Garden of the month: Gallants Manor

Gallants garden in East Farleigh

Gallants garden in East Farleigh - Credit: Archant

This East Farleigh garden is perfect for strolling and in spring, tulips and daffodils carpet the ground under a canopy of blossom

Designed for ease of maintenance and to be in harmony through the seasons, the 10-acre country garden at Gallants Manor in East Farleigh has a relaxing aura, just perfect for a refreshing spring stroll.

Owners Michael and Barbara Bartlett opened their garden for the first time last year through the National Gardens Scheme to raise money for the Heart of Kent Hospice and East Farleigh Church, and will be doing so again for two days in early May.

“There is always a buzz of expectation as you don’t know how many people may come. Last year we were blown away by people’s interest in the garden and hope many of last year’s visitors will return as well as new ones,” says Michael.

Gallants Manor, home to the Bartlett family since 1947, sits in 250 acres of their fruit and hop farm and it wasn’t until Michael and Barbara’s children grew up, left home and they no longer needed the land below the house for dressage and eventing practice, that the garden began to change.

“We started to think about other uses for the land, and I suppose it’s a natural instinct to want to plant for food, pleasure and posterity, and be in harmony with the seasons,” explains Michael.

Although there were terraced garden beds and a paved patio out from the house built by Michael’s parents, as well as a levelled garden area of about an acre, the decision to develop further was triggered by a visit to the RHS Chelsea Flower Show and meeting Rosemary Alexander, Principal of the English Gardening School.

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“The inspiration was probably triggered by examples of garden design at the show, in particular the work of students of the English Gardening School,” says Michael.

“Subsequently, Rosemary visited our house and decided to use our garden for her final-year students as their large garden project. They produced some incredible drawings and we combined two plans and made them into one to use for our garden area of about six acres, to create divided views and vistas with ease of maintenance.”

Transforming the site involved planting a wide palette of trees and shrubs, including flowering cherries, Prunus padus, acers and Raywood ash that turns a deep burgundy in autumn, underplanting of bulbs to naturalise, digging out a lake complete with a geyser fountain and creating a lovely landscape garden for all seasons.

Having grown vegetables and been fascinated by organic fertilisers as a child and with a farming background, gardening is a natural extension for Michael. “Barbara and I are both interested in gardens, we share the gardening; I do the heavy work and Barbara the lighter. We visit many gardens in Cornwall and Sussex, here in Kent it’s Sissinghurst, and we were inspired by Mount Congreve in Ireland and enjoy great parks like Badminton and Chatsworth.”

This can be seen in their own garden with its contoured, naturally planted landscape. “I am full of admiration for people who do garden intensively, but in terms of space and time it couldn’t be done here,” explains Michael.

In spring the scene is one of silver birch copses, unfurling fresh leaves, blossom on the bough and drifts of naturalised bulbs, including a succession of Narcissi from the end of March to the beginning of May, with varieties such as ‘Lemon Beauty’, ‘Orangery’, ‘Silver Chimes’ and ‘Pheasant’s Eye’, then camassias extending the show.

“We think it is an unfolding kaleidoscope of bulbs, flowering shrubs and ornamental trees, in particular cherries, with the freshness of green grass as a background.”

Stroll the meandering mown paths between islands of the bulbs peering above the longer grass, pause to sit on one of the benches and admire the long vistas; then complete your visit with a delicious home-made tea. n


Gallants Manor, East Farleigh ME15 0LF

Sun 3, Mon 4 May (11am-4pm)

Admission £5, children free

Get the look

• Plant in a naturalistic style

• Something in flower every month of the year

• Plan a succession of interest from trees, shrubs, herbaceous and bulbs

• Plant bulbs in drifts

• Create a series of pictures by using a range of early to late narcissi

• Include flowering trees and shrubs, such as a range of cherries, camellias, magnolias, rhododendrons

• Group trees in natural copses and groves

• Allow bulbs to naturalise in grass

• Mow curving paths between large island beds

• Some areas are terraced and levelled others left to gently slope down to the lake

• Sandy, free-draining loam soil with pH 6.5 to 7

Michael’s tips for an easy-care informal garden

• Decide how much work you want to do

• Are you organic or chemically minded?

• Choose your own favourite shrubs and trees, not other people’s

• Look around at what grows locally

• Halve the number of plants you first thought of

• Use capillary matting around plants to retain moisture

• Dunk plants or shrubs in a solution of granulated sugar and water before planting to get the best results from them

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