It was possibly a little too early to go out snowdrop spotting. In another year it might almost have been too late, but January and February have been cold and the flowers have responded accordingly. We arrived at Goodnestone Park just before midday and found the carpark already half full. A handful of hardy-looking types huddled near the garden gate, their scarves held aloft by a stiff easterly breeze. Even this far inland, the wind off the English Channel has a ferocious bite. As we flung open the car doors we caught a lung full of country air, laced with a heady cocktail of ozone and cow pat. No hint of the sensual perfumes held within the garden’s sheltered confines here.
Since lady Fitzwalter passed away in autumn 2015 the house and gardens at Goodnestone have undergone serious renovations. The Palladian Mansion has had a facelift and its interior has been tastefully decorated in manner befitting the paying guests that will now occupy its airy rooms. It is heartening to see Goodnestone’s magnificent sandstone portico gleaming in the low winter light, and freshly painted shutters at the windows. Occupation of the house may now restrict access to parts of the garden. This is a pity, but the grand old building must pay its way.
In the grounds, the focus seems to be on major structural work such as clearing woodland boundaries, removing low, decaying branches and pulling overgrown vegetation away from the ancient garden walls. It’s not glamorous stuff, but almost certainly necessary. One hopes that the flair and finesse Lady Fitzwalter brought to Goodnestone will prevail again, once the garden’s fragile infrastructure is secured. In front of the house, mirroring clumps of Betula utilis ‘Snow Queen’ have been planted at either end of the lower terrace, linked by an avenue of yews. These should be striking additions to the garden when they become established.
Peering through the windows of the enviable greenhouse, one could see young pelargoniums, helichrysums and marguerites potted up in readiness for May, when they will be set free into sheltered confines of the walled garden for visitors to enjoy. A poly tunnel was already planted out with various salad leaves, suggesting it’s very much business as usual in Goodnestone’s gardening department.
Back outside, the woodland garden provided shelter from the chill wind. It had snowed in Broadstairs, but nothing had settled. At Goodnestone little patches of thawing snow sheltered in gutters, among rocks and between stacks of logs. The ground was boggy underfoot and we soon had mud halfway up our legs. It was good to be out of our sanitised urban world for a change.
We’d expected to see snowdrops and aconites. These were present and correct, if not tightly braced against the cold weather, but it was the daphnes that stole the show. Their lanky frames were weighted down by a profusion of richly perfumed blossoms, garlanding every branch. It was so chilly that we struggled to catch the scent of sweet box or witch hazel, but not so the daphnes – their intoxicating fragrance carried as clean and clear on the air as a fine soprano. They were so lovely that I kept having to go back for another hearty sniff. (Daphnes will tolerate chalk, the prevailing soil type at Goodnestone, and so ought to do well in our Broadstairs garden too.)
An abundance of mature, winter-flowering shrubs, as well as colourful dogwoods and honey-coloured grasses suggests that Lady Fitzwalter planned her woodland garden as carefully for winter as she did for the spring, summer and autumn. The famous walled gardens are much quieter at this time of year, biding their time until spring comes. Any action here is happening beneath the soil surface.
With cold hands and ruddy faces we returned to the car, passing up the opportunity of tea and cake in order to collect yet another load of logs to keep our trio of woodburners roaring at home. Our first garden visit of 2017 under our belts, Him Indoors exclaimed ‘which one are we going to next then?’. Having established that he hadn’t suffered a stroke or some kind of memory loss, I quickly suggested Sissinghurst and put a date in our diary. Opportunities like that don’t come along very often.
Goodnestone Park’s 2017 open days are as follows:
- March: Sunday 26th: in aid of NGS from 12 – 5
- April – September: Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Bank Holidays from 11 – 5. The tea room is open May – August on garden open days. Open for the NGS on Saturday 27th May from 12 – 5
- October: Sunday 1st – in aid of NGS from 12 – 4
I recommend checking the garden’s website before making a special journey, just in case.
Wishing you a fabulous week ahead. TFG.