Kent garden: Ladham House, Goudhurst

PUBLISHED: 13:13 20 May 2019 | UPDATED: 13:13 20 May 2019

Dappled light along the borders (photo: Leigh Clapp)

Dappled light along the borders (photo: Leigh Clapp)


The gardens at Ladham House combine traditional English garden style with contemporary schemes

When Nicola and Guy Johnson moved to Ladham House, Goudhurst, in 2003 they found the gardens lovely, but slightly overgrown.

"Having lived in Portugal for the two years prior it was very different to what we were used to," admits Nicola.

The 10-acre formal gardens were created in the late 19th century by the Jessel family and are blessed with mature trees and shrubs, including a spectacular holm oak, rhododendrons, azaleas and magnolias.

The striking contemporary garden designed by Jo Thompson (photo: Leigh Clapp)The striking contemporary garden designed by Jo Thompson (photo: Leigh Clapp)

Some areas, such as the Edwardian sunken rockery, an arboretum, rose garden and woodland walk are maintained and augmented, while other areas have been instigated by Nicola and Guy.

"We are both enthusiastic amateurs who have been learning as we go along. Thankfully, we have three gardeners, Chris, Shaun and Aaron, who between them have enough knowledge to maintain the garden to the standard it is today.

"One area that we both enjoy working in is the vegetable garden. It was one of the first areas we developed when when we bought the house. Guy's father, Frank, a very keen vegetable grower, guided us on what we needed to do.

"The children all thoroughly enjoyed helping to grow their own vegetables when they were younger. Shaun, one of our gardeners, manages the area today," says Nicola.

Vibrant azaleas adds a pretty glow (photo: Leigh Clapp)Vibrant azaleas adds a pretty glow (photo: Leigh Clapp)

Having met Chelsea Flower Show Gold Medal-winner garden designer Jo Thompson through a mutual friend, the couple has commissioned designs for several areas in the garden, including an all-white garden framed by clipped hornbeams by the pool.

Of particular note is the rejuvenation and replanting of 60-metre twin herbaceous borders out from the house in a relaxed scheme of soft pinks, blues and mauves with accents of deep red, green and white.

Jo's design involved reshaping the existing shrubs that form a backbone to the billowing beds, but starting afresh with the perennials, creating a flowing scheme with impact, but not too formal or manicured.

"The 'Betty Jessel' magnolia on the right hand side at the end of the twin borders is one of the key trees in the garden.

Dicentra, Bleeding heart (photo: Leigh Clapp)Dicentra, Bleeding heart (photo: Leigh Clapp)

"We do get people visiting the garden every few years to see how much it has grown," adds Nicola.

There is an ongoing programme of management within the garden. "Every year there are always areas that need looking at, we work on and develop them as we go along."

Recent projects include the thinning out and replacing of plants in the Rock Garden and working their way round the rhododendron beds in the garden, cutting back and opening them up where they have become overgrown, and replanting where needed.

"We have also recently replanted some new fruit trees in the vegetable garden to replace the old ones that have disappeared over the years.

Rhododendrons and azaleas edge a gravel path (photo: Leigh Clapp)Rhododendrons and azaleas edge a gravel path (photo: Leigh Clapp)

"We are currently on the second year of a coppicing programme in the bottom wood. The wood has been divided into four sections and over four years each section will be cut back to encourage regrowth and maintain the trees," says Nicola.

The garden has been opening through the National Garden Scheme since 1931 and Nicola and Guy are happy to continue the tradition.

"We enjoy opening the gardens for the NGS. It gives us all something to work towards and ensures the gardens are maintained to a high standard.

"We couldn't open the gardens without our three fantastic gardeners and the help of our friends and family. They truly are great and help in all areas from making cakes, serving teas and washing up to directing people around the garden.

Brightly coloured azaleas and mature rhododendrons under a eucalyptus canopy (photo: Leigh Clapp)Brightly coloured azaleas and mature rhododendrons under a eucalyptus canopy (photo: Leigh Clapp)

"Everyone gets involved, from the children through to our mothers, it's a real team effort."

Opening in spring is an ideal time to catch the beauty of translucent blooms from the massed azaleas, spectacular rhododendrons and magnolias underplanted with bluebells.

"We love the colours that are in the garden through the spring and into the summer," says Nicola. "Every area you walk in gives you a different perspective, from the rose garden, through to the twin borders and the woodland walk.

"The bottom wood is also spectacular in spring with a carpet of bluebells running throughout."

(photo: Leigh Clapp)(photo: Leigh Clapp)

Ladham House is a private garden that sometimes opens through the National Garden Scheme. Get email alerts for its next open day online.

Get the look:

Working with mature shrubs and trees, enhancing and augmenting

Layered planting, from tree canopies to carpets of bluebells

A blend of formal and informal areas

Mixing traditional style with contemporary additions

Clipped topiary by the house and pool

Classic colour schemes

Repeated planting for impact

Evergreen framework with colour through the seasons

Spring interest from massed azaleas, rhododendrons and gracious magnolias

Mirrored herbaceous borders are planted with swathes of repeated perennials and backed by shrubs and trees.

Plant of the month

Dicentra, Bleeding heart

Traditional perennial, strings of heart-shaped flowers, divided foliage, flowers consist of two reflexed lobes with central column that resembles a dangling drop of blood, blooms four to six weeks in spring

Growing notes

Part shade, extremely tolerant of heat and cold, moist, humus-rich soil, can divide clumps in autumn, pretty mixed with spring bulbs, primroses and wildflowers

Jobs to be done

Divide herbaceous overgrown perennials or ones that you want to propagate

Many perennials may benefit from the 'Chelsea chop' by being cut back by half, for example rudbeckia, sedum and helenium, to make sturdier plants that will flower slightly later

Clumps of bulbs and primroses can also be divided after flowering. Divide hostas as they come into growth

Lift spring bedding and plant summer containers and bedding, such as begonias, petunias, pelargoniums and antirrhinum

Deadhead tulips as the flowers finish but remember to let the foliage die down naturally

Put stakes in place now for border plants before they get too tall

Grow some food this year, even on the tiniest plot or in containers

Make a list of your favourite edibles to eat raw or use in cooking, including herbs

Consider ones that are more expensive to buy, such as leeks, lettuce and herbs, so they may be better choices to grow at home

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