The first stop on our recent garden tour of Kent and Sussex was at Pashley Manor. It’s a garden that came highly recommended by two fellow students on a garden design course I did several years ago. I didn’t really know anything about the garden and had never seen anything on TV or in magazines about it, unlike Sissinghurst and Great Dixter, that we would visit later in the week.
After spending several hours there I have no idea why Pashley Manor doesn’t receive more attention. Maybe because its location on the Sussex/Kent border, two counties with a surfeit of stunning gardens to visit, means that other more famous gardens gain more recognition.
The gardens are quintessentially English, surrounding a Grade I listed house that dates back to the 16th century. Think scented roses, herbaceous borders, espaliered fruit trees and a potager kitchen garden. When the owners moved to Pashley in the 1980s the gardens were out of control. There were remnants of past lives; the mature trees, rhododendrons planted during the Victorian period, an overgrown walled garden with tumble down glasshouses and weeds everywhere. The owners worked with a landscape gardener, Anthony du Gard Pasley, to establish the structure and bones of the garden and the initial planting schemes in the 1990s and since then a team of gardeners have maintained and added to the gardens to create a very special place.
The formal gardens cover some 11 acres where they then blend into the rolling countryside. The main planting is concentrated close to the house, with a series of ‘garden rooms’ within the old garden walls. The kitchen garden makes use of these walls to good effect, with the extra shelter and residual heat from the bricks creating a micro climate. Trained fruit trees grow along the walls and standard gooseberries create lovely shapes and structure. The potager is divided from the rest of the garden by an avenue of pleached pear trees underplanted with the gorgeous pink rose, ‘Irene Watts’, and white foxgloves.
From here you can walk into the formal rose garden. I’m not normally a fan of rose gardens. I’ve seen too many with straggly, sickly looking roses covered in black spot and the occasional flower and not much else, but Pashley Manor’s rose garden is nothing like this. The rose beds are neatly edged with box hedges and down the central path a mass of frothy Saxifraga urbium tumbles onto the grass path. I’ve never seen saxifrage used in this way before and it is stunning. The roses are healthy and blooming profusely but most importantly they smell divine. With the beautiful house in the background this is the kind of garden I conjure up in my dreams.
The area around the swimming pool is a real sun trap and has a Mediterranean feel to it, with cistus and dianthus baking in the sun in the raised beds. Leading off the pool is a Victorian greenhouse, filled with streptocarpus, cobaea and passion flowers.
Outside the brick boundaries are herbaceous borders planted to provide interest throughout the seasons. On our visit they had a dark, smoky feel to them with the purple of cotinus, dark red alstroemeria, and the scarlet flowers of Rosa moyesii ‘Geranium’. From here paths lead to several large ponds which are fed by natural springs. This area is densely packed with shade and moisture loving plants.
Sculpture plays an important part in the gardens at Pashley Manor with annual exhibitions throughout the gardens. Wellyman was particularly taken by this girl sat on the bench and spent quite a lot of time taking photos of her. He wasn’t quite so keen on the price tag of £5000 though, even if it did include the bench!
On one side of the house, with views across the lawn to the ponds, is a cafe and terrace. Although we’d already eaten the food looked good, using produce from the kitchen garden.
There are some beautiful specimen trees and shrubs dotted throughout the gardens and with new projects planned for forthcoming years to open up new areas this is definitely a garden worth a visit.
For more information on Pashley Manor and the events they hold throughout the year take a look at their website www.pashleymanorgardens.com.