We needed to blow away the cobwebs today, so settled on a drive down to one of our favourite spots, the stretch of coastline between Kingsdown and Walmer in Kent. The sun was up, the hood was down and the countryside smelt of damp grass and lilac blossom. It was about as good as a May day gets. Kingsdown is a charming, oft-overlooked little village, tumbling from the fledgling white cliffs to a grey English Channel. Above the tide line, marshalled rows of whitewashed cottages spring directly from the pebble beach.
Immediately on the shoreline, The Zetland Arms is now a rather smart pub. Having felt decidedly run down the last time we set foot inside it has been tastefully done out with bleached wood, ticking-stripe cushions and nautical paraphenalia. If you are not ‘in the know’ Zetland is the old name for the Shetland Isles and the pub’s name probably refers to The Marquess of Zetland.
Together with Him Indoors I enjoyed an enormous homemade burger washed down with Whitstable Bay Pale Ale brewed at Britain’s oldest Brewery, Shepherd Neame. Sitting on benches fashioned from stone-filled gabions the front of the pub is the perfect place to watch the world and his wife go by.
Most plants look their best in May, even wild ones. That’s why May is my favourite month. Through the golden shingle emerged feathery mounds of fennel, stiff, upright tree mallow (Malva arborea) and the conical plumes of valerian (Centranthus ruber) in shades of pink, vermillion and white. Outside their cottages residents had improved upon nature with colourful swathes of osteospermum, the Cape daisy from South Africa.
Strolling towards Walmer, past widely-spaced beach huts, we stumbled upon an imaginatively named boat…
….. smirking we walked onwards to a spot in the shingle where an elderly gentleman was tending a garden of broom, phlomis, mallow, calendulas and teasels. The garden possessed no boundaries and bled seamlessly into the beach.
The shingle banks along this stretch of the shore have been invaded by all sorts of garden plants. I spotted bergenias, red-hot pokers, yuccas, Spanish bluebells and rosy garlic (Allium roseum) making themselves at home. Looking at the scene below, featuring windswept holm oaks, yuccas, alexanders, fennel and Spanish bluebells, one could almost imagine oneself in the Mediterranean. In fact, apart from the yucca, that’s where all of these plants originally come from. Like Broadstairs, this part of the Kent coast is dry, sunkissed and rarely suffers from frost.
As I did between Polperro and Talland Bay in April, I collected a small bunch of blooms to enjoy at home. They are, clockwise from top left, valerian (Centranthus ruber); ox-eye daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare); honeysuckle (Lonicera periclymenum) – an especially rich red form which may be ‘Serotina’; rosy garlic (Allium roseum); kidney vetch (Anthyllis vulneraria); valerian (Centranthus ruber); alexanders (Smyrnium olusatrum); tree mallow (Malva arborea); meadow buttercup (Ranunculus acris) and hoary cress (Lepidium draba).
Much of the shoreline and clifftop between Kingsdown and Dover is designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest, so I took care to pluck my flowers from the path side and not to trample the undergrowth. Any plant that survives here in salt laden gales, exposed to the sun, has to be pretty tough. But, as we can see from the foreign species that have integrated themselves, the balance is a fine one.
The combination of real ale, vitamin D and sea air did the trick, and I write this from the garden table feeling full of vim and vigour. It’s time to return the dahlias to their night time shelter as I prepare them for planting out, so I will leave you with a picture of the beautiful tree mallow, Malva arborea. Have a wonderful weekend and happy gardening.