Head Gardener's Notes

Head Gardener's Notes: Spring 2021

30th of Mar, 2021

It’s been a long time since my last Head Gardener’s notes after a rather tumultuous year, and the team and I are really looking forward to welcoming our visitors back to the gardens to enjoy the sights, sounds, and scents of the historic grounds in Spring.


When the first lockdown was announced last year, Penshurst Place, like many other workplaces had to make changes quickly. The garden team was reduced with as few as two gardeners looking after the walled gardens during parts of 2020. I’m proud to share that the team have continued to show great dedication to the gardens and their maintenance, especially to get everything ready for Spring. While we are a little behind in some jobs, what has been achieved is a testament to the team’s hard work and perseverance.  


I’m pleased to mention that we have recently taken on a new member of the team in the form of an apprentice from Hadlow College. We have worked closely with Hadlow College for many years now and our new recruit from the college will be learning everything about working in an historic garden such as ours, from proper pruning to planning the borders and beds.


One very new addition that you may notice are some Cherry Trees that have been planted in the gardens and grounds. We were lucky enough to be in receipt of 29 trees which were a gift from the Emperor of Japan as part of the Sakura Cherry Tree project which was set up to celebrate Japan’s many influences and attractions within the UK. The Project partnered with Visit Kent and other regional Destination Management Organisations to share 6,500 trees across the UK, to include over 400 schools and 160 locations such as ours.


Our varieties include 9 Prunus x yedoensis which have been planted as a grove in the picnic area. 10 Prunus Beni-yukata, 7 of which are will be planted on the Island at Lake Park and 3 in the Viscount and Viscountess’ private garden. We also have 10 Prunus Tai-hakin, the great white cherry, which are planted as an avenue along the visitor entrance road.


Thanks to the Culture Recovery Fund provided by the Department of Media Culture and Sport, we’ve been able to undertake a very exciting project (certainly for us!) over the winter, installing our new watering network within the gardens. You might see evidence of said installation across the paths we’ve had to dig up and re-lay, and the occasional path we have had to rope off. This is only temporary and as new grass grows, we will open up any areas you find closed off now.


Previous to this installation, all watering in the gardens has been done with hoses and the humble watering can. With our new system we can now use seep hoses and water the gardens at night if we need to, which will reduce our water use and the gardens impact on the wider environment. Though this system will reduce our water use overall, we have no plans to use the “saved” water unnecessarily such as by watering the grass in the high summer, so if it gets as hot as last year the grass will turn brown before recovering as the weather cools. The gardens cover too many acres to be able to water the grass responsibly and we would rather it turned a little brown than contribute to using water unnecessarily.


From a high to a low, unfortunately box blight has hit the Italian Garden quite hard over the autumn and winter, with the small hedges dying back as we watched. We have had to take the hard decision to cut out the infected wood which will allow us to treat the blight and re-grow the hedge. Some gardens across the UK are instead choosing to replace their box hedges entirely, however treatments are being developed at pace and the latest research points to the possibility of managing the infection in the future; so for now we will do what we can to keep going as nothing really has the same impact in a formal garden as a box hedge.


To end on a brighter note, I’m pleased to mention that we will be selling plants from the garden this year as we have built up a small stock from our divisions and sowings. These plants will have a special sign next to them in the borders and beds, so you’ll know if they’re available in the Plant Centre, which is rather handily located next to the Gift Shop as you exit -  so no need to lug your purchases around the gardens during your visit!

That’s all from me for now, please enjoy the gardens safely and responsibly. Here’s to a pleasant and prosperous 2021.