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Little Gables Garden, Westerham, Kent

PUBLISHED: 12:53 13 July 2010 | UPDATED: 17:31 20 February 2013

Little Gables Garden, Westerham, Kent

Little Gables Garden, Westerham, Kent

It was love at first sight when the Peter and Elizabeth James first saw Little Gables in Westerham and 12 years on, it's become a plant-lover's haven

It was love at first sight when the Peter and Elizabeth James first saw Little Gables in Westerham and 12 years on, its become a plant-lovers haven

Words and pictures by Leigh Clapp

Over the past 12 years, Peter and Elizabeth James have transformed a blank canvas into a bountiful haven, stocked with a wide range of plants. When we decided to move from suburbia it was our hope to find a Georgian house with a large garden full of long-established rhododendrons, magnolias and camellias, says Peter.

Our searches had been in vain, when we saw an advert in The Times for a proposed new-build property in Westerham. That same morning we drove to the site. Although it was in the middle of Westerham, it was screened from local traffic noise by other properties and was not overlooked. As soon as we saw the view of the North Downs and the lovely old church of St Marys only some 50 yards away, we decided immediately to buy it.

With an interest in gardening since the age of five, Peter has been the main guiding force behind the garden.

I loved growing things from seeds and by 14 I had my own greenhouse and eventually took over my parents garden. I have an eclectic taste, plants are marvellous, but its also nice to pick fruit and vegetables from the garden.

Elizabeth, an avid flower arranger, is chairman of the Flower Guild of St Marys. She has quite a lot of input with the plant choices and is chief deadheader: We work as a team, though Peter will say hes the boss!

I am particularly passionate about roses. I like quiet shades, although we grow a lot of foliage and flowers specifically for church arrangements in rich oranges, reds and yellow, as they work well with the 800-year-old greystone walls and the bright mosaic screen inside, she explains.

The three-quarter-acre sloping site had been part of the neighbouring garden, but unfortunately the builders stripped off the excellent topsoil, leaving only one eucalyptus and the remains of a swimming pool.

We had the daunting prospect of creating a garden from scratch in soil of very variable quality that was full of rubble and weed seed. It could hardly have been more different than our Georgian dream! says Peter.

As many of the shrubs and trees they wanted to grow in their new garden are slow growing, Peters first priority was to get them planted to form the basic structure. Then two outbuildings left from previous developments needed screening, followed by hard landscaping structures, including a substantial pergola, pathways, steps and curving garden beds.

An Victorian-style greenhouse was an essential addition for all the propagating and starting off needed, and to house peach and nectarine trees. And that swimming pool provided a golden opportunity to create a large lily pond and bog garden, now resplendent with 14 varieties of water lilies and glorious Japanese water irises.

For many years stocking the garden with shrubs, trees and perennials continued. With this area of land totally unplanted it is not surprising that a considerable number of plants were needed to cover the ground, explains Peter. It was indeed a rare event to return home from any car trip without having bought one or more usually many new plants.

Today, this stunning garden is fully stocked, with both ornamental and a substantial amount of edibles. We have to very strong willed now as we are running out of space, weve reached the point in the garden where we cant buy too many more! says Elizabeth. We grow a lot of our own seedlings for bedding out and we have a lot of permanent planting, too.

This is our third year of opening the garden to the public under The National Gardens Scheme and it is clear that our many visitors also derive considerable enjoyment from viewing gardens.

In particular, it is noticeable how water attracts people. They will sit for ages by the pond with the fountain playing, watching the dragon and damselflies fluttering around.

opening times

Little Gables, Westerham

31 Jul and 1 Aug (2pm-5pm)

Admission: 3, children free

The National Gardens Scheme

Flower Festival

24, 25 and 26 Sep, St Marys Church,


11am-5pm and 12pm-5pm Sun.

Teas available.


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