The chance to view the extraordinary collection of rhododendrons and azaleas built up by the Hardy family at Sandling Park in Kent is one of the highlights of my May. I adore these acid loving shrubs, especially as I have neither the space nor the soil conditions to cultivate them. At Sandling, sheltered in a shallow valley deep with peat, they find the perfect environment and are grown to perfection. Deciduous azaleas, with their fiery flowers and heavenly scent, are a speciality, although a cold April could mean they are a little late coming into bloom this season. Never mind, the range of cultivars grown at Sandling ensures there is something beautiful to see whatever the weather throws at it. It’s the lavender blues that always get me, so dazzling, plentiful and ridiculously romantic.
A garden needs a lot of space to accommodate so many potentially clashing colours. A walk around Sandling’s 25 acre garden will take about 2 hours if you dawdle and stop to take photographs like I do. If the weather is fine you will want to take a moment to find a bench and drink in the sights and sounds. Wear stout footwear as the valley sides are drained by hundreds of springs and tiny rivulets, each fringed with candelabra primulas and erythroniums. The ground can get boggy underfoot towards the bottom of the garden.
Sandling Park is a garden worth going out of the way for and is open just once every year. In 2015 it’s Sunday May 11th from 10am until 5pm. You need not go hungry as there are lovely teas available and plants to buy too. All proceeds go to our marvellous local Kent charity Pilgrims Hospices, so you can indulge yourself in flowers, ferns and fondant fancies without feeling the slightest twinge of guilt.
Click here for directions and further details on the Pilgrims Hospices website.