Great Dixter Plant Fair and the Walled Nursery

We recently visited the Great Dixter Plant Fair for the first time. So keen to get the pick of the plants we turned up two hours before it started, but we were able to wonder around the stalls as they were setting up and buy a couple of boxes full of plants from the Dixter Nursery before we returned officially.

We mostly spent our time browsing Beth Chatto’s stall, I was instantly drawn to the delicate and dainty anenomes and the selection of perennials. We also made purchases from Invicta Nursery; three cardoons and three bronze fennels and a Tansy, in total we took home a boot full plants to try out for the new borders. *Some of which are still yet to be planted out some months after the visit…shame*

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Really impressed by the French stall with over thirty types of rhubarb!

*Southborough based photographer, Craig Prentis, coincidentally was there on the same day and made some excellent portraits of people there, which you can see on his Instagram here.*

Here are some pictures from the fair and the wander around Dixter’s gardens…

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The following weekend being blessed again with warm sunshine, we visited the Walled Nursery in Hawkhurst which boasts the best surviving collection of Victorian glasshouses. Thirteen in total; a Carnation House, Cold Frame, Cucumber House, Fernery, Hothouse, Melon House, Peach Case, Tomato House and a ¾ span Vinery.

They were designed and built by Foster and Pearson Ltd of Nottingham, who were renowned for their horticultural buildings and commissioned on several occasions by Queen Victoria.

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Sadly now they are in a state of disrepair, most with peeling paint and missing glass so they were inaccessible when we visited. One glass house remains open with a huge range of succulents which was originally the Melon House.

The estate was formerly known as Tongswood had been owned by Charles Gunther from 1903; who was the Director of OXO and High Sheriff of Kent. Today the main house is occupied by St Ronan’s School but you can find extensive information about the history of the site here.

They are currently raising money to be able to continue the restoration work and have recently opened a café within one of the glasshouses. It does feel like a place with huge potential; even in its delipidated state it is still a sight to see, perhaps even more romantic.

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This was originally the Melon House, where in the first half of the house the original trellis can be seen where the plants would grow up and the melons would hang off inside nets like in the image from 1880 below.

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After buying a car load of plants the previous weekend at Great Dixter, Nick and I thought we ought to reel in the plant buying, purchasing only three Kent Pride irises.

Since this visit to Dixter, we have been back twice at different stages of spring/summer to experience the garden, pick up a few more plants and have the obligatory custard tart. Post coming soon of Dixter in the springtime!

Sad to say goodbye

Nick purchased the house in November, 2007. It had most of its original features still intact which ticked all the boxes.

Here are some images of the house that Nick took when he was waiting to hear if his offer had been accepted. The previous owner had lived there for most of her life, the house having been last modernised sometime in the 1950’s, most evident in the pastel pink and blue kitchen and bathroom.

You can see from the images it needed a lot of work including new mains sewerage, treatment for rising damp and woodworm infestation. The top floor of the house had no electricity. The workshop in the back garden was original to the house but had large holes in the roof.

The carpets were ripped up to reveal wide, almost untouched 6″ floorboards, the original doors and cupboards were hidden under layers of plywood. Beneath the accumulation of wallpaper and thick varnish was the original match boarding in the dining room.

No photographs were taken of the sitting room, once the room had been skimmed and decorated which looked like this…

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Then this…

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The fire surround propped up was an ebay find (we buy A LOT from ebay), we bought this and another one from a similar property in Sevenoaks for £20 and a smaller one f0r 99p.

At this point we had no car so we carried them on the train and then walked up from High Brooms station with them on our backs, it was a bit like being in stocks, I am sure we looked quite odd!

This was the sitting room in its final state.

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The dining room went from having 1950’s patterned carpet, boarded over doors and cupboards and layers of yellowed white gloss paint…

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The view from the dining room and kitchen started to change as new fencing and garden was added and the brick shed transformed into a studio space. The outside courtyard had  concrete paths which we replaced with gravel and eventually painted the new fence a dark drainpipe grey.

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The render outside of the kitchen was blown, so it was chipped off and re-rendered.

The shed originally had one door on the side, but we added two wooden casement windows to let in more light, a Velux in the ceiling and then opened it up at the front with some glazed pitch pine hospital doors salvaged from a hospital in Yorkshire, (eBay again).

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At the end of the garden you can see the other fire place surround we bought that I mentioned earlier. Later we planted more climbers to the side fence and a Boston Ivy to disguise the huge wall that was built after the original brick wall was demolished to build a row of terraces on Castle Street.

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View from the end of the garden towards the house.

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The original kitchen and bathroom were removed and the dropped ceiling removed to reveal two more ceilings underneath. After these were taken down it exposed a higher ceiling which made our kitchen seem more spacious.

