A Tale of Three Gardens (Part 1)

An evening event at one of Kent’s iconic gardens saw me and my Mum driving east across the country, one sunny morning towards the end of August. We chose to swap the fast but faceless motorways for a scenic route through southern England, and planned in a rather special stop for lunch on the way…

View from the terrace of Gravetye Manor

By early afternoon, we found ourselves waiting for a smart, if slightly unnerving, iron gate to admit us, before continuing up the gravel drive and swinging to a stop. We were greeted on the steps by a friendly member of staff, who assured us that we were welcome to take lunch in the restaurant or garden – and insisted that we must take a walk around the exceptional kitchen garden during our visit, before handing us over to one of his colleagues. Thus we found ourselves sitting in the warm sun, on a graveled terrace, at a table beautifully positioned to gaze out across the exuberant planting of Gravetye Manor, the former home of William Robinson, which has been operating as a hotel for over fifty years.

View from the terrace at Gravetye Manor

A secluded seating area tucked within the gardens of Gravetye Manor

We had the sun-drenched terrace to ourselves, to soak up our surroundings as we perused the menu, a selection of nibbles quickly appearing with our drinks as we deliberated; the occasional murmur of distant voices revealing one or two other seating areas in use through the gardens: these were skilfully placed to offer seclusion. The planting around us was vibrant and luscious. A stipa tickled my toes, while we admired the tall dark tagetes and diascia; a smart selection of not-too-showy Dahlias; the stunning tall pink plumes of Persicaria orientalis which stood taller than us; effervescent white clouds of Erigeron annuus; beautiful pale sunflowers… I was enraptured!

We enjoyed a lovely long lunch here, managing to refocus our attention on the well prepared plates that arrived, with produce from the acclaimed kitchen garden featuring strongly. The food certainly warranted its own focus too! Once we had finally admitted defeat, we were encouraged to enjoy the grounds, and we finally ousted ourselves from this delicious spot to explore further afield.

Main borders at Gravetye Manor, splendid in late summer

White cosmos at Gravetye ManorHead Gardener, Tom Coward, has had his work cut out for him here for three years now, working tirelessly with his team to restore and maintain these wonderful gardens, which were particularly plagued with bindweed on his arrival. He seems to have done a fine job already; I was utterly spellbound by these gardens. I loved the vivacious planting that romped and cascaded and billowed from the formal lines of the garden; a wonderful balance of hard and soft, with well planned vistas and unexpected treasures at every turn.

Long view of Gravetye Manor from the Flower Garden

Erigeron annuus billowing in the sunFollowing winding paths up through the borders we spilled out onto the croquet lawn, before continuing up through the wild wooded areas to the kitchen garden, which beckoned us on.

View of Gravetye from the Croquet Lawn

The Croquet Lawn at Gravetye

The kitchen garden is indeed impressive: not just a kitchen garden, but a walled kitchen garden: not just a walled kitchen garden, but an oval walled kitchen garden. Walking through the gates felt just like walking into Frances Hodgson Burnett’s Secret Garden (a childhood favourite, of course!). Covering about 2 acres, on a sloping site, it was in full spate: cottage garden favourites jostled against lines of vegetables; trained fruit basked against the walls; and chickens burbled and scratched in a fenced area. We wandered around the arcing paths, exclaiming over the size of the cabbages, and the range of produce.

Gates to the kitchen garden at Gravetye Manor

Vegetables in the kitchen garden at Gravetye ManorBursts of colour punctuated the orderly crops; not just the greens, purples and blues of brassicas shown here, but vast ranges of sweet peas, day lilies, gladioli and many more cutting flowers burgeoned amidst the rows of vegetables and salads destined for the hotel kitchen.

The kitchen garden at Gravetye Manor

Cutting flowers and veg in the kitchen garden at Gravetye ManorLong before we finally, reluctantly, made our way back down through the gardens, through the hotel, and to the car to continue our journey, I was utterly smitten with this place: hook, line and sinker. Or house, garden and scenery, in this case…

Borders and surrounding countryside at Gravetye Manor gardensWe were not entirely sure whether the gardens are open to the public on some days; signs seemed to suggest so. They are certainly always available for residents, whether staying or dining, and the food and service were every bit as enjoyable as the gardens. We were lucky that it was a quiet day, mid-week, and we could drop in without a reservation, although apparently the previous day we may not have been so lucky, so a reservation is worthwhile. I highly recommend visiting if you are passing through Sussex. I’m wondering what it will take me to convince King of the Hill to bring me back to stay for a night…

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17 thoughts on “A Tale of Three Gardens (Part 1)

  1. Oh PLEASE tell us how to pronounce Gravetye, as I have never been sure! What lovely gardens to visit and setting off such a beautiful manor house as well. And one must admire the original designer who came up with the unique concept of an OVAL walled garden! I look forward to visiting your other two gardens with you!

    • Ahh, I was not sure either. My Mum firmly pronounced it to rhyme with, hmm, wave-thai (if that makes sense), and later πŸ˜‰ I heard it pronounced that way by Sarah Raven, so it is firmly in my brain with that sound now.
      (I must confess – I have not visited another garden that sung to me as much as this one. I could have moved in immediately πŸ˜‰ and barely changed a thing. Including the team of 8 (I think) gardeners )

    • Good point! It’s funny, though, two acres was not as big as I thought it was… it very definitely felt like a garden rather than a farm. The slope perhaps helped, as everything within the walls was visible wherever you wandered within it – as well as making the most of the sun. The scale of the beds made it seem cosier too. I am very taken with the whole place. Wouldn’t like to look after it single-handed, mind ;).

  2. Thank you so much for sharing your visit. It sounds a magical place. I yearn for a small secret walled garden with the door hidden by a curtain of ivy. Frances Hodgson Burnett has a lot to answer for!
    Best wishes
    Ellie

  3. Wow. I’m soooo jealous πŸ˜‰ I’ve wanted to go there for so long. It looks amazing. Sussex certainly is packed full of great gardens. Will have to put it on high up on the wish list for a visit next year. Love the veg garden.

  4. Not somewhere I know, Sara and I could complain it is a little far away from me but given how far you drove I won’t. Looks gorgeous – very much my kind of place. Dave

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