Wednesday, July 02, 2008

A hot summer's afternoon in a Kentish garden

The Garden Tower, Penhurst Place
8" x 11.5", coloured pencils in Daler Rowney Sketchbook
copyright Katherine Tyrrell

Yesterday was a glorious English summer's day - hot (but not too hot) with clear blue skies - so I headed out of town to spend the afternoon in a traditional English garden in the High Weald of Kent - also known as the garden of England.

I visited Penshurst Place (next to the church in Penshurst west of Tonbridge) which I haven't been to in years - mainly because I have a tendency to extract maximum value from my National Trust membership and Penshurst Place is independently owned and managed. Entry to the gardens is £7. To find out whether it was worth the entrance price read on!

On the plus side - I saw the best ever display of hollyhocks at the entrance to the property. They were presented beautifully against black clapboarding.

The garden also had absolutely masses of lavendar contributing swathes of lavendar blue in various places around the gardens.

The 11 acre formal walled garden is made up of a number of garden rooms and is one of the oldest gardens in private ownership. In principle, the model for the gardens is the same as Sissinghurst - and it even includes a grey garden - but in practice it's nowhere near as impressive in terms of planting and maintenance.

Some of the vistas are great - and you can clearly see what it could be like. The sketch at the top was done sitting on the top of the steps up to the west terrace above the Italian Garden - looking out at the lavendar and pink rose below the Garden Tower, down the Blue and Yellow Border to the path leading to "Diana's Bath" a pool with a fountain. This photo is of the same view in reverse.

However, the gardens were initially restored in the nineteenth century and then again in the 1970s - and I think they've maybe taken on a sense of the period in which they were restored. There's an interesting New York Times article I found which is about Lanning Roper the American landscape designer who helped with the 70s restoration. It's worth reading to 'see' what the garden was like in its prime.

Unfortunately, the gardeners seemed to be missing or lacking - I wasn't sure which. While some parts of the garden were well looked after I noticed that Lanning Roper's double herbaceous border was rampant - but not in a good way; the tall yew hedges had been cut in a very odd way; the extremely long peony border was impressive - partly because I've never seen so many peonies in need of deadheading, the nut garden appeared to need some attention - and I noticed quite a few areas which needed a good weed. Interestingly the National Trust gets quite a few volunteers who help out with gardening at the NT properties. I guess it doesn't work in quite the same way at other places.

Its website also lacks views of the garden and explanations of what it contains and how it is planted. Or why there are curious heraldic columns in one of the gardens!

In trying to view the photos which do exist on the website managed to crash my browser - so I wasn't at all impressed. Websites need to be set up so anybody can view them without a download - it's not difficult!

For me, what this garden is missing is a sense of it being planted with plants associated with the period - or even just planted in such a way that horticulturalists would want to visit. One tends to get the impression that the place now gears itself up more for coach tours, history events for people who like dressing up and school groups.

I have a very simple test of whether those who look after a garden are thinking about the visitors. Are there seats situated in the right place to look at the best views - or are they all lined up where it's easy to put seats? Penshurst Place has seats but placement of some of them is a bit haphazard - which sort of summed up the garden for me. Interesting to visit now and again but lacking that extra bit of thought, care and attention which makes it feel special in the way that places like Sissinghurst are special and justifiably attract masses of visitors as a result.

However if you like history, this is indeed an interesting place and a house and garden combined ticket costs only slightly more at £8.50 and offers much better value. The original house was 13th century and its history is explained on the website. It has been much added to and extended over time. Henry VIII owned Penhurst Place at one point - after its owner was tried for treason and beheaded. Penhurst Place has also been used to film Philippa Gregory's novel The Other Boleyn Girl - film website and wikipedia entry. It's also been used for filming Anne of a Thousand Days and the BBC series Elizabeth 1. (Hever Castle nearby is the childhood home on the Anne Boleyn)

But who wants to be indoors on a hot summer's day?

I did a couple more sketches - of an extremely ancient beech tree in the grounds with an absolutely huge bunch of mistletoe hanging from it and, later on, a view over the High Weald near Chiddingstone.

The Mistletoe Tree
11.5"x16", coloured pencils, double page spread in Daler Rowney sketchbook
copyright Katherine Tyrrell

Summer evenings are always a nice time to sketch - the colours are warm and gentle. This last one of a view of the High Weald was done from behind the wheel of my car - having driven slightly off the road and up to a gate!

Near Chiddingstone
8" x 11.5", coloured pencils in Daler Rowney sketchbook

copyright Katherine Tyrrell



  1. I used to live in Tonbridge as a child... we loved Chiddignstone Castle and we always went to Penshurst Church... Mum and Dad did not want to pay the entrance fee to the house for all of us ;)
    I love the pictures, Kent is a beautiful county!

  2. If you know Kent and/or like Kent you might also be interested in my summary post of all the sketches involving Kent

    I'll add this to the links in the post.

  3. katherine these last works look indeed very summery and kentish too
    i love kent in the summer used to live in sussex,
    really like the compositions of the last two,with the tree and fence leaning in.

  4. Sounds like a gorgeous day, Katherine. Lovely sketches, particularly that last one. It would make a beautiful watercolour too. I love the way you find the patterns in the landscape.

  5. AnonymousJuly 09, 2008

    Your work is inspiring, thank you!

    Ljubica Todorovic
    Calgary, Alberta

  6. I just want to say that even if you did not have such well written and researched posts, I'd come just for your sketches. They are so beautiful. You use them very sensitively.


I always check identities and ALL links in comments for spam.

Due to excessive attempts to introduce spam via comments on this blog, I've introduced a regime where all comments with links in the ID or text to the websites of hotels/resorts/tourist destinations will NOT be approved and are deleted. The websites of repeat spammers are also reported to Google.

Nice, sensible people who are not new to blogging probably don't need to read my Comments Policy