Reinstating the view at Scotney Castle

The view from the Bastion down towards the Old Castle has always been a key component of the picturesque view, something that Edward Hussey considered carefully when deciding where to position the mansion house. As the Rhododendrons and Kalmias grew over the years, the view was slowly being obscured. In 2018, we were fortunate to receive funding to reinstate the view and a 3 year project was established.

Apart from the view being obscured from the Bastion, the moat could no longer be seen and parts of the rocky outcrop of the quarry were covered in vegetation, smothering some of the historic plant collection. We also knew that originally there used to be grass paths that ran through the middle of the Rhododendron beds. These had got completely lost amongst the bushes and the grass had disappeared as vegetation took over. Historic pictures gave us an idea of how it used to look and original plans and notes gave us indicators of Edward Hussey's vision when he set out the garden.

Scotney Castle in the early 20th century
Scotney Castle in the early 20th century
Scotney Castle in the early 20th century

Formulating a plan

With the usual daily work to do around the garden, we knew we needed to call in external contractors to help with the cutting back. We would have struggled to complete the work otherwise. Once the bulk of the overgrowth was cleared, we planned to complete the tidying up and new planting with the help of our volunteers. We wanted to add more Kalmias, a plant that the garden was famous for in the past, and with more suitable lower growing Rhododendrons to ensure that the views wouldn't get obscured in the future.

 

Kalmia flowering in the garden at Scotney Castle
Scotney Castle Kalmia
Kalmia flowering in the garden at Scotney Castle

Before the clearance work started, the area was surveyed by the garden team responsible for cataloguing the plant collection within the garden. The team identified the significant plants and marked them so that when the clearance work started they would be safe from being damaged. These significant Rhododendrons, Azaleas and Kalmias will then be propagated using the skills of the Scotney Garden team and grown on in the nursery. Eventually these new plants will be planted in other areas of the garden. 

Maintaining some spring interest

Whilst the work was in urgent need of completing, it was important to us to leave some spring interest for visitors to enjoy whilst the project was taking place. Spring at Scotney Castle is always a lovely season and the view down to the Old Castle from the Bastion is one of the iconic views in the garden.

To achieve this, it was decided to complete the work over 3 years. That way, as some areas were cut back hard, others were recovering and some flowering throughout the project. Rhododendrons respond well to cutting back hard, so we were confident the work would pay off in a few years time.

Rhododendrons, azaleas, roses and wisteria make this one of our most romantic gardens
The moated Scotney Castle in the Kent mist
Rhododendrons, azaleas, roses and wisteria make this one of our most romantic gardens


Starting the work in 2018

The first decision to be made was which area we were going to start clearing first. We felt that if we started with pruning the central areas, the outer Rhododendron and Kalmia shrubs would screen where we were cutting back. This would soften the impact of the project on the main view down to the Old Castle. This seemed to work well and by spreading the work it made the project a more manageable task. Also by leaving large clumps of Rhododendrons until the following two years we could ensure that there would still be flowers present during the spring months.

 

Carrying on the work in 2019

With further cutting back completed at the beginning of the year, we also started to plant more suitable varieties of Kalmias and reinstating the grass path that once used to run through the middle of the bed in the summer months. Historic records told us the Kalmias were a big feature of the garden at Scotney, something we wanted to put back.

Laying the turf caused us a few headaches. Just as we put it down, we entered a very hot, dry spell that meant keeping it watered was crucial so it could bed in properly. It was also a good milestone to reach in the project, as we could finally see the vision coming together.

The reinstated grass path through the rhododendron bed at Scotney Castle
Scotney Castle rhododendron project grass path
The reinstated grass path through the rhododendron bed at Scotney Castle

Completing the work in 2020

During the early months of the year, the gardening team tackled the large clump of Kalmias that were on the right of the steps bed path. They were cut back very hard, almost back to ground level, but we know that these plants will grow back within two to three years, and will then be managed by keeping them cut back to a manageable height.

The beds will have rabbit proof fencing installed around them and then planted with shrubs and plants such as heathers, more Kalmias and potentilla.  The beds have also been mulched with composted bark, ideal for supressing the weeds and adding nutrients back into the soil.

Moving forward

So next time you visit, pause on the Bastion at the top pof the garden to see the difference the work has made to the view. Then take a walk through the Rhododendron beds on the grass paths for a different way to arrive at the Old Castle. Each time you visit, you're bound to notice the new growth and regeneration in this area.