Taking a fresh look at Smallhythe Place

This weeks blog comes from Smallhythe Place, a National Trust property that’s located very near to Sissinghurst Garden. One of our gardeners, Jon, works in both gardens during the week. He’s written a piece for us about his work at Smallhythe and in particular, what he’s achieved since starting work there. It’s quite a list!

Hi, my name is Jon and I took over the gardening at Smallhythe Place in late July 2014, with the main task of rejuvenating the Rose Garden and getting the garden maintenance back on track. A hard task I hear you say, as I currently only work there two days a week and there is plenty to do. Well, this is how I have got on…

In my short time at Smallhythe I have so far managed to…

  • Get the garden maintenance back on track
  • Re-design the Rose Garden
  • Remove dangerous trees
  • Pollard two willow trees in order to open up the views
  • Renovate the nuttery
  • Train the volunteer team and work with them

The garden maintenance was the main focus from the start, as the garden had been neglected over the past season. Once the general maintenance of weeding and mowing was back on track, the next task was to cut the meadow grass which had not been cut last year. As you can imagine, it was a matted mess and let’s just say, the ride on mower was not up to the job! Next year it will be a reciprocating scythe which will save time and be much more cost effective. Most of the hedges had grown out of control and were no longer at a manageable level so they have been reduced or laid, opening up some interesting views. For example, you can now see Ellen Terry’s house from outside the property and more views of the Kentish landscape from the top orchard.

I have created a design/planting plan for the Rose Garden which should be cleared and ready for planting early this year.  I have done the plan in a cottage garden style whilst leaving in situ all of the roses. The Rose Garden will have a great aroma from the roses and some of the under planting, whilst attracting an array of wildlife. The colour scheme is very varied from contrasting colours of purple (Salvia x superba) and yellow (Achemilla mollis) that stand out against each other, to complimentary colours of Penstemon ‘Apple blossom’ and Hemerocallis ‘Stoke poges’. If anyone has any other suggestions of good cottage garden combinations, let me know, as it’s always interesting to hear other people’s ideas.

The dead trees are removed

The dead trees are removed

In the bed next to the Rose Garden there were four large trees; three of which were dead, and a mass of nettles crowding out everything in their path. The trees are now gone and the bed is clear with the plants being saved and kept in a temporary nursery bed until the nettle problem is dealt with. Once the nettles are gone, a seed mix will be used as a temporary measure until a planting plan can be made. I haven’t yet fully decided what annual seed mix to use and any suggestions would be welcome.

The stock bed.

The stock bed.

There has been a lot of tree work going on and tree surgeons and the Sissinghurst ranger team, have helped me to get this done. The work has ranged from removing a large dead elm over the pond to pollarding willows and removing unsafe trees. The garden is now a lot safer and some great views across the countryside have opened up.

Rangers in action; pollarding and removing trees

Rangers in action; pollarding and removing trees

The Nuttery has not been maintained for many years and has lost much of its charm and character. It has become very dark and dismal and is in need of a drastic overhaul.  In order to re-establish the nuttery as it was intended to look, I have taken the decision to put it back to how an old Kentish Nuttery should be. I have used the Kentish Cobnut Association pruning advice for guidance.

The Nuttery before any renewal work

The Nuttery before any renewal work


Transformation but still work to do.

Transformation, but still work to do.

All of this work could not have been achieved without a dedicated volunteer team who have trained and learned new skills alongside me, whist having fun along the way. If you think you could help Smallhythe Place with future gardening projects let me know; it would be great to meet you.  You can contact me at: jon.fenlon@nationaltrust.org.uk


5 thoughts on “Taking a fresh look at Smallhythe Place

  1. Jon,
    Planting ideas for the rose garden depends on how ordered you want it, and how much help there is for maintenance. One possibility is to include self-sowers and then remove any excess seedlings. For example foxgloves and campanulas persicifolia and trachelium. I found the latter very useful as it will grow on heavy soils, acid soils, and in heavy shade, despite liking all the opposite conditions as well.


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