Mansion border restoration at Chartwell

Mansion border in front of the house at Chartwell with the new plants in place

In the autumn of 2019 the Chartwell garden team started restoring the Mansion Border out in front of the house, in order to open up the views across the garden and the Weald of Kent.

After the existing shrubs were cleared at the end of 2019, a significant amount of time was spent preparing the ground for planting. Contractors had to be brought in to help dig and stump grind the roots out, and then the area was rotavated several times to break up the soil.

Pickaxes and mattocks were used to remove any remaining roots, and then several days were spent levelling the area through repeated rotavating, raking, shovelling and mattocking. The soil was quite poor in this border, so the next step was to bring in several trailer loads of Chartwell’s homemade compost which was spread around with shovels and then dug in with the rotavator.

During clearance works an old sandstone retaining wall was discovered which had roots growing through it and was partially collapsed. The Garden Team had to remove the roots by hand and then rebuild the wall to turn it into a feature.

The old shrubs had also been shading out the yew hedge at the back of the border and created several dead patches, so many of the Chartwell staff and volunteers were rallied up to help in cutting out the dead wood and planting new yews to fill in the gaps.

Finally, the border got a slight reshape by turfing part of it so that the edge lined up with the hedge around the Croquet lawn.

New plants waiting to go into Mansion border
Plants all lined up on top of the soil of Mansion border, waiting to be planted
New plants waiting to go into Mansion border

Planting

The new plants that have now gone into the border are mostly shrubby with a herbaceous layer to fill in the gaps between the young plants. They have all been chosen to fit in with the pastel colour scheme found in the rest of the garden, but plants which flower at all times of year were also selected to significantly improve seasonal interest.

Most importantly of all, the shrubs are nearly all small in order to keep the view open even as the planting matures.

Here is a selection of some of the team’s favourite plants from the new border design:

  • Cornus kousa: An elegant shrub whose flowers feature beautiful large pink or white bracts in spring and have brilliant reddish purple autumn leaf colour. The Mansion Border has three cultivars: ‘Satomi’, ‘Blue Shadow’ and ‘Girard’s Nana’. 
  • Hydrangea serrata: Small lacecap hydrangeas, the cultivars chosen for the Mansion Border include ‘Tiara’, ‘Diadem’, ‘Shojo’, ‘Sekka’ and ‘Kurenai’. Their flowers are varying shades of blue, purple and red and they all have good reddish autumn leaf colour as well.
  • Viburnum cassinoides: A less-common viburnum with good year-round interest. The leaves are bronze-coloured when they emerge in spring, flowers are white in late spring, and in autumn the leaves turn orange-red while the fruit turn various shades of red, blue and black. 
  • Rhododendron ‘Sappho’: A classic rhododendron with white and purple flowers which was widely planted at Chartwell by the Churchills. No new shrub border would be complete without it. 
  • Corydalis elata: A woodland perennial which has bright blue flowers all summer long. Although shade-loving we have tried it at the front of the new border where the new shrubs should give it some protection.

Planting the border took about three days: one day to lay out the shrubs, one day to plant the shrubs, and one day to lay out and plant the perennials.

The final step will be to mulch around the new plants with composted green waste and then it will be up to the plants to bed in and grow, with a bit of care in the form of weeding and watering from the gardeners.

Wildlife

Many of the plants in the new border and across the gardens of Chartwell have been selected to also bring benefits to the wildlife that lives locally. This is no less true for the Mansion border which has several plants which are particularly good for everything from moss to mice.

In the spring time, keep an eye out for the small but beautiful cherry blossom or Prunus incisa ‘Kojo-no-mai’ which is highly attractive to both wild bees and those from the hives our beekeepers look after. It’s one of the first blooms bees will look to after waking from winter hibernation.

During summer, you’ll be able to find different types of geraniums including 'Rozanne' and 'Mrs. Kendall Clark' all along the border, helping support the bees as the blossom falls away. Butterflies can also be spotted fluttering around these colourful flowers.

For autumn, see if you can spot the wonderfully named Ceratostigma plumbaginoides – these are small blue flowers with contrasting red stems that bloom in autumn as further support to our beehives.

There are also two trees, both kept from the old planting scheme, which support a wide range of wildlife and nature:

The common lime tree (Tilia x europaea) is attractive to moth caterpillars, aphids and their predators such as hoverflies and ladybirds. Bees, many types of birds and other insects also benefit from this one tree.

We also have a copper beach (Fagus sylvatica Atropurpurea Group), which helps to support some larger mammals living in the surrounding garden and countryside such as mice, voles, squirrels and all sorts of local birds. Moving down the food chain, you might also find caterpillars as well as different types of mosses & lichens.

Daffodils growing in the gardens at Chartwell, a National Trust property in Kent

The Gardens 

To support government guidance on social distancing we have now taken the decision to close our gardens as well as the rest of the site, including carpark and toilets.