We need no excuse to break out and visit places now that Covid restrictions are relaxed. What better than an early spring visit to some great gardens to lift the spirits. I have just come back from a private visit to Kent, the Garden of England, and took the opportunity to drop in on Scotney Castle and Hever Castle.

Scotney Castle – the famous romantic picturesque landscaped garden created by the Hussey family – the centre piece of this lavish garden is the moated 14th century ruined castle on whose island is a pretty herb garden designed by Lanning Roper. The octagonal Walled Garden must not be missed. The Victorian mansion house looks down on the old castle over the magnolia, rhododendron and azalea clad quarry and hillside below.

Hever Castle – steeped in history, the childhood home of Anne Boleyn (Queen for 1,000 days) and the home of Anne of Cleves for seventeen years after her divorce from Henry VIII – a classic castle, a moat, whimsical topiary and an excellent garden. The parkland is filled with wonderful mature trees. The formal gardens and the lake were the creation of William Waldorf Astor who acquired the estate in 1903. The extensive lake (38 acres) was dug out by hand by 800 men over two years and is the backdrop for the enormous Italian Garden designed to show off Astor’s vast collection of statuary. The Tudor Garden and mock-Tudor village (also created by Astor) adjacent to the castle are delightful.

Although the weather was amazing for late March, the rhododendrons were not yet in bloom, but the gardens were nevertheless stunning with spring bulbs and early blossom. It is always interesting to see gardens in the “off-season” and marvel at the structure and layout that is otherwise sometimes hidden by a later abundance of growth.

Peter Harrison