Winchelsea has garden secrets

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A riverside view in a Winchelsea garden

The Cinque Port town of Winchelsea, set on a hill overlooking Romney Marsh with views to the English Channel, opened six of its secret gardens to the public on April 22 for cancer charities. Four of the gardens were accessible to wheelchairs, as should be the case. I spent a lovely afternoon with three friends making our way round the gardening pleasures that we found.

In spite of a cold wind and cloudy skies at the start, there were hardly any parking spaces and lots of people wandering the little streets. They were exploring the charming historical and architectural gems to be found in this lovely town, centred on St Thomas the Martyr Church and its peaceful churchyard.

The six spring gardens were of very different styles, large and small with magnificent spring bulbs and borders. Cleveland House (Mr and Mrs Jempson) was first on the list, such a lovely setting, with magnificent tulips in enormous pots as we entered through a pretty courtyard into a beautiful green oasis, with wonderful views to the sea and a particularly pretty summerhouse. Cleveland Place (Sally and Graham Rodda), next door, had an amazing woven dome of rosa glauca, and attractive wall coverage, with a shining white clematis. Who could resist a 300 year old yew tree at Periteau House (Dr and Mrs Lawrence Youlten). Instructions on maintenance included! Not the only thing worth seeing, of course.

The ancient yew seen across gardens

The Well House (Alice Kenyon), with lovely old walls, and existing trees, was next door to the Armoury garden, much bigger than we realised on going in, with all sorts of secret places and a magnificent fallen eucalyptus which had continued to grow, flat

Fallen eucalyptus still flourishing

Finally, we made our way down the hill to Rye View (Howard Norton and David Page), set well back from the A259 and with the river acting as another boundary. Full of huge pots, a variety of trees and shrubs and a beautiful white flowering cornus, to name but a few of its treasures, it was full of admirers in spite of being at the bottom of the very steep hill.

One of the things we particularly noticed in all the gardens was the variety of small sitting places designed into the structures, to catch the views of countryside, sea or the garden itself. All of them showed the results of dedicated work and clever ideas. All were really well prepared and presented.

Friary Gardeners, the non profit making scheme for adults with a wide spectrum of learning difficulties, is based in Hastings at One Place Farm, the Ridge and had a plant stall. By the look of the people clutching various interesting pots, it must have done a good trade.

Tea and cakes were served in the Winchelsea New Hall which we much enjoyed, proceeds to its refurbishment. One stoical lady was sitting outside New Hall with her homemade ice cream, sadly not many takers until the sun appeared later!

The next two opening days are Saturday June 17, when seven gardens will be open, and Saturday July 29, when six different ones will be open, both from 1pm to 5:30pm. The Winchelsea Cellars will also be open at 11am, booking is essential.

Photo: Gillian Roder

Image Credits: Gillian Roder .

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