Here is how the kitchen looked post renovation…unfortunately there are no images of it as a work in progress. Two new wooden casements were installed and new floor boards to match the rest of the house, and completely re-plastered and probably one of the smallest Plain English kitchens ever made! The worktops are iroko and cupboards were painted in Farrow and Ball ‘Blue Gray’. 

The kitchen was the one thing we splashed out on, knowing it would be where we spent most of our time.

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The main bedroom looked out towards Pennington Park and was again stripped back completely before decorating. In both second floor bedrooms the fireplaces had lost their mantle and were boarded up, so we uncovered them and made mantles for both. The fireplaces had lovely patterned detailed around the edges. So from this…

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To this…

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The bed is French, turn of the century, chest of drawers from a local charity shop and green resin lamp from Marianna Kennedy. After a few different colours we settled on walls  in ‘French Gray’.

The bedroom opposite became the bathroom. The centrepiece being the roll top bath framed by the sash window. The bath was luxury! I am definitely missing it now, you could really sink in to it and on any moonlit evenings or when it was snowing I loved having the window open and being in a hot bath. From this…

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To this…

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The tiny front garden was planted out with ferns, gillenia, epimediums, geraniums, woodland sedges and astrantias. Climbing up the house was Mme. Alfred Carriere and white wisteria. Later we added to the planting some ‘Annabelle’ hydrangeas, their huge pom-pom flower heads got quite a few comments from passersby.

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The house was finally finished and then we decided to move. A house nearby with a bigger garden came up and two weeks later our terrace house had sold and we were moving…

Arundel

Nick and I had originally been slightly over ambitious planning to visit Petworth House with a quick detour through Arundel on the way. A very slow moving tractor on the journey meant that Petworth House had to be jettisoned and we spent the afternoon in Arundel instead.

We really knew little about Arundel prior to our visit except that poem by Philip Larkin and its reputation for inspirational (if not affordable) antique shops. And a rather grand castle.

How lovely is Arundel? A real working high street, lined with bunting and full of independent traders, a riverside arts festival and good food. Kim’s Bookshop is particularly worthy of a visit. With stacks of mid-century titles heavy on illustration and graphic design and, to my personal delight, a wide range of cookery and photography books. We grabbed some lunch at Pallant of Arundel and devoured it sitting on a park bench in front of the castle gate. Then set about searching for treasure.

Which is how we spent most of the day, with our last visit being to the magnificent Spencer Swaffer Antiques. If you had the money you could spend a small fortune in this shop – I never knew how badly I wanted a collection of French enamel jugs, 19th century carpet bowls and a marble glazed ceramic canister!

The space is rather disorientating with objects, furniture, artwork and mirrors adorning every square inch of each room, stairwell and landing. At the rear of the shop is a walled garden that was bathed in sunshine. You step out into a sunken courtyard with plants of towering height Phormium, Miscanthus, Euportorium and Rudbeckia and then a series of smaller former spaces with box hedging, rose adorned arches and legions of dark stemmed dahlias.

Plenty of ideas to take back to our embryonic garden (albeit on a more modest scale)…

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A garden in the English summer

Yesterday we visited Perch Hill cuttings garden, the garden of Sarah Raven in Brightling, East Sussex. Sarah Raven has written several books on gardening and cooking and runs courses at Perch Hill in a beautiful barn overlooking the hillside (which you can see later in the post). Raven uses bold and bright colour combinations in her gardens which in theory sound discordant but in reality work well and give the garden a sense of energy.

Following an intense drive down winding one track roads with high hedgerows, we arrived without having to reverse up-hill to let other motorists past. Crisis over.

Earlier in the year I had sown seed and planted dahlia tubers from Sarah Raven, which are now in flower, but not as impressive as the blooms at Perch Hill.

The garden is only open to the public on 7 occasions this year, so I was quite excited to experience it and get some ideas for plant combinations for our garden.

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The garden has several gardens (cuttings garden, kitchen garden, ornamental kitchen garden, rose and herb garden, meadow…you get the idea) but it felt more intimate than most National Trust Gardens. I liked the height and how you feel like you could be lost in the garden.

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IMG_8059I was expecting the dahlias to be impressive and they did not disappoint. The dahlias I planted are roughly one third of the height of the ones here and I have only had 2 flowers! Next year, I need to hone my dahlia rearing skills in the garden.

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I loved this grass panicum elegans ‘frosted explosion’ and how it softly floats around the dahlias. This is on my list for our garden.

Through the cutting garden to the track that leads to the herb and rose garden and the Barn…

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As we arrived the rain started…And I set about quickly photographing all the containers to collect ideas.

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When the rain got too heavy we had a tea break inside the barn. I liked the large wreath that was hung in the peak of the ceiling.

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The rain left me with a good opportunity to get a clear shot of the rose and herb garden. Then a quick wander through the ornamental garden then back through the cutting garden and the meadow and back home. I had to plant my dahlias out.

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All text and photographs are copyright by Castles on the Ground, 2016.