A report by Paul Verrall on our garden visit in September to Chapel House in Ramsgate.
What a treat was in store for those who visited Chapel House, the last of our 2019 Kent Group garden visits, and what a way to end.
Chapel House is on the southern edge of the Isle of Thanet and enjoys the benefit of the maritime climate with very few severe frosts over the winter. The main house, originally a chapel, dates from 1290 and was converted into a house in the mid-19th century. It has been owned by Andrew Montgomery for the last 30 years, but soon he is due to move away, so this is probably the last autumn that he will be here. Many of us were unsure whether we could leave such a perfect garden if we were in his shoes.
Andrew has a flair for design, and his choice of plants and careful nurturing provided us with a superb visit. Gathering on the drive in front of the house, we enjoyed the open aspect, with a large circular pond full of flowering waterlilies. The flower border here had a good mixture of plants and shrubs: Persicaria orientalis, Rosa rubrifolia and Sambucus nigra laciniata, though this was no indicator of the beautiful garden that lies to the east side. Andrew said that there had been no garden prior to his taking it on. As a working farm, the area to the south had been rubble from demolished buildings and, to the east, a layer of rammed chalk had been a livestock yard. He imported soil from Ashford to get some depth and obviously he has worked on improving the soil ever since. He did admit that he does water frequently and that the hedges and existing farmyard walls give him a real benefit by sheltering the garden from any major winds. The plant health and vigour showed how well they responded to his care. Tithonia for instance was almost 2 metres high in one border and many members remarked on how well plants had fared here compared to their own gardens.
To the south the garden is shaded by a mature sycamore and has a hedge and brick wall perimeter; two large Chusan palms mark the path into it, while an ornate sundial in the centre draws you in. Aster, euphorbia, Geranium ‘Ann Folkard’, hellebores and fuchsia combine with odd unusuals – Senecio ‘Angel Wings’ caught the eye of several members in the sunny border by the house. I spotted plants of Rubus lineatus, though Andrew said ideally it needed a more moist soil and requires regular watering here but, with such attractive leaves, I can see why he likes it. Leading off one corner is the vegetable garden, also home to a conservatory with an exquisite flowering ginger whose perfume was unbelievable; tibouchina and other potted specimens were enjoying this shaded house.
The one plant that Andrew did point out with pride was a young Hydrangea aspera he had just obtained from Maurice Foster; still unnamed, it is not yet available to the public. On the wall in this secluded area with lovely flint and brick walls was Dendromecon rigida, which is awash with yellow flowers in the early summer.
In my opinion the best area is to the east of the house – a formal walled garden with a framework of large yew cones on a cross path, and an orchard meadow on the further side of the wall. To the north, two stone obelisk pillars frame the path to the formal pond, which is backed by a shrub border; on the left a small path leads to a shady brick-paved garden on the north side of the house with box, ferns and fatsia softening the hard landscape and framing a central water tank feature. The planting in the main walled garden was a delight and the colours well-balanced – members remarked on Dahlia ‘Waltzing Mathilda’ and D. ’Purple Flame’, and Canna ‘Annei’ towered in bloom at the back with the huge tithonia.
Among other eye-catching plants were Miscanthus nepalensis, with lovely golden tassel seed heads; Crocosmia ‘Zambesi’ (a real stunner); a super plant of Dahlia ‘Sarah Raven’ … and the list just went on.
Hats off to Andrew for providing us with such a delightful end to the HPS garden visits this year and also to the HPS for finding this hidden gem, especially as Andrew is now moving on. If you missed this you missed a real treat!