On 22nd May, we had an excellent turnout and plenty of sunshine for our first official garden coach visit of 2017. Tour Leader Jean Jones welcomed us all including several newcomers and a new driver Bernard. We arrived at Penshurst and were made welcome with refreshments and a handy map showing the layout of the grounds.
Head Gardener Cory Fernmoor took us on a private tour through the ‘garden rooms’ of the 11-acre walled garden, giving a behind-the-scenes view of what is involved in caring for a private garden open to the public. The Sidney family were granted the house and estate in 1552 and these have been in the same family ever since, the current resident is Viscount De L’Isle MBE and his wife Isobel. This means that despite the garden’s historic importance and scale it is still a family home with Cory dealing directly with the owners to interpret their wishes for the garden. As a result the grounds have a very individual feel, there is no National Trust committee deciding what era the gardens are to represent, instead Grade I listed areas such as the 16th century formal Italian Garden can be seen alongside various other styles and planting commissioned by the family through the ages. Some areas work better than others but there is something for everyone whether your interest is plants, design, history or nature.
The mid-20th century planting scheme by the US designer Lanning Roper is currently being renovated and it was an opportunity for us to see Cory’s horticultural planning in action. To improve the soil health, caliente mustard 199 and field beans had been sown. Rather than broadcast the seed as is usual for a green manure, Cory insisted staff sowed the seeds in neat rows so the effect looked more in keeping with this formal area. When the caliente is dug in, a gas is released that naturally fumigates the soil – we had to leave the gardeners to get on with this task as there is only a 20-minute window to dig in the material before the gas escapes.
We had previously found Cory to be a knowledgeable and thoughtful speaker at our club meetings, so it was no surprise that on his home turf he was able to answer some forensic questioning of his pruning and tree care regimes. When he arrived at Penshurst ten years ago, he was named Cutdown Cory as his first task was to renovate many overgrown shrubs and trees. That is not to say there haven’t been some notable recent plantings, the Jubilee Walk and the Blue and Yellow Border were looking good when we visited. Locally-bred bearded irises feature in these beds, such as the apricot-coloured ‘Good Show’, ‘Penshurst Blue’ and ‘Penshurst Yellow’ (see www.irisofsissinghurst.com). Near the house walls are a selection of yellow-flowered roses, one in particular caught our attention on the day for its scent and two-tone flowers. This was the modern shrub rose ‘Tall Story’, the yellow buds open to white blooms (available from www.classicroses.co.uk). Our tour was the last by Cory, he has now left Penshurst for a private estate near Cambridgeshire, so we felt very privileged to have his insights on his decade at the garden.
There was free time after the tour to explore the house or the rest of the grounds but many of us just had a welcome sit down to enjoy a bit of lunch or pottered around the plant stall. Penshurst Place is only a 30-minute drive from Godstone and well worth a visit or re-visit. Our focus was the garden but there is plenty more to see (www.penshurstplace.com).
Thanks to Jean Jones for such a well-organised garden visit. To join us for any of the remaining coach trips taking place for the rest of 2017, please find more details here or speak to Jean at our monthly meetings.