The garden at Smallhythe Place
Throughout the winter and our closed months, the garden at Smallhythe Place remains a hive of activity. Preparation for the coming spring and the re-opening of our doors keeps our gardening team and volunteers endlessly busy. From restoration and raking to pruning and planting, their work during the winter ensures Ellen Terry’s garden is looking at its best all year round.
The garden at Smallhythe Place is a tranquil retreat made up of a traditional rose garden, orchard, nuttery and ponds, all of which are home to an abundance of wildlife including the protected Great Crested Newt.
Ellen Terry was very fond of her roses, which has led to the growth of over 50 different breeds of England's signature flower, including the Ellen Terry Rose. The rose garden puts on a colourful show for visitors throughout late spring and the summer months, with many varieties still in bloom until the end of our open season. This area sits next to the old wildflower bed, which was sown to capture Ellen's humble yet "wild nature" - E.V.Lucas.
Over the winter in 2017, the gardeners stripped this area back to encourage fresh growth and new colour that will develop throughout the season. This will enhance the diversity of the wildflower bed and will help to meet our objectives to increase the diversity of flora and improve the habitat for wildlife, work that recently won us the Silver Gilt award from the Kent Wildlife Trust.
Elsewhere in the garden certain trees and hedgerows come into fruition towards the end of the summer, their green leaves revealing pockets of deep reds, rosy pinks and browns, laden with a variety of cherries, apples and Kentish and Filberts cobnuts.
There is a real party of wildlife at Smallhythe Place throughout the different seasons. Even in the late autumnal sun, there is still a profusion of birds, bees, lizards and newts here enjoying the cooler days. During the summer months, the brightly colored Buddleia against the wall of the Barn Theatre's Green Room attracts an array of butterflies with their sweet smelling nectar. Visitors can walk through the garden with a spot sheet and look for them, follow the hum of the bees to find our beehives or hunt for hegehogs and insects in our hedgehog houses and bug hotels.
In April, our resident Tea-room swallows returned from their winter's migration and settled back into their nest in the rafters. They were quickly joined by four more, as their eggs hatched at the end of May. Their numbers grew once again with a second brood of 5 hatching at the beginning of July. You can watch their progress on our newly installed wildlife camera.
Updating the garden
2015/16 was an exciting time for the garden at Smallhythe Place. The first project was the extensive pruning of the nuttery to restore it to resemble a traditional nut plat.This was a big undertaking, as the nuttery had reached 30ft high so the cobnuts were being pinched by squirrels before they could be properly harvested. Now they are at the perfect height for picking. It will take a number of years to achieve the right shape and structure, but with better exposure to sunlight they now have greater opportunity to grow.
The rose garden has also been transformed. The under-planting throughout the garden was renewed with a mix of herbaceous perennials and bulbs, and a native mix hedge was added running down the right side edged with dianthus.
The newly rebuilt 170ft rose pergola recreates the look and feel of the garden as it was in Ellen Terry’s day, when it was adorned with climbing roses. Here we have planted 54 roses which are slowly climbing their way up the wooden structure.
Earlier this year, our gardeners reinstated the croquet lawn on the old tennis court at the top of the garden. Now, just like Ellen Terry and Edy Craig used to enjoy, our visitors can grab a mallet and ball and play a game with friends and family on their visit here.
From our hedgehog houses and new bug hotels, to our log piles and rockeries, we have made a number of different habitats in the garden. These are helping to diversify and increase our resident wildlife at Smallhythe Place.
Finally, our pond wildlife is developing nicely after its reinstatement at the beginning of 2017. With floating water lilies, skating water boatmen and the distinctive croaks of our resident Hungarian bullfrogs, the pond is once again abundant with activity.