Godinton Garden (Kent): reflecting architecture in the topiary

Wild cards are always interesting.

We were staying in Ashford: it has lots of hotels, being so close to the Eurostar.  I noticed an RHS-partner garden only 5 minute from our lodgings.  Godinton Gardens.  I knew nothing more about it other than entry would be free with our RHS cards.

Godinton stays open until 5.30pm so I said that should we have time, rather than going to sit in our hotel room we should visit.

Having originally planned to go from Chiddingstone Castle to Royal Tunbridge Wells and then on to Sissinghurst, I didn’t think we’d make it to Godinton.  However, it was so cold that D & I agreed to go straight to Sissinghurst (it is never pleasant walking around a town centre in the cold).

Thus, we had time to visit Godinton after Sissinghurst.

And I SOOOOOO much preferred it to Sissinghurst.

To start with, we were the only ones in the garden (the only fools to brave the cold?), and by the time we arrived at the tea room in the Edwardian restyled morning room of the house at 4.30, we soon found ourselves with our own private dining room as we sat down to two homemade scones with clotted cream, strawberry jam & a pot of tea, all for just £4.90.  It would have been £10 at least at Sissinghurst (and I really didn’t like Sissinghurst’s restaurant).

The garden is also delightful, particularly the small intimate Italian garden, which is exactly the type of London garden I would like to have (but with a Japanese twist; although here the wisteria is a Japanese one).

I particularly liked how the Dutch gables are reflected in the hedges.

I liked how the garden has been carved out of parkland: like an oasis in the desert.

I liked the formal lilly pond, of which a glimpse is caught form the formal topiary Pan garden.

I liked the open dip to the right of the lily pond, carpeted in daffodils when we were there.  Beyond is a wild garden and views over the fields.

We walked up to the Italian garden, with a screen of columns and a small brick summer house.

D asked what was the point of opening the window in the summer house when it doesn’t have a door.  I suggested we go inside.  Good job we did because we were rewarded with a vast walled garden, including three green houses in very good nick and a plant stall, the type D always likes because they don’t have ‘garden centre prices’.  A hellebore was purchased while I was warming myself up in the heated greenhouse.

We didn’t once look at the map so were taken around the garden by its clever design, drawing the visitor from one experience to the next, in my opinion much more effectively than a “garden of rooms” does (because with the “rooms” one knows something else is coming; at Godinton the next experience can always be unexpected).

We didn’t visit the house (even though it would have only been £3 extra) as the last guided tour had just left.  I was interested to know if the interiors were Victorian or much earlier, as the design of the house with its Dutch gables suggest (I would have gone for 1670; the William & Mary influence). The house was sold in the 1895 by the Toke family who had occupied the land since the 1440s (the last occupier had an affair and was shunned by the community so moved away).  It dates from a medieval great hall, the current house being rebuilt around that and refashioned in the 1620s.  Further parts were Georgianised in the 1790s.  It was the second owner who planted the gardens, including the yew hedge that protects it from the wilds of the wider landscape.

The house was sold again in 1918 to the grandmother of the owner that left it in trust to be open to the public, provided its interior was preserved.  His family added the Edwardian bay windows and when he died in 1996 the house has been left uninhabited but remains open for people to visit.

When visited: March 2013

Gardens * out of 5: *** ½

House: n/a (to visit another day)

Website: http://www.godinton-house-gardens.co.uk/

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