Hidden gem revealed in gardens with Kevock Garden Plants’ help

November 03 2021 | Garden

Hever Castle gardeners have breathed new life into a forgotten woodland garden that has laid hidden for decades with help from Kevock Garden Plants.

Church Gill, to the south west of the Estate, and at the furthest end of Sunday Walk, is an area that fell into obscurity in the mid 20th century as the briar and woodland covered this once much-loved shady garden.

The winding stream and pathway would once have taken former owners, the Astor family to Hever’s Church for worship every Sunday.

Just over seven years ago the gardening team were clearing the laurel and bracken at the top of Sunday Walk and as they cleared material from the pathway they uncovered first a flat stone and then what appeared to be an old pathway. Intrigued, the team continued to excavate this area of the garden and they came across steps that descended towards a stream.

Neil Miller, Head Gardener says: “When we uncovered the pathway proper, we knew that there was something here of note. We started clearing the bamboo and sycamore over the following two years. Then the question was – what do we do next?”

The answer to this question came courtesy of Hever Castle Estate’s owners after a visit to RHS Chelsea Flower Show three years ago. The owners and Hever Castle & Gardens CEO Duncan Leslie were struck by the shade-loving plants in the woodland and alpine garden created by Kevock Garden Plants from Edinburgh.

Duncan was keen to invest in this forgotten area of the garden and Graham Gunn and Monica Wylie of Kevock Garden Plants were tasked with creating a redesign of the area. Formulating a 5 year plan, Monica and Graham needed to find a way to invite the visitor to revel in the beauty of the stream side, while simultaneously revitalising the existing area.

Monica says: “Firstly we wanted to find a way to honour the beauty of the existing mature elements in the woodland; the majesty of the ancient oaks, the drama of the topography with its gentle undulations, the dappled light afforded by the existing trees, the long vistas that connect the woodland to the surrounding estate and the sound and pattern of the glistening stream that runs through the gully.”

As specialist growers of thousands of species of woodland and alpine plants, Graham and Monica let their creativity flow and the plants talk for them introducing pockets of playful planting such as the Meconopsis and Primula meadow, while other areas of calmer sweeping planting help bring the stream and views into greater focus. Scent has also been an important element and Graham and Monica hope that it will encourage visitors to linger, perhaps on a bridge or perch on a bench.

There are areas that peak in the different open seasons and areas where the tempo will feel, according to Graham Gunn “invigorating” while other areas of rock garden will require “gentle inspection” from the interested garden visitor.

Monica adds “As designers and plant growers we also wanted to share some of the wonderful plants that hail from the Himalayas, North America and all over the world, as well as the British Isles, which will thrive in this enchanting spot on the edge of the Hever Estate.”

It is thought that the woodland garden was originally designed by Astor as part of his transformation of the Estate between 1904-1908. He would have ordered the rocks and diverted and created the stream that runs through this area of the garden and originates from a spring several miles up the road.

The variety of the growing environments within this woodland area at Hever have allowed the team to showcase a wide range of plants that require very different growing conditions.

Duncan says of the innovative project: “It’s been wonderful to have Graham and Monica’s expertise and to watch their 5 year plan unfold. As per their brief, in time, once we complete all the borders and the plants begin to find their own rhythm, it will be a place of beauty where you will find your own favourite spots, be it by the glistening stream bedecked with jewels or up on the high path taking in the long view, your eye enriched by texture and interest, dappled light and a sense of magic below.”

Neil adds: “When we first discovered this area, there was nothing of note in this part of the garden – the soil was covered with wild garlic, so that was dug over multiple times and we put in tons of new compost and prepared the soil.

“It’s been a privilege to oversee the return of this important part of the garden.”

Neil led a team of 11 full time gardeners on the Estate, including RHS students, in the planting of the woodland garden, and it is hoped that the garden will have a formal launch next year. Visitors can explore the area from Thursday 4th November.