To Lamberhurst, just across the Kent/Sussex border for a Sunday morning walk with Paul, the head gardener at Scotney Castle Gardens. A mild, watery sun was just coming through the early morning cloud cover as I arrived, with the promise of a beautiful day.

Started in the Walled Garden – about 1 acre – built in 1839 and listed – octagonal in shape to gain maximum wall surfaces for growing. Rather mothballed by the Trust since they took over Scotney in 1972 but a fabulous work in progress now. They are using CentrePoint (the homeless project) members to dig over the fruit and veg. beds and have a 10 year project set up to get fruit wires up and fruit growing on the walls. Interesting original iron brackets on the walls for hanging protective ‘fleece’.

In the middle of the walled garden is a kind of well called a ‘dipping pond’ – 12 feet deep – which was used to water the plants (water was piped in from a pond outside of the garden The Vine House is a delightfully simple Victorian ‘lean-to’ glasshouse against one wall. A door in a wall at the far end of the garden leads to a little tea and coffee kiosk (totally unexpected in the setting!) and tables have been set out very informally in the garden. This is all rather laid back and peaceful – but the National Trust are building one of their typical restaurants next to the car park – which will no doubt be more profitable and very handy – but somehow less romantic than the current arrangement!

Scotney is a triple SSSI site because of the rare Green-winged Orchids which are now appearing en masse on the banks outside the Victorian mansion (a count takes place in the first week of May). Have to stop the children from rolling down the grassy banks (they leave the grass long to try and deter visitors from walking on them but great to see that they don’t rope them off).

Paul pointed out the family motto above the door – ‘Vix ea nostra voco’ – ‘I scarcely call these things our own’ – particularly apt as the Hussey family bequeathed the Estate to the National Trust for the benefit of everybody to enjoy.

Starting to walk down the hill towards the ruined castle you never cease to be amazed at the beauty of the setting – a real Picturesque movement classic with the gardens tumbling down to the moated ruined castle below – so much less formal and more romantic than the Landscape style of Capability Brown and his contemporaries. Unfortunately, the facade of the castle which one sees from the top of the hill is currently shrouded in scaffolding and blue plastic sheeting as work goes on throughout Summer 2008 to replace some of the roof timbers (the castle was closed last year as the ceilings were falling in!)

The Quarry Garden (from which stone was hewed to build the Victorian mansion at the top of the hill) gives a fabulously rugged setting for Azaleas (some originals planted in the 1840’s), Judas Trees, Euphorbias, Magnolias and at the moment bluebells.

Saw the dinosaur footprint – laid down in the Wealden sea which covered this area millions of years ago. Some of the rhodos are out already but will burst forth over the next few weeks. They are very nervous about Phytophthora which wipes out some rhodos – it has come from Cornwall and is headed this way.

The boathouse down by the moat is a listed building built in the 1840’s – exquisite – the Trust use the boats to get out to the island. Interesting how they are trying to keep the moat free of algae by filtering the stream water through barley straw.

The castle was partially ruined to create the feature we now see. An immense Wisteria sinensis alba adorns one ruined wall – quite unbelievably huge – they never cut it back. It will be amazing come late May.

There is a thatched ice house on the other side of the moat – they used to chip off large chunks of ice from the moat and then store layered with straw.

A Beech tree which is multi-stemmed and one of the finest in England which is about 450 yrs old. They brace it with metal cords against the winds – to help the roots. Nymans lost 40% of their trees in the great storm of 1987.

Noticed the Henry Moore sculpture of a reclining figure over on the island.

A new stream garden is being created using bog plants down by the new birch glade. This is an area formerly of tall trees which were very badly hit by the storm – bamboos were planted but took over completely and it has taken the last 10 years to get them out again!

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