Real gardens: Secret Gardens of Sandwich

Many gardeners like to claim their plots are ’secret’. Perhaps this is because it takes so long to find the site, or because no-one has heard about the gardens at all. But these gardens really had lain in secret, completely forgotten until the owners of the house – The Salutation – finally discovered them, hidden under piles of rubble, in 2004.

Under the skilful management of Head Gardener Steve Edney and owners Dominic and Stephanie Parker, the ruins of a garden created by Gertrude Jekyll and sir Edwin Lutyens have undergone a remarkable transformation from wilderness to plant lover’s paradise.

The garden is predominantly planted with herbaceous perennials, annual and biannual plants. There are more than 200 trees, many of which are rare specimens. Lutyens created strong architectural lines, tree-lined avenues and a framing effect achieved by paths and hedges.

Meanwhile, Jekyll believed that a garden should offer unexpected views and visual surprises and should be made up of many rooms, each with their own characters, and created a White Garden, a Yellow Garden, a bowling green, a rose garden, a kitchen garden, vegetable garden and woodland garden. She also filled the herbaceous borders with lilies, lupins and lavenders in her characteristic drifts of colour.

This Secret Garden is not a static garden. There is now a tropical border in a sheltered part of the garden, containing many tender, rare or vivid plants whose delicate constitutions can now cope with a climate much warmer than that which Jekyll worked with in 1911. Among them is an extremely rare Wollemi pine, which dates back to the Jurassic period. Steve has also planted a number of trees such as the golden rain tree (Koelreuteria paniculata), the Indian bean tree (Catalpa bignoniodes), and the Persian ironwood (Parrotia persica). Roses and clematis have twined over a central arbour to create a flowering canopy.

In 2007, the Secret Gardens of Sandwich were officially opened by former Gardener’s World presenter Monty Don. They are no longer hidden from view, ready to share their secrets with the rest of the world.

For more information on visiting the Secret Gardens of Sandwich, visit their website.

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