The garden at Smallhythe Place
The safety and wellbeing of our visitors, volunteers and staff is our priority. From Thursday 19th March, the Museum, Barn Theatre, Tea-room and gardens at Smallhythe Place are closed for an indefinite period of time.
The garden is alive with colour this spring. Walk through the orchard amongst a sea of daffodils and fritillaries putting on a bright display of yellow and purple which stretch down through the gardens. Pockets of bluebells burst up through fresh shrubbery and new spring bulbs surround the pond, its mirrored surface reflecting their floral vibrance.
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, 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.
We place great value on nature and do all we can to encourage wildlife. Our Orchard plays a key role in this. We try to manage the Orchard in as traditional way as possible, avoiding chemicals, and only cutting the meadows beneath once a year.
We believe the Orchard itself was first planted by James Carew, Ellen Terry's third husband, but very little is known about what varieties might have been grown at this time.
The Orchard here includes over 30 different varieties of apples, as well as pears, crab apples and plums.
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.
Last 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. We were able to watch their progress on the newly installed wildlife camera overlooking their nest. We have our fingers crossed they will return again when the weather warms a little.
Updating the garden
Over the last few years there have been lots of exciting updates in the garden at Smallhythe Place. One 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.
The gardeners also 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.
Last winter, the garden remained a hive of activity during the closed season as preparation for the spring and the re-opening our doors to visitors kept the gardening team endlessly busy. They spent many frosty mornings in the Rose Garden, enriching the soil and replanting the bulbs, ensuring a healthy environment in which they can thrive. 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.
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 and pond management continues to take place. With floating water lilies, skating water boatmen and the distinctive croaks of our resident Hungarian bullfrogs, the pond is once again abundant with activity.