Creating a landscaped garden that appears to bleed into the wider countryside was a trend in English garden design that had been around for over a century when Edward Hussey began transforming the Scotney Castle estate in the 1830s.
But, the neat edges and long, grassy vistas so typical of the English Landscape Movement of the 18th century did not satisfy Hussey. He wanted something wilder. He envisaged a more naturalistic landscape where climbers creep over old stone walls, and the eye is lead, not through open parkland, but across layers of colourful shrubs and trees to a focal point. In Scotney’s case, a ruined medieval castle. The result is one of the finest examples of a Picturesque landscape ever created, and one of the most romantic gardens in England.
“The garden must feel like it hasn’t been touched by human hands; that, as if by nature alone, this landscape has been created,” says Joe Lloyd, a manager on the estate.
Of course, the paradox is that a huge amount of work is involved in creating and maintaining the untamed look. This is best appreciated from the terrace in front of the mock Elizabethan ‘new house’ built by Hussey at the top of the hill. From there, the visitor gains a plunging view to the quarry gardens, and beyond to the moated castle that rises from a profusion of pink, yellow and orange azaleas and rhododendrons.
This vista made a desirable backdrop for portraits, including one of Edward Hussey’s daughter-in-law, which hangs on the staircase. She is pictured in a sunhat and flowing cream and charcoal dress, which has all the romance of a John Singer Sargent painting. Today, visitors line up outside to have their photo taken in the same spot.
Something from a fairytale
It doesn’t take long to cover the grounds of Scotney, but this is a garden for lingering in and exploring. And where is the most romantic spot in England’s most romantic garden? “On the far side of the moat early in the morning when the mist rises from the water and you can see the new house poking through the trees like something from a fairytale,” offers Joe.
For me, sitting by the gabled boathouse in dappled sunlight was just as dreamy, but I think the magnificent white wisteria framing a Juliette balcony on the side of a ruin has to be the most romantic setting of all.
HOW TO GET THERE
Ten miles south-east of Tunbridge Wells. Signposted from the A21 at Lamberhurst.
FIND OUT MORE
Lamberhurst, Tunbridge Wells, Kent TN3 8JN
Open 11am-5pm, Wed-Sun, 23 Feb-30 Oct. Admission: adult £9, child £5.50. Disabled access is limited as there are steep slopes in the grounds.
The Globe & Rainbow
Kilndown TN17 2SG
A top pub that you can reach by footpath from Scotney Castle. Head south then east through parkland to Kilndown.
The Chequers Inn
Lamberhurst TN3 8DB
A 12th-century guesthouse that was a popular haunt of Jane Austen, say the proprietors.
This pinetum has the most complete collection of conifers in the world.