PUBLISHED: 10:06 16 February 2010 | UPDATED: 11:45 28 February 2013
Kent Life takes a spring stroll among the daffodils and blossom in the tranquil grounds of Goodnestone Park, one of the Garden of England's treasures
Words and pictures by Leigh Clapp
Its refreshing to get out into the garden in springtime, when the air is filled with sweet fragrances and on all sides are emerging flowers and young, newly unfurled leaves. Golden daffodils are peering out of every corner, canopies of blossom shed their confetti and it is lovely to see the textural combinations as deciduous trees and shrubs start to clothe their skeletal silhouettes.
Goodnestone Park is one of the garden treasures of Kent, and opens to the public on selected days from February to October. There are more than 10 acres of woodland and formal areas to explore. Carpets of daffodils are followed by a succession of blooms, including mature rhododendrons and later stunning old-fashioned roses in the renowned walled garden. In March, the vistas and fine trees underplanted with bulbs draw the eye.
This is very much a family garden. The house was built in 1704 by Brook Bridges and his descendants have lived at Goodnestone ever since. Present owner, Margaret, The Lady Fitzwalter, aided by a small team consisting of head gardener Paul Bagshaw and three part-time ladies, continues to enhance and develop the garden while retaining its historic essence.
It has taken about 50 years for my husband and I to create the garden on what was obviously an important site, and that is possibly why we have retained the atmosphere of many generations, says Lady Fitzwalter.
Everything now has to be instant, there is no time to wait and see a tree grow, or a plant, it has to be mature when it is planted. And that means something has to go, whereas possibly here we have taken a long time, but I feel we have lost little in the way of history in all our changes.
As with many of the estates in Kent, there is a Jane Austen connection. Her brother Edward married a daughter of the house and you can easily imagine Jane strolling the lawns and admiring the views when she made regular visits to her cousins.
In a letter to her sister Cassandra, she writes: We dined at Goodnestone and in the evening danced two country dances and the boulangeries. I opened the ball with Edward Bridges.
The garden, which came a commendable fourth in the Country Life Garden Awards 2009, both transports you to the past, with its atmosphere of tradition, mature trees and mellow old walls, while also looking to the future with new areas such as the grass gravel garden, as it continues to evolve.
Over time, the scene has changed from the very formal gardens, fashionable in the 18th century, to parkland landscaping. This was followed by Victorian detailing, then the neglect of military occupation of the war years, before being slowly rejuvenated from the 1950s to todays blend of informality and formality.
In spite of all there is to do, winter and summer alike, the garden is always incredibly peaceful, says Lady Fitzwalter, adding that her favourite area is the woodland with its beautiful trees, including a collection of dogwoods, that give it the sense of timelessness. A close second is the walled garden with its new addition of a water feature.
Water is so calming and with the reflection of the church in the new
rill, it is a part of the garden to come and relax, and forget about any worries, just listening to the gentle movement of the water; we are creating a new border which in time will enhance the whole area, she says.
For Lady Fitzwalter, there is shared joy when a visitor comments that after walking around the garden, they feel much better than when they arrived, have forgotten all their stress and cares.
Goodnestone Park Gardens, Wingham
Sunday 28 Feb and 7, 14, 21 March, 12pm to 4pm
For NGS Sun 7 March
23 March to 1 October, Tue to Fri, 11am to 5pm, Sun, 12pm to 5pm
Closed Sat and Mon except Bank Holiday Mondays