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The Gardens at Yalding

PUBLISHED: 13:31 24 June 2016 | UPDATED: 13:31 24 June 2016

The garden team: Toby Barrett, Abe Coster, Ollie Edewards and Chris Bird

The garden team: Toby Barrett, Abe Coster, Ollie Edewards and Chris Bird

Manu Palomeque 07977074797

Property and construction expert Rod Clark and his wife Nicki have brought the former Yalding Organic Gardens back from the brink of decay and created an exciting new multi-purpose destination venue.

The restoration of a garden is always a very special project – especially when the motivation is a philanthropic one.

Such is the case for the former Yalding Organic Gardens, now The Gardens, a much-loved and historic Kent garden that has been fully restored and reopened as a wedding and events venue.

New owners Rod and Nicki Clark bought the site in November 2013. At the time they were near neighbours, living in The Glass House, a Grade II listed property just down the road in Benover.

“We’re not gardeners, this was completely philanthropic,” admits Rod, managing director of Hadlow-based property developer, Marpaul Group.

“We didn’t know what we wanted to do with the place, but we knew we didn’t want to see it die. The work done in the gardens over the years was magnificent and to see them starting to fall apart and the buildings decaying was very sad.”

It wasn’t an easy start, however. On Christmas Eve, floods decimated the area – famously prone to spending winters underwater – and although the gardens were spared, the ground was so sodden, no work could start until summer 2014.

As soon as they could get back on the land, Rod made significant investment to restore and replant, following not only the original planting guidelines but also, fortuitously, having one of the original gardeners, Abe Coster, on hand to give advice to the team.

“Abe has proved invaluable, he’s a mine of knowledge and remembers what lay beneath when it was first built. With his help and the superb diligence of head gardener Toby Barrett and his team, we’re slowly but surely bringing it back to what it was originally designed to look like 20-odd years ago.”

Rod adds: “We didn’t open for business last year because we were only one season in and that wasn’t long enough; we also needed time to get in place the structure of what type of business we’re aiming to be.”

As the months went by and the gardens started to emerge from the undergrowth, that vision of what to do with the site began to crystallise. “We wanted to create a place that people wanted to come to,” says Rod.

“We also realised that very little was known about the gardens outside of the immediate area; it’s just not a ‘passing visitor’ type of place. People have to decide to come here, and the gardens alone aren’t enough, so decided we needed to make it a destination venue. We have achieved that and it is now truly multi-functional.”

Interestingly, it was a party Rod and Nicki held here for their 25th wedding anniversary that really helped shape their vision for the site. “We had people camping all over the place, kids amusing themselves running around playing games in the grounds, and we realised how well it lent itself to something like that.

“Everyone enjoyed themselves and parents didn’t have to worry about their children as the whole place is fenced, so it’s safe.”

Starting from the outside, the previously unfinished Contemplation Garden has been reintroduced, there is a new production area which will supply some seasonal produce for the kitchens (mainly herbs and edible flowers), which will also welcome the abundant top fruit, including pears, apples, plums and tayberries.

“East Malling planted trees here as part of their research and we don’t know what some of them are yet,” admits Rod. “We had so much fruit last year we didn’t know what to do with it, but this year we’re going to have a managed crop and start utilising it within the centre.”

You’ll also find Yalding Beekeepers here, very happy with the new owners as they’ve been given what was a sectioned off area for East Malling Research so now have much more space.

The centre itself, known as The Barn, has been lovingly restored and styled and is now licensed for weddings and also set up for conferencing, with a large main room with bar on the ground floor that can seat up to 100; upstairs The Croft offers an inviting, intimate space for a smaller wedding or event for up to 80 guests. Adjacent is a private room with plenty of natural daylight which could be used by the bridal party, for private dining or as a small meeting room.

Then there are two glorious interlinked tipis attached to The Barn, which can accommodate up to 150 people for a sit-down wedding breakfast or 200 for an evening buffet. When the sides are lifted, the outside comes inside and connects the guests with the breathtaking grounds.

Catering will be handled by their operational partner, Emmett Hannan, an experienced local event organiser Rod describes as “the final piece in the jigsaw.” In September, they hope to start running an RHS course with Hadlow College, who already have a horticulture apprentice working on site: apprenticeships will hopefully soon be extended to catering as well.

He’ll also look at providing accommodation to facilitate the residential courses in the form of ‘low-key glamping,’ with a mix of tree houses and lodges around the paddock. “What we are doing is providing a beautiful setting for events, which in turn sustain the gardens. We decided to make it a venue, and it now ticks all the boxes.”

A potted history

The Gardens were originally created as a display garden for the Henry Doubleday Research Association (now called Garden Organic). The 12.5-acre site was gifted, along with a sum of money from local organic farmers Donald and Pixie Cooper. The gardens opened to the public in 1995 and were once described as “among the most inspirational garden acres anywhere, for everyone” before finally closing in 2011.

Despite the efforts of volunteers, the gardens had fallen into disrepair and large areas were significantly overgrown until new owners, Rod and Nicki Clark, bought the site in 2013.

Find out more

The Gardens, Benover Road, Yalding ME18 6EX

Enquiries@thegardensyalding.co.uk

The Gardens will be open and available for visitors to explore on set dates throughout the year. There will also be other exciting events, courses and activities held. All dates will be announced on the website: www.thegardensyalding.co.ukw

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