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  • Writer's pictureHorticultural Society

Discovering the Beauty of Hole Park Gardens

Yesterday, we had the pleasure of exploring Hole Park Gardens, one of Kent’s most celebrated gardens and the deserving winner of Visit Kent’s Garden of the Year award in 2016. This enchanting garden has been owned by the Barham family for four generations and spans over 200 acres of classic parkland.

The vibrant gardens offer sweeping views over the hills, woods, and fields of the picturesque Kentish Weald. They skillfully blend formal design with naturalised planting, providing colour and beauty throughout the seasons.

The house, a private family home, was largely reconstructed in 1959 and now stands at a quarter of its original size, echoing its pre-1830 Elizabethan design. Although the house itself is not open to the public, the surrounding gardens more than make up for it with their splendor.

The nearby village of Rolvenden and the town of Cranbrook are equally worth visiting. Both are renowned for their picturesque white weatherboarded buildings, historic mills, and charming high streets set amidst typical Kentish scenery.

Floral Highlights from Our Tour

Our tour was led by the knowledgeable Head Gardener, Quentin Stark, who shared fascinating insights about the diverse flora at Hole Park:

  • Phlomis russeliana is a hardy, herbaceous perennial which reaches a height of 90cm, with a spread of 75cm. Known for its unique whorls of yellow flowers, it attracts bees and other pollinators.

  • Liquidambar Tree: Crush its leaves and enjoy a sweet scent reminiscent of sugar cane.

  • Common Spotted Orchid: Found in abundance in their East Lawn meadow, the flowers range from white and pale pink, through to purple, but have distinctive darker pink spots and stripes on their three-lobed lips. The flowers are densely packed in short, cone-shaped clusters. These plants have an intriguing reproductive strategy. Darwin once noted that the orchid’s seeds, produced in such vast quantities, would cover the earth in just four generations!

  • Wisteria floribunda: Renowned for its stunning, cascading clusters of flowers, can live for decades and as seen here beautifully encircling the lawn by the pool, require robust support structures and careful annual pruning.

  • Agapanthus Blue: This evergreen perennial produces soft violet-blue flowers on long, graceful stalks and can grow to about 75cm. But despite its delicate form, this variety is quite hardy. Blue Storm is especially great for pots, containers and mixed borders. It loves full sun and moist, fertile soil. Their examples have been a part of the Barham family’s garden for over 100 years!

  • Cornus kousa: is a small deciduous tree 8–12 m tall, in the flowering plant family Cornaceae. Common names include kousa, kousa dogwood, Chinese dogwood, Korean dogwood, and Japanese dogwood. Known for its explosive flowers designed to attach pollen to beetles.

  • Pinus picea breweriana thrives in shade and can withstand high wind, but has a 20-year juvenile period, so be aware there will be no weeping for a while!

  • Sequoiadendron: A coniferous evergreen tree of the cypress family (Cupressaceae), this gorgeous specimen was planted as a sapling in 1927. Did you know the coir from this tree is excellent for growing orchids?

Top Gardening Tips from Quentin Stark:

  1. Dealing with Acidic Clay: Enrich the soil with horse manure and as much organic matter as possible and your plants will thank you with great growth .

  2. Creating Wildflower Meadows: Instead of sowing seeds in April, clear weeds in September and sow seeds on bare ground in October for better plant establishment. Avoid digging the soil to allow for natural germination by November.

  3. Managing Roses: The 'Wedding Day' rambling rose, with its small white flowers, blooms for just two weeks each year and requires heavy annual pruning.

  4. Caring for Rhododendrons: To make your rhododendron bushier, deadhead after flowering and remove any extending new growth spears. These plants love water, especially during the summer.

  5. Reference Book: 'Plant Names Simplified: Their Pronunciation, Derivation and Meaning' by A. Stockdale, A. T. Johnson, and H. A. Smith

Final Thoughts: Working with Nature

It was fascinating to note how in the Acer Glade, the landscaping and planting has been intentionally designed to work with nature, via a harmonious three-layer system:

  • Top Layer: Beech and Oak providing dappled shade.

  • Middle Layer: Camellias, Rhododendrons, Acers, and Azaleas.

  • Bottom Layer: Hostas and Ferns.

Hole Park Gardens is not just a feast for the eyes but a testament to thoughtful and time-honoured gardening practices. Whether you’re a gardening enthusiast or simply appreciate natural beauty, a visit to Hole Park Gardens promises inspiration and tranquility.

We extend our heartfelt thanks to our knowledgeable guide and Hole Park Garden's Head Gardener, Quentin Stark.

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