Virginia Oakes writes about an afternoon members spent at The Salutation Gardens in August 2018.
A long-standing member of Kent Group used to say, when asked a question to which she couldn’t remember the answer, “I have known that”. Our host at The Salutation Gardens, head gardener Steve Edney, used a variation on this theme when asked a question to which he had no answer: “I haven’t committed that to memory yet”. Admittedly, this was when asked about a plant that was new to him and only recently introduced to the garden, but I think it’s a response that might come in very handy for many of us.
However, Steve didn’t need it very often as he took us around the garden, identifying the plants and explaining why he was using them and how to look after them, with an enthusiasm and passion that made it a real pleasure to be part of the tour. He started by giving us a short history of the house and gardens, standing in front of a glorious border of Cosmos sulphureus, in shades of orange and yellow, combined with dark-leaved dahlias and cannas in similar colours. Red bananas added a darker element to set the whole thing off. Then, before we’d gone but a few steps, there was a delightful willow, which was unfamiliar to all of us but quickly added to our wants list. It was Salix rosmarinifolia with long, slender, pale green leaves and it was cleverly under-planted with a grey-leaved hebe. This was a feature that we saw throughout the garden, using a variety of low-growing plants to cover the soil and make an attractive edge to the beds. And so it went on, with unusual plants at every turn and Steve happy to pass on his vast knowledge and, on occasion, to disappear among the undergrowth in search of a label with a name that he hadn’t yet committed to memory. There were bamboos, salvias, grasses, plectranthus, quinoa, fuchsias, dahlias – including the giant Dahlia imperialis – and many, many more. It’s a real plantsman’s garden.
Although there are many nooks and crannies to explore along the way, the garden flows very well from one area to another. We went from the Tropical Garden and Jungle along the Long Border and, after a detour to see the nursery and be introduced to the idea of ‘Summer Hedges’, one of quinoa and another of sorgum, we arrived at the Main Perennial Borders with views back to the house. Despite the dry summer the display was quite impressive with kniphofias, rudbeckias, eryngiums, artichokes and echinops, to name just a few – plenty to keep us all chatting for ages. Past the Holm Oak Walk, where the beautiful green pillars were awaiting their annual cut in October, we stopped at The Meadow. This is not much to look at in August but Steve explained how wonderful it is in the spring and made us all determined to return to see it for ourselves. A shady path then took us to the Bowling Lawn, which, as its name suggests, has a wide area of grass leading to the side of the house. Wide borders on either side are backed by hedges and planted with trees, shrubs, grasses and perennials. At the time of our visit the main colour, apart from green, was red in various shades: sedums, dahlias, eucomis, antirrhinums and a red-leaved acer, among many others.
As you might imagine, with so much to talk about, time went very quickly and some of the group were surprised when they realised that their parking tickets were about to run out and that they would have to leave. Steve was happy to carry on and we went to what was I think my favourite, the Black and White Garden. Here another wide selection of plants is grown in box-edged beds arranged around a central sitting area. Although many of the plants were past their best it still had a lovely atmosphere and I could well imagine sitting amid that very restricted palette. The Yellow Garden was our last port of call and from here we had to drag ourselves away, making a promise to return to this lovely garden perhaps at different times of the year to see what other treasures it has to offer.