Songs of spring
PUBLISHED: 10:33 12 February 2009 | UPDATED: 08:57 21 February 2013
Spring is at its best at this riverside garden in Yalding, complete with a pair of gliding swans, ducks and a suntrap of a terrace
Welcome to the season of buds, blooms and fragrant abundance. Unfurling fresh greens and golden daffodils brighten the scene all around us. A variety of gardens across the county open their gates to visitors to enjoy the spectacle, from grand Kentish acreages to intimate, personal spaces.
Parsonage Oasts in Yalding has a pretty riparian, three-quarter acre garden, which complements the early 19th-century house. Converted from a farmyard oasthouse by the present owner's grandmother in 1953 to a dwelling, it sits picturesquely adjacent to the River Medway.
With a pair of gliding swans creating rippling patterns in the water as I approached the garden, my attention was first drawn to the borrowed landscape. Waddling ducks crossing my path and, peering out of a sea of daffodils on the riverbank, directed my attention to the house and glimpses of the garden beyond.
Edward and Jennifer Raikes moved to Parsonage Oasts in 1968, taking over the care of Gladys Raikes' creation and helping it to evolve further. "We have all enjoyed granny's garden," says Jennifer. "Gladys and Mr Startup - lovely name - laid out the structure of the paths and small walls in the late 1950's and these still remain more or less unaltered. She also planted the key shrubs."
The original layout and plants such as a stunning magnolia, hedges, apple trees, bulbs and herbaceous material have been augmented over the years. "You can't take care of a garden for 40 years without changing and developing it, and of course we have done so," adds Jennifer.
"Edward and I are both interested in the garden, he does most of the destructive bits, cutting lawns, hedges and trees, and he's great with a bonfire. I like the creative part, although I don't mind weeding! We are now coming up to the same age as Gladys was when she started the garden. We do it for fun and recreation and try not to be too obsessive and spend too much money. Many of the plants are cuttings or gifts from friends," says Jennifer.
This is not a complicated, elaborate garden, rather it is an arrangement of lawn, paths, informal beds, rustic structures, a small vegetable patch and clipped accents that suit its location charmingly. Spring is the highlight time in the garden, with an emphasis on bulbs, fragrant shrubs and deciduous trees. Choice plants to admire include hellebores, clematis alpina, cornus, crown imperials, early tulips in large clay pots, an unusual dwarf almond and massed naturalised daffodils.
"On a fine day, the river sparkles and adds movement. The background trees in the spinney are just coming into leaf. We are very fond of scented plants, such as daphne, mahonia, lonicera, viburnum and osmanthus.
"Our terrace is a real suntrap and it's often possible to have lunch out in March, when early irises are also usually in bloom," explains Jennifer as she describes the scene.
Working with the conditions means accepting one of the natural hazards of the location, the possibility of the garden flooding. In fact, the day Jennifer and Edward moved in was the day of the Great Flood in 1968.
"The year 2000 was also quite dramatic. The water comes up from behind us, through the orchard, and it's been a close-run thing but has never come into the house. We've been luckier than some of our neighbours," admits Jennifer.
As the garden is situated on gravel, the soil is light and free-draining, a bit on the acidic side, but improved by regular additions of home-made compost and leaf mould. As well as maintenance and adding to the plant palette, one of the main yearly tasks is dividing and planting out the bulbs.
From early snowdrops, to autumn nerines, they are encouraged to naturalise by splitting up any crowded clumps. "But there are so many excellent modern varieties of daffodils and tulips that it is hard to resist a few new ones as well each year. The bulbs in the pots also get planted out beside the river and naturalise well," adds Jennifer.
The couple enjoy opening the garden through the National Gardens Scheme in aid of charity. "People are always delightful when they come to the garden, even when it's obvious they know much more than you do! We feel very lucky to have lived for so long in such a beautiful place and we like to share it.
"The Yalding Sea Scouts use the river bank all through the summer and we've also had a series of outdoor theatre here, which people enjoy."
Tips for a spring garden
• Choose spring-flowering trees and shrubs that also have autumn colour, berries or ornamental bark
• Bulbs can be planted among deciduous shrubs so that flowers show through the bare branches and the dying foliage is covered by newly emerging leaves.
• Plant bulbs in natural drifts in grass
• Deadhead spent flowers of bulbs, but allow foliage to die down naturally
• Divide congested bulb clumps
• Include fragrant plants
Parsonage Oasts, Yalding
Easter Monday, 13 April (2pm -5.30pm)
Also open by appointment, tel: 01622 814272
The National Gardens Scheme