Kent Garden of the month in Horsmonden

PUBLISHED: 18:54 28 May 2016

Beautiful view from the house

Beautiful view from the house


Inspired by this beautiful garden? Why not enter your own into the Kent Life Amateur Garden of the Year 2016 category?

Helge and Christina Tangen have been on a journey of discovery and learning as they developed the south-facing gardens stretching out behind their home in Horsmonden.

One of two gardens that open this month through the National Gardens Scheme and part of the former Capel Manor Estate, Church View enjoys an enchanting setting, with stunning, far-reaching views over the Teise valley.

“When we moved here in 2006 little had been done to the gardens and much of the planting of rhododendrons and trees stem from the original estate so, apart from a fish pond, it offered us a blank canvas – not that we knew anything about gardening!” says Christina.

When Helge took early retirement the couple returned to Kent after having spent 12 years living in apartments in London and New York. Although neither had much practical experience, they were very keen to have a garden.

“After retiring, Helge’s grandfather planted a fruit orchard on his holiday island in Norway with plums, pears and apples and as a boy he helped out during school holidays. But I had no gardening experience,” admits Christina. The one-acre sloping garden at Church View was a challenge they were both excited to take on.

At the outset they knew there needed to be some clearing of the site as it was mostly covered with rhododendrons, obscuring those wonderful views. The evolution began with yearly projects, starting in the first autumn by establishing a kitchen garden and small orchard with raised terraced beds and a greenhouse, rabbit proofing and enclosing it with a hornbeam hedge.

“The kitchen garden is such a joy, both from the point of view of its productivity and because it’s such a different space from the rest of the garden,” says Christina.

“The following spring we took out all the rhododendrons which straddled the middle of the garden, which then left us with vast bare borders and no idea how to fill them.

“This was when I realised I didn’t know what I was doing and we both enrolled at nearby Hadlow College, Helge focusing on vegetable and fruit production, while I took the two-year RHS Certificate of Horticultural course.”

Although they had no set design for the garden, a clear aim was in mind and able to be visualised as they gained confidence from learning and hands-on experience. “Because the garden is on a slope, all visible from the house all year round, we wanted to try and make different areas, enclosing some so all was less visible at once,” Christina explains.

Further knowledge and influences came from courses at Sarah Raven’s Perch Hill Farm, garden visiting and avidly devouring books by the greats, including Beth Chatto, Rosemary Verey, Penelope Hobhouse, Anna Pavord and Mary Keen. “We grew to love Sissinghurst and RHS Wisley and have found inspiration in Monty Don’s enthusiasm and Fergus Garrett at Great Dixter,” Christina tells me.

It soon became apparent that to ensure that the plants they introduced would thrive in the conditions, every year they plant with their own garden compost and grit as well as mulching with horse manure and/or mushroom compost.

Each has a defined role in this enthusiastic team, with Helge’s focus on the productive and Christina the ornamental. “We make mistakes but we just want to be out there working the soil, producing fresh food and I am also interested in using plants and shrubs to create complementary colour throughout the season.

“We have both moved about so much in our life that it is a joy to have been in the same house for as long as seven years!” laughs Christina.

Projects have included transforming the pond, adding marginal planting, creating a gravel garden and rockery, planting low buxus sinuous hedging, paving terraced areas and adding abundant borders. Three herbaceous beds were created towards the base of the slope, placed so as not to obstruct the views. The effect is romantic; arches draped in roses and clematis, with delphiniums, peonies and hardy geraniums.

Church View was deservedly a finalist in our 2013 Kent Life garden competition and we are looking forward to this year’s entries to discover more of our county’s gems. w

Find out more

Church View

Capel Manor Estate Gardens, Capel TN12 8BG

Open 22 and 26 June (12pm-5pm)

Combined admission £5, children free

Get the look

• Make the most of a sloping site with planting that enhances and augments the views

• Create different areas to explore and draw the eye, some enclosed so they are less visible from the house

• Curvaceous low buxus hedging divides and also echoes the contours

• The combination of both curved and straight hedging combined with straight and curved borders, makes it less formal

• Plant colours harmoniously and create themes in different areas

• Roses draped on arches and other traditional plants give a romantic feel

• Improve your soil with organic matter and mulching regularly

• A rockery is a great way to work with a slope, make a textural meld of tumbling geraniums, lavender, splashes of golden Eschscholzia californica (California poppy) and frothy Alchemilla mollis

• Terraces should never be too small, accommodate large tables for dining, and place numerous seating areas across the garden so you can enjoy different aspects

• Adorn the terrace with groupings of seasonal containers, such as bright orange patio rose Honeybun with rich purple pansies

• Roses thrive with judicious pruning and constant deadheading, feeding once in spring and mulched with horse manure

• Christina’s favourite roses include the large, cupped flowers of David Austin’s Princess Alexandra of Kent, multi-toned Mutabilis, blush white Jacqueline du Pre and a climber, the buff beauty Keith Maughan

See how to enter at
But don’t delay: entries close on 10 June 2016.

Something extra

Faversham Open Gardens and Garden Market Day, 26 June (10am-5pm)

The biggest open gardens event in the south-east with around 30 gardens to discover, from walled and cottage, to meadows and wildlife-friendly styles, £6 or £10 for two.

Plant of the month

Paeonia, peony

• Scrumptious, blowsy flowers that just ask to be admired with their showy blooms in May and June

• More than 1,000 varieties with single, semi-double and double flowers, in yellow, white, pinks to reds

• Two main types: herbaceous peonies and tree peonies

Growing notes

• Herbaceous peonies are hardy

• Prefer sun to light shade in neutral to slightly alkaline soils, with good drainage essential

• Relatively drought tolerant once established, mulch around the crown to preserve moisture

• Plant bare-root in autumn or early spring, and staking is often required

• Cut the foliage back to ground level when it dies back in autumn

• Propagating from division is the easiest method, also in autumn

• Tip – As their flowering time, though show-stopping, is short, try planting amongst long-flowering perennials or in a cut flower border as they are wonderful for the vase

• For a real ‘wow’ factor visit the 100-metre long peony border of Paeonia lactiflora at Penshurst Place. If your visit is timed for 8 June you may like to join the garden photography workshop I am running (11am-1pm), pre-booking necessary, £15 pp and includes garden admission)

Jobs to be done

• Fill any gaps in the borders with annual bedding, including zinnias, daisies, verbena, salvias, petunias and marigolds. Remember that many have small root systems and may dry out in hot weather, so keep an eye on the watering

• How about enticing our lovely native butterflies to your garden by adding some nectar-rich flowers? Some favourite plants include aubretia, sweet rocket, red valerian, lavender, small scabiosa, honesty, sedum and buddleja which is irresistible to butterflies

• Did you know that Derby Day (the first Saturday in June) is the traditional day for clipping box? This tradition came about as the landed gentry would go off to the races, leaving instructions for the gardeners to clip all the box while they were away. It makes you wonder was that to keep them busy or to stop them going and betting at the races! In any case this is a good time to start your trimming, as long as all frosts are past

• It’s strawberry time, delicious and sweet, so enjoy! Surround your plants with straw to keep the fruit off the soil and prevent botrytis

• Feeding with a high-nutrient fertiliser and weekly mowing will keep your lawn looking verdant. However if there is a heat wave, leave the grass a bit longer to protect it from the heat

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