The gardens of Kenthurch
PUBLISHED: 12:16 17 August 2012 | UPDATED: 21:45 20 February 2013
The magnificent displays created by Jan Lucas-Scudamore and her small team are a feast for the senses, says Gill Mullin of the National Garden Scheme
For much of the 20th century, gender divisions in gardening were, with a few notable exceptions, reasonably straightforward: flowers were for the ladies and the manly pursuits of vegetables and shrubs belonged to the men. So when Jan Lucas-Scudamore decided to update the gardens at Kentchurch Court, the assets she inherited included an exceptional collection of rhododendrons and azaleas and a vast vegetable garden.
However, a magnificent backdrop of mellow Herefordshire sandstone lends itself to something far more imaginative, and its this bigger picture that shes been working towards since the Millennium. Over the past 12 years, latterly with the help of head gardener Tristan Gregory and a small team of dedicated volunteers, the garden has grown in stature to become a fitting complement to a stately home that dates back to Norman times.
As you enter, a large gravelled courtyard invites you in two different directions. Take the left-hand path, through the great arch and you find yourself at the west front of the house, updated by Nash in 1790 in the Gothic style. Here, shell pink climbing roses and swags of catmint and lavender soften the clean lines of stone and gravel, and a Magnolia grandiflora guards the house front. Formal rectangular rose beds are overlooked by a statuary pair. The area has a calm spaciousness that gives way to the more relaxed setting of the deer park where fallow deer stroll, oblivious to onlookers.
To the right, the archway leads past the yew bastion at the start of the Lawson Walk. Here, tall Lawson cypresses have been cleverly trimmed of lower branches, so that although a hedge remains, a clear view brings light and air to the herbaceous borders. Spires of foxtail lilies punctuate rounded mounds of geranium and the mixed yellows of lysimachia, thermopsis and sisyrinchium. Soft pink dierama droop their angels fishing rods over cushions of sedum and heuchera, next to the tiny pink pea flowers of indigofera.
A yew arch takes you through to the cutting garden, where roses, dahlias, sweet peas and Regale lilies perfume the air. Phlomis fruticosa forms a hedge and a low wisteria is trained on a fence.
The vegetable garden is still a splendid affair, supplying produce for the house throughout the year. The orchard, under-planted with deep purple alliums and tulips is a stunning sight when the branches are loaded with palest pink apple blossom. Once dividing the vegetable garden in two, the rose pergola now stands alone, covered in roses and clematis during June and July. The under-planting is in muted colours lavender, golden marjoram, silver artemisia and blue agapanthus provide a perfect foil for the blush pinks and crimsons.
The walled garden has been Tristans project, and with a nod in the direction of prairie planting, it boasts deep and colourful borders. As you enter, an unusual feature is an area of rock pavement set on edge, providing a well-drained home for sun-lovers: soft pink Phlomis italica, glowing orange Anthemis sancti-johanni, pale blue Caryopteris incana, small hebes and azaleas and silver leaved Artemisia stellariana.
The main borders feature many tall plants, but these are rarely staked, as the close planting forms a self-supporting whole. The blue daisies of lactuca (giant lettuce to you and me), the airy white panicles of Crambe cordifolia, the peachy-buff inflorescences of the plume poppy, macleaya and the fluffy white heads of Eupatorium rugosum album lilt and sway in the wind, like so many exotic dancers. Nearly all the herbaceous plants in the walled garden have been grown from seed, so any plantings you admire you can easily replicate for yourself.
Tristan has assembled an admirable collection of digitalis and thalictrum, species that grow well from seed. By the end wall, an autumn riot bed is the home for asters, rudbeckias, helianthus, phytolacca, and echium, all providing a blaze of colour for the years end.
Back towards the house, Jans favourite place to garden is the hot border. Here, she indulges her preference for the bold and zingy end of the spectrum wine red astrantias, crimson oriental poppies and raspberry pink Digitalis mertonensis jostle up against brick-red lupins and bronze fennel. Rust-coloured alstroemerias, tawny Helenium Sahins early and a double flame potentilla add orange to the mix, while pale yellow Allium flavum and sisyrinchium drop in a softer note.
Moving away from the house, the rhododendron wood provides a calm and shaded contrast to the full-on colour of the formal gardens. Here, alongside a tributary of the Monnow, an invented landscape was designed in the 1800s, to create a shrubbery and woodland walk that mimics the natural, but in perfect form. Many of the rhododendrons were grown by Jack Lucas-Scudamore in the 1950s, from seed sent from abroad by naval friends. These form the backbone of a fine collection, supplemented by thuja, sequioa and Douglas fir. Two bridges allow you to cross and re-cross the river, and water-side plantings of telekia, astilbe, hosta and primula are at home beside the fast-flowing water.
The gardens at Kentchurch are a large and on-going project and require a great input of time and effort. But such an imposing and historic building demands the very best to complement its splendour, and Jan and her team have worked hard to achieve a sensory feast that has something to offer all visitors.
The gardens at Kentchurch Court are open for the National Garden Scheme on September 15 and 16 from 11am to 5pm.