The gardens at Orchard House in Claygate

PUBLISHED: 15:05 14 July 2016 | UPDATED: 15:05 14 July 2016

Paths intersect the beds

Paths intersect the beds


Enjoy summer’s abundance, at Orchard House, where owner Jeanette Lerwill selects many of the plants specifically with her bees in mind

Borders edge the lawn out from the houseBorders edge the lawn out from the house

In 2005 Jeanette Lerwill and husband Bryn, who worked in London, were looking for a larger garden within commuting distance of the City.

Orchard House in Claygate had the right amount of land at 2.5 acres and gave Jeanette a chance to fully express her creative gardening ideas and develop a garden from scratch.

“I started gardening about 25 years ago, initially on a small scale at home, my interest grew and grew as the years went on. In 2000 I was very dissatisfied with the work I was doing as a business analyst for a drugs company and was by then a very keen amateur.

“I had already studied RHS Level 1 Award in Practical Horticulture by correspondence at home. I decided I’d like a change and wrote to the head gardeners at both Knebworth House and Hatfield House for volunteer opportunities,” says Jeanette. This led to further studying and then a career change to gardening professionally, firstly at Knebworth and then as a freelance.

Pineapple lily sentinels at the potagerPineapple lily sentinels at the potager

The garden at Orchard House would become Jeanette’s canvas as she developed different areas around the 1910 house. “There was a small garden to the rear of the house with the usual central lawn and skinny borders around the edge. The rest was mature apple orchard and rough grassland,” she adds.

The house faces west and is set in the low Weald, which means flooding of the land for periods in winter; the soil is neutral heavy clay. Projects have evolved over time, with the first being the impressive vegetable garden that is a real highlight through the season.

“They always say you should plan the whole garden before starting to do anything, but I started with the vegetable garden and worked from there. By luck rather than judgement this seemed to work out OK when developing the rest of the garden and joining the areas together as a whole,” she smiles.

The vegetable garden is framed by clipped Lonicera nitida and divided into quarters. One is devoted to fruit, with a fruit cage housing raspberries, strawberries, tayberries, currants, blackberries and blueberries, while outside the cage you’ll find rhubarb, grape vines, a fig and two cherry trees.

Butterflies enjoy the zinniasButterflies enjoy the zinnias

Effervescent cut flowers, including roses, dahlias, sweet peas, cleome, zinnias, statice, nigella and Ammi majus, make up another quarter.

The other two quarters are devoted to vegetables using the RHS rotation system, and are abundant with all manner of crops, such as salads, beans, onions, tomatoes and herbs, along with two perennial beds for asparagus and Jerusalem artichokes. Out from the vegetable garden to one side is an avenue of hornbeams underplanted with bulbs and wildflowers.

To another side are two parallel, wafting bee-friendly borders, planted densely with blocks of carefully chosen flowers such as echinacea, Verbena bonariensis and gaura, and divided by a path fringed with Munstead lavender.

Jeanette keeps a series of hives in the rough meadow at the edge of the land, uses very little pesticides and ensures the bees have plenty to forage on. Further borders, curvaceous and structured, line the lawn and by the house is a small gravel garden and a paved patio with displays of containers, from salvias to succulents.

The bee borders shimmer with lifeThe bee borders shimmer with life

“I love my pots of tender plants, it’s summer for me when they come out of the greenhouse and arranging them is like making a new garden in a few hours. They can be moved as often as you like to change the look and feel of the patio.”

Throughout the garden there is a delightful balance between structure and infill. Lines to views, arches and a metal gazebo are softened by quite an eclectic vision of jostling plants.

“When I first started gardening I was so keen on herbaceous perennials that the garden had little interest in winter,” she admits.

“I still favour perennials over shrubs but realised that you need a backbone or structure within the garden to build the flowering plants around, so I use hedges and shrubs more now.”

Jeanette and BrynJeanette and Bryn

As well as working in her own garden and for others, Jeanette has opened a small nursery specialising in herbaceous perennials and ornamental grasses on an adjacent field.

She also opens the garden in summer through the National Gardens Scheme on selected days and for horticultural groups, such as Yalding Beekeepers and The Hardy Plant Society.

“It is very rewarding when you work hard in a garden and are able to share it with people, talk about plants and give a contribution to charity. It certainly makes you keep on top of the weeding when you know you are going to open!”

Plant of the month is lavenderPlant of the month is lavender

Get the look

Decorative potager with produce and cut-flower beds

Bee-friendly planting – for example, eryngium, salvia, sedum, allium, echinops, cosmos

“Having bees in the garden is a joy, seeing them dipping in and out of the flowers. A couple of tips; plant larger groups of one plant, unlike bumblebees, honeybees collect one type of pollen per forage flight so do not mix pollen types,” Jeanette says.

Jobs to doJobs to do

Salvias are a star flower for Jeanette, valued for their long flowering time, from summer until autumn frosts, and brilliant colour options

Framework strong with floral choices softening the effect

Plants are propagated to give fuller borders economically

Seating is provided in the garden, ranging from a bench hidden away in the vegetable garden among the floral meld, to al fresco dining options on the patio

Plant of the month

Lavandula angustifolia: English lavender

- This scentred evergreen shrub is one of the most-loved of all summer plants

- It is used ornamentally, as a culinary herb and for the extraction of essential oils

Growing notes

- Good drainage and full sun

- South or west facing aspect

- Chalky or alkaline soils

- Add organic matter and gravel to heavier soils to increase drainage

- For hedges, plant on a ridge as this will keep the base of the lavender from getting waterlogged

- Prune in August – be brave, as trimming will help the plants last longer

Jobs to do

- Tidy up spent blooms, keep on top of weeds

- Sow biennials such as foxgloves, Sweet William, wallflowers, honesty and forget-me-nots, to plant out in autumn for a display next spring to summer

- Divide bearded irises every three to five years and replant to give them time to produce new growth

- Take cuttings from tender plants, herbaceous perennials and shrubs, including viburnum, hydrangeas and pieris

- Net soft fruit to keep birds off and allow your harvest

Find out more

Orchard House, Spenny Lane, Claygate TN12 9PJ

NGS: Sun 21 Aug (11am-4pm), Admission £4, children admitted free.

Wheelgate Nursery, hardy perennials and ornamental grasses

Open on Wed, Apr-Oct

Jeanette also offers a border design service,

More from Homes & Gardens

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Gardens across the county and beyond are offering virtual garden visits. So take a step into some of Kent’s most enchanting gardens from cottages to country estates with these virtual tours

Read more
Monday, November 16, 2020

A new concept in property management is sweeping the country, yielding benefits to property owners in the short-term let and holiday let markets.

Read more
Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Balmoral Cottage in Benenden showcases how topiary can create a fantasy landscape in talented hands | Words: Leigh Clapp - Photos: Leigh Clapp

Read more
Monday, September 14, 2020

If you are nearing retirement age, you may be thinking about downsizing and pursuing a simpler lifestyle. Marie Hanby – marketing manager at Serenity Parks – tells us the key benefits of living in a retirement village such as Serenity’s Kingsdown Meadow in Sevenoaks.

Read more
Monday, July 27, 2020

Thinking of moving to or within Kent? Every month we pick three stunning houses for sale that we’re sure you’ll love

Read more
Kent Life Food & Drink awards. Open for entries.

Latest Competitions & Offers

Follow us on Twitter

Like us on Facebook

Local Business Directory

Search For a Car In Your Area

Latest from the Kent Life