Groombridge Place Gardens & the Enchanted Forest
Voted the best garden attraction in the UK (Good Britain Guide 2003), Groombridge Place Gardens and the Enchanted Forest, near Royal Tunbridge Wells, is a fabulous mix of quintessentially English formal gardens and informal woodland gardens.
The sheltered, walled formal gardens were designed in the 17th century by diarist and horticulturist John Evelyn and are still laid out in the same style today. Clever planting ensures colour and scent throughout the year - from the swathes of narcissi and bluebells in the spring; to roses, honeysuckle and the bright tapestry of mid-summer colour and, finally, stunning autumn foliage, especially impressive in the Enchanted Forest.
The gardens are a series of ‘rooms’, each with its own style and planting. The Drunken Garden, with its crazy topiary and dark pool was a favourite with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who used to visit the house for seances and used the estate as the setting for his 1915 Sherlock Holmes mystery ‘The Valley Of Fear’.
The neighbouring Oriental Garden zings with vibrant hot colours, shaded by magnificent Japanese maples and has a new, very unusual, grass fountain at its centre.
The exquisite, quintessentially English herbaceous borders are a plantsman’s dream and this year will be at their best, having been replanted last year. The White Rose Garden has 20 species of rose underplanted with white and silver plants and features ancient apple trees - believed to date from the time of Queen Victoria.
The delicate Knot Garden, modelled on panelling in the house, is edged in box and filled with forget-me-nots and black Queen of Night tulips in the spring and soft summer bedding later on.
Paradise Walk is full of scented yellow, cream and white flowers and the Nut Walk is bordered by pollarded Kent cob nut trees, underplanted with giant alliums.
Peter Greenaway’s sumptuous art film ‘The Draughtsman’s Contract’ was shot on the estate in 1982, and one of the lawns has been named to commemorate the movie. There are also quirky touches, such as a giant chessboard with waist high pieces and wicker sculptures. There are also plenty of peaceful hidden corners, with seats tucked away beneath flower covered arbours where visitors can rest.
Keen gardeners should note that there is a two-week long Midsummer Garden Celebration, Groombridge in Bloom, (12th-27th June) when the 17th century formal gardens will be a tapestry of vibrant summer colour. There will be guided tours, meet the gardener sessions, workshops and much more.
In complete contrast to the formal gardens is the nearby Enchanted Forest, which encapsulates the magical zeitgeist conjured up by the books of JK Rowling and JRR Tolkien. Designed in the most part by TV gardener and land artist Ivan Hicks, the Enchanted Forest can be reached by either canal boat or on foot.
In the ancient woodland, with its 21st century gardens, there is a surprise around every corner and new for 2004 is a treasure trail designed to be interesting, educational and fun for adults and children alike. There is also a new inhabitant - a dragon.
Gardens in the forest include The Mystic Pool with glass and mirror fragments suspended from trees around a dark pool, was inspired by ancient Celtic tree mythology and was created to reflect the perception of a cosmic order based on an axis mundi, or world tree, one of the unconscious beliefs by which Man has anciently explained and understood his place in the universe.
The Serpents Lair with hidden snakes and spiders (not real!), was inspired by ancient myths of sacred pools and legendary serpents and in the woodland behind is The Double Spiral. Known in almost every culture, spirals and labyrinths have universally symbolised life's creative forces - the double spiral denotes the alternating rhythms of life and nature.
Set into the riverbank is the delightful Mossy Bottom, a magical fairytale collection of tiny houses, with doors, chimneys and windows - you can imagine characters from ‘Wind in the Willows’ living there.
Tree Fern Valley was planted in 1998 with tree ferns imported from the alpine region of Australia. Tree ferns are amongst the oldest trees growing on earth, and are thriving in the valley alongside banana plants, ginko and trachycarpus. A very unusual sight in a quintessentially English garden!
The Blue Pool is so-called because of the colour illusion caused by the effect of sunlight on miniscule particles of clay suspended in the water. Designed by Myles Challis, it is guarded over by a statue of the Roman god Neptune, holding aloft a seashell from which the waters of an ancient spring cascade into the pool below. Spilling over a stone ford, the water creates a small stream which trickles down to the canal in the valley below, flanked by irises, lilies and water-loving plants.
There is also a Romany Camp, a challenging half mile long Dark Walk with aerial walkways, tunnels, rope slides, bridges, obstacles and giant swings suspended from the tallest trees, perfect for the fit and young at heart – as well as children.
There is a very attractive Garden Room for meals and snacks and a shop with a huge choice of mementoes, books, plants and gifts.
There is also a packed programme of special events, ranging from Easter fun to a classical open air concert; Ferraris to classic cars; Shakespeare in the gardens to scarecrow workshops and a two week long garden celebration to spooky Halloween celebrations in the forest.
The gardens are open daily from April 1st to November 6th
from 9.30am to 6pm, or dusk if earlier.
Entrance charges are £8.50 adults, £7.20 seniors and £7 children aged 3-12.
A family ticket, for two adults and two children aged 3-12, costs £28.50.