to have had very little impact,” says Eliza.

“In summer the birdbath lawn beds are particularly lovely and the roses all over the garden are outstanding.”

Wanting to get the best display the most economically, Eliza has some tips we can all follow. “The advice we have received from various sources is that instead of having many different plants in every border, to have some repetition in each.

“Then much of the cutting back, for example, can all be done at the same time. Also don’t plant a single rose plant but rather if you group two or three rose plants together they create a very generous climbing variety.”

Another advantage is that it gives a sense of definition and purpose when you repeat plants. On the terrace, for example, you’ll find easy-care mounds of hebes, informal hedges of shrub roses, poppies self-seeding through flowerbeds. Reliable, prolific plants such as hardy geraniums and centranthus are given free reign.

The estate has an interesting history. Ann Boleyn’s father, Thomas Boleyn, once owned the estate and Henry VIII visited during his courtship of Ann.

Today the gardens are enjoyed by the present family (in common with those before them) for meals under a canopy of spring blossom, summer lunches on the lawn or even for a game of cricket.

“My favourite place in the world is sitting on the rounded terrace looking west, the skyline is filled with the most extraordinary silhouettes of mature trees as the sun sets,” says Emma.

“At the weekend we pack a picnic and let one of the children choose a place around the garden to enjoy it. We’ve ended up in some very unlikely spots.”

Opening the garden through the National Gardens Scheme (a tradition started by Eliza’s parents) has become the highlight of their gardening year.

“We work towards that date, and it really brings together the wider community at St Clere,” says Emma. “Many of the current and retired staff join together with our tenants to bake cakes and help out with teas on the day.

“We tend to find that people visit year after year, partially to see the beautiful garden, but mainly for the fabulous Victoria sponges.”

As the garden continues to evolve, with care from the family and estate foreman Martin Platt, it will also be guided by local landscape architect Marian Boswall.

Marian specialises in historic gardens and will be helping to re-design the herbaceous borders, giving yet another reason for all those return visits.

Get in touch

St Clere, Kemsing TN15 6NL Sunday 16 June (2pm-5pm) Admission £5, children £1

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