Notcutt’s, Pashley Manor, Beth Chatto’s on Perennial Plant Association tour
Posted: Tuesday, October 4, 2011 8:01 pm
By JIMMY WILLIAMS
Special to The Messenger
Aug. 24, Day 3 of Perennial Plant Association British garden tour.
After a sumptuous breakfast at our hotel in Tunbridge Wells, we were off to the east of England and Notcutt’s Garden Center nearby.
Notcutt’s has 19 locations across England, and has been in business since 1897. The one we visited carries more than 3,000 varieties of plants.
There is a considerable difference in conception of a garden center and a nursery. A nursery generally places plants well above any other garden appurtenances on offer, while a garden center might actually sell as much or more in hard goods.
Notcutt’s has evolved from a propagating and growing nursery to a garden center. While offering a huge plant selection, they also trade in every garden tool imaginable, chemicals, fertilizers and on and on, not to speak of such as stationery, souvenirs, clothing, camping gear and other goods in no way related to gardens. It is almost as if there are two stores. Everyone, and especially the nursery owners among us, were taken with Notcutt’s.
The garden at Pashley Manor was next. It was among the places we had never visited before, and turned out to be a favorite.
The home is 16th Century Tudor, and there are eight acres of well-managed gardens. Among the striking plants here (and at other places) were numerous hydrangeas, mostly big-leaf French varieties in blue and pink, depending on the pH of the soil. We would be seeing them nearly everywhere we would go.
The strength and bloom production, compared to pitiful examples of the same plants here, is phenomenal. Fellow traveler Ron Dieter claimed he counted 269 flowers on one plant.
Other features of the garden are bucolic views of the East Sussex countryside, walled gardens, manicured lawns trimmed to one-half inch, formal beds and lakes teeming with ducks and swans.
No less impressive is the restaurant at Pashley. Most sizeable gardens open to the public in England have a tea room or restaurant, and Pashley’s eatery is fueled with produce grown in their own potager. In our last-night questionnaire on the tour, this restaurant was overwhelmingly voted our favorite. My assistant had a toothsome rendition of salmon and I had locally grown and smoked trout.
Pashley is listed in the publication “1001 Gardens to Visit Before You Die.” I wasn’t dead when we visited.
Down the road is Squerryes Court, a 17th Century brick manor house in the Warde family since 1731, still occupied and in fine condition, with extensive collections of art and historical maps and documents. We were able to tour the house as well as the gardens.
Behind the house is a parterre garden inspired by the extensive one at Hampton Court. Surrounding, and uphill, are less ordered gardens along paths of slaggy stones dating far back.
The parterres were well manicured and could be models for similar efforts on a smaller scale.
Next day we visited another garden on the “1001” list, Beth Chatto’s near Colchester, almost in sight of the English Channel. Relatively “new,” dating to 1960 when she and her husband built a house there, the garden is famous for its dry garden and an opposite damp garden.
Chatto is still in situ and in her ’80s, and personally oversees the garden and gardeners. She is a firm believer in “let the plant fit the site,” and not trying to force a specimen into conditions not to its liking. Hence, the dry and damp.
The dry garden was formerly a graveled parking area. She kept the gravel, plowing it under, and planted grasses and other things suited to those conditions. It has appeared in slick gardening magazines and books all over the world, as has her damp garden with man-made but entirely natural looking ponds abounding in such as gunneras, water irises, sedges, etc. In between the dry and damp are traditional perennial borders.
This area of East Anglia receives only 23 inches of rain a year, the least in all Britain. But when the temperature seldom exceeds 80 degrees Fahrenheit that 23 inches does as much good as twice that with summers of 95-100 degrees that we are forced to endure.
An afternoon visit to Thompson & Morgan Seed Co. revealed the ins and outs of the monstrous worldwide organization that prints three million catalogs a year.
We bussed to historic Bury-St. Edmunds for the night and a delectable dinner at the Angel Hotel.
Coming up: Bressingham Gardens, Winchester Cathe-dral and a sea on the English channel.
Editor’s note: Jimmy Williams is production superintendent at The Paris Post-Intelligencer, where he also writes this column.
Published in The Messenger 10.04.11