Tag Archives: National Trust

Scotney Castle in late summer

Scotney Castle has been fully in the hands of the National Trust for only a few years since the death of its last owner Betty Hussey in 2006. She lived in the large Victorian mansion at the top of the hill overlooking the valley of the river Bewl at Lamberhurst, near Tunbridge Wells in Kent. One of her predecessors built the house in 1837, having decided that the medieval and Georgian moated castle at the bottom of the valley was too damp and unhealthy.

The Victorian house is open to the public and it looks comfortable and old fashioned inside.

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The house, built 1837

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The study

But perhaps its greatest interest is the view across the valley and down to the old castle, which the family decided to turn into a picturesque ruin once their new mansion was completed.

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The view from the house to the castle

The Hussey family came to Scotney in the 1770s having made their money in the early industrial revolution in Worcestershire. The estate has chestnut coppice woodland, partly used for charcoal production, and a history of hop growing.

The grounds of the castle in late summer lack the flowers of the rhododendrons which dominate much of the garden between tne old castle and the house. But the beauty of the estate is also in the landscape and the waters of the moat which are bursting with life, including pickerel weed (Pontederia cordata), purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) and gipsywort (Lycopus europaeus).

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Pontederia cordata

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Lythrum salicaria

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Lycopus europaeus

There is an old quarry where the stone for the castle was extracted, now well planted up and apparently containing a dinosaur footprint.

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The old quarry

There is also the vestige of a medieval lane where once monks walked to a nearby abbey and peasants hearded pigs into the woods to find acorns and beech nuts.

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A medieval road?

Of interest to gardeners though is the National Trust’s efforts to revive the large walled garden of the Victorian house. It is remarkably tidy and, in late summer, is full of various varieties of runner beans, pumpkins, courgettes, brassicas and dahlias for picking. Some of the last are fine varieties with good long stems for flower arranging including, Mary Evelyn, Arabian Nights and Pink Princess.

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Pumpkin ‘Jack of All Trades’

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Brassicas and the glasshouses in the walled garden

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Dahlia ‘Mary Evelyn’

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Dahlia ‘Arabian Nights’

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 Dahlia ‘Pink Princess’

The very strange South African plant in the Apocynaceae called Gomphocarpus physocarpus also grows in the garden. It has small delicate white flowers and large prickly fruits like hairy balls up to 8cm in diameter. It adds a fascinating element to any flower arrangement.

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And fruit of Gomphocarpus physocarpus, also known as the balloon plant

Hackney’s new off-beat National Trust garden

Next to Sutton House – the oldest house in east London, built 1535 – was a scuzzy yard where old cars rotted amid the rubbish and weedy sycamores. That was pretty typical of odd corners and backyards in suburban Hackney in the 1980s.

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The way things were

But things are changing. This site is now becoming a wonderland of vehicle sculptures and plants to keep kids entertained.

The Breaker’s Yard will be a garden next to the Tudor brickwork of the house and is due to open at 1pm on 12 August 2014. It has been designed by Daniel Lobb, an established garden planner. The entrance will be marked by special gates, made with hundreds of old toy cars donated by local celebrities. There will be pots of plants made from old tractor tyres and a watercourse running though the length of the garden, then disappearing down an old well.

The garden also contains Daniel’s 1998 remarkable sculpture The Grange, which resembles a two-storey caravan on the outside and a mini-stately home on the inside.

Daniel Lobb’s The Grange 
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Inside The Grange

Also in the garden is a 1980s ice-cream van, decorated by Sir Peter Blake’s daughter Rose, which will act as a playful shop and provide refreshments.

Rose’s 80s ice-cream van

The educational charity The House of Fairy Tales is to engage school children and families in the garden. Their entertainment is due to be supported by a network of “creative artists” – so let’s see what they come up with!

Of course, Sutton House has a very Hackney history. Although it started as a grand house known as the “Bryck Place”, built of brick when most places were wattle and daub, it has been through the mill over the years. It was built by Sir Ralph Sadlier, who was King Henry VIII’s ambassador to Scotland at one point and a colleague of Sir Thomas Cromwell. Besides Tudor courtiers it has housed Huguenot silk weavers, a brewery, the local church institute and squatters. All are represented in what you see in the house today, from linen-fold oak panelling to squatter’s murals. Now the garden will represent a car scrapyard of the late twentieth century!

What’s not so well known is that the soil under the site will have suffered from contamination by engine oil, brake fluid, battery acid and old asbestos brake pads. Therefore the design seals off the soil and uses imported compost to support the plants.

I look forward to seeing the plants in place. But the garden in any event represents and achievement of the National Trust, the mayor of London’s Pocket Parks project, the Royal Society of Wildlife Trusts and the waste company Biffa, which have all contributed cash and organisation to the Breaker’s Yard project.

Sutton House as the backdrop to the Breaker’s Yard