22 APR 2019: Secreted away in the Weald of Kent, just beyond the picturesque white weather-boarded village of Rolvenden, lies Hole Park Gardens, a magnificent country estate, one of the best in Kent, the Garden of England.

Four generations of the Barham family have created a wonderful 16-acre garden within a magical 200-acre parkland setting. It reflects the care and long-term planning of Colonel Arthur Barham who, back in the 1920s, skilfully did the planning and landscaping. The Barham’s have kept the garden’s formal design, effortlessly combining it with naturalised woodlands which are heavy with Rhododendrons and Azaleas, providing colour throughout all four seasons.

Immaculately trimmed hedges and yew topiary surrounds much of the formal grounds, and in the background, old mossy walls embrace the gardens. Here rich, amber-coloured (wheelchair friendly) gravel paths are lined by overflowing herbaceous teal and sky-blue borders, shocks of dazzling tulips, and astonishing bolts of colour like hot-mustard daffodils and paprika-hued exotic blooms, which are interspersed with ancient specimen trees.

Aged brick walls and graceful wrought iron gates lead from finely clipped lawns to breath-taking displays in the scented rose gardens. The summer crowd pleasers are the late flowering Hole Park Blue Agapanthus and brightly coloured herbaceous and tropical borders.

Water plays a big part too, from the formal fountain pond at the front of the house to several other natural ponds.

Hole Park and bluebells are synonymous; in fact, the woodlands at Hole Park are considered England’s best bluebell landscape – during April and May it’s a breath-taking carpet of azure blue. A circular woodland walk takes you through the heart of it all, with well-placed seats for soaking up the sights and smells as the carpet of bluebells merges with wild garlic. This is where spring blossoms and catkins crown the native tree species, giving the illusion that they’re all floating on a hazy violet-blue blanket.

There’s a semi-circular vineyard hung heavy with velvety amethyst and mauve wisterias, lush flamingo-pink hydrangeas and in May, copious bunches of snow-white clematis vines snaking up the portico.

Much of Hole Park’s beauty is owed to the great variety on show throughout the year - from the first spring blooms, to the last autumn colours in October, and the ever-beautiful flowering shrubs in the woodlands.

Moving away from the formal gardens, down a gradual hill, you step into parallel universe where a meandering stream feeds a bog garden and where grass and bark paths twist through woodland dells.

The naturalized flowering meadows with their fritillaries and buttercups are equally a sight to behold. Here masses of azaleas and rhododendrons add vibrant colours, as do the meadow’s wild orchids alongside the spires of deep blue and purple camassia.

Not to be missed is the sundial garden, which provides a view over the Wealden countryside through an oval window shaped in the topiary hedge.

Hole Park is cherished by gardeners. It’s a sensory delight, with colours from Spring through till late Autumn. There are plenty of treasures to be found within its walls and hedges, which are punctuated with focal points, statues and elaborate planted urns.

• One of the most eye-catching features is a striking bronze statue known as The Eagle Slayer, sculpted in 1851 by the popular Victorian artist John Bell. It portrays a shepherd boy shooting an arrow at an eagle that has killed a lamb in his care, which lies at his feet.

• Near the house is a formal Millennium Garden with an herbaceous border. It’s centred around a pool where Great Crested Newts reside.

The house, which is a private family residence, and therefore not open to the public, was largely reconstructed in 1959 and is now little more than a quarter of its previous size. It resembles the house as it used to be, before its 1830 Elizabethan-style additions were added on.

• Look for the Sundial Garden, featuring an 18th-century sundial as its centre piece. It stands beside a mosaic in the shape of a bear, the symbol of the Barham family.

• Near the Sundial Garden is another walled garden. This one is entered through ornate memorial gates erected in memory of Captain Wilfrid Barham, who died during the Great War at Ypres in 1915, aged just 20. Above the gate is the dragon badge of The Buffs, the East Kent Regiment - Captain Barham's regiment.

• Outside the walled garden is The Policy, a wide meadow rich in wildflowers, daffodils, and flowering shrubs, supplemented by colourful azaleas and rhododendrons.

• A joy to children is discovery of The Climbing Bears deep in the woodland gardens. An old oak tree, that had to be felled, is carved to show a mother bear and her two cubs, climbing towards a bee’s nest and the promise of honey.

• In the parkland is a circle of Scots pine, one for each decade of the century that the Barham family have resided at Hole Park.

• In the woodlands below the house is an historic ice house, built around 1740. Ice from nearby ponds, such as Egg Pond on the hill above, was stored here, and layered with straw for insulation. Properly packed ice could last up to a year and would be taken as needed to the house for cooling drinks or making confections. The Grade II listed ice house remained in use until the middle of the 19th-century when commercial ice delivery was available.

There’s no time limit to your entrance ticket, so you can spend the day taking it all in. Partake in a delicious light lunch in the Coach House where apple juice, local beer and homemade jam and honey produced from the fruit and bees on the Hole Park Estate are available to purchase. There’s also a dedicated tea room serving scrumptious homemade cakes and, should the urge arise, there’s a plant stall for browsing.

Be sure to check out their list of scheduled activities www.holepark.com.  

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Cindy-Lou Dale

Cindy-Lou Dale is a professional editor, writer and photographer, specializing in high-end travel, luxury motoring and affluent lifestyles. She also writes compellingly of current affairs, African politics and introduces her readers to new-age philanthropy.

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