diamond geezer

 Sunday, May 01, 2011

bluebells at Emmetts Garden

For May Day, what lovelier sight than an English hillside smothered with bluebells? This is the woodland dell at Emmetts Garden, a National Trust property a few miles south of the M25 atop the Kentish Weald. There's no house to visit, just the six-acre garden, but that's impressive enough. The grounds were laid out in the late 1890s by ardent horticulturist Frederic Lubbock, and contain an unusual variety of plants and shrubs from all around the world. Don't ask me what they all were, I was only good at identification if there was a label, but they delivered a mighty splash of colour. A lot of rhododendrons, I think, and a large rock garden, plus an especially striking lawn of pink, black and red tulips. One particular anonymous white shrub filled my nose with joy, although I have a nasty feeling that same smell once existed on my grandmother's dressing table in liquid form. The rose garden showed no signs of floral action, not yet, but elsewhere it was blossom and petals all the way. I don't think I'd ever seen a handkerchief tree before, its branches dripping elegantly with green leaves and furled white blooms. But it was the bluebells that impressed the most. I thought there were plenty in the south garden, but the display on the wooded slopes below was on a totally different scale. A carpet of densely-packed blue, stretching several hundred yards along the escarpment, all dappled through the trees in the afternoon sunlight. Occasionally there were squashed patches where some overenthusiastic photographer had encroached in search of the perfect photo, but this was still by far the finest display of bluebells I've ever seen. Give it a week or two and they'll all die off, and by June this'll be nothing but a charming but very green hillside. But with some mighty fine roses nearby, and a tearoom, and some other exotic combination of blooms to make you go "ooh, wow". Emmetts Garden, Ide Hill, Sevenoaks. Until October.

tulips at Emmetts Garden

How to get there (1): Drive.
How to get there (2): Make sure it's a Sunday or bank holiday Monday. Get yourself to Bromley North, Bromley South or Hayes station (trains run regularly from central London). Board the 246, which runs hourly and is one of London's most extreme bus services. Stay on right to the end, past Biggin Hill, across the M25 and through Westerham. Get off at Chartwell, which was Winston Churchill's Wealden home (and is also a lovely place to visit). Go to the table in front of the ticket office and pick up a free photocopied leaflet titled "The Weardale Walk", which details the five mile circular walk to Emmetts Garden and back. Head out of the car park and up the footpath over the hill to French Street, which is a pretty hamlet in the middle of nowhere. Walk along a deserted country lane, then climb a track into Weardale Wood. At the top of Toys Hill is a patch of grass where stately Weardale Manor used to stand, until it fell into disrepair and got bombed and had to be demolished. Continue across the lane, past the pub and across the woods on the eastern slopes. Find the right footpath and you'll emerge directly into Emmetts Garden, by the tearoom, without ever passing a ticket booth. A sign urges ramblers to pop into the shop and pay up if they want to visit the gardens, and obviously you should do this and not sneak in for free (however easy this would be).

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