Royal Tunbridge Wells Estate
A Decimus Burton-designed Grade II listed country house of the Regency style, set within fifty-four acres of fields, park and woodland. This presented a rare opportunity to design a landscape masterplan for an historic site that was entirely void of ornamental or productive gardens.
The first phase of implementing the design saw the introduction of perimeter estate deer fencing, the re-articulation of the driveway with new custom designed and fabricated gates, the creation of new planting to frame the main entrance of the house, the introduction of ornamental gardens to the south of the house, a new pergola garden to the west and the establishment of an orchard.
Cascading from an Orangery pool house down to the main house, is a lush bank of ornamental grass and perennial planting that moves through the seasons with a succession of rich floral and textural displays. This complex matrix of plants including Achillea 'Terracotta’, Veronicastrum virginicum 'Fascination', Coreopsis verticillata 'Moonbeam' and Persicaria bistorta 'Superba’ is brimming with wildlife feasting on the bounty.
The Bank moves seamlessly into the Formal Garden, formal only in the geometry of the layout and the classical paired back sawn Yorkstone paving; a subtle counterfoil to the rich tapestry of planting. A focus of this garden is the abundance of Rosa 'Emily Brontë' diffused by Calamagrostis brachytricha and Molinia caerulea ssp. caerulea 'Poul Petersen'.
With the design of this garden the idea is not to be distracted by symmetry, though it exists, or by areas of function (a place or dining or for cooking), though they too are accommodated. Instead the intention is to create a biodiverse feast for the eye and for nature, to design a structure, let the plants find their own rhythm, and in doing so, create a new sensory vista that complements the pre-existing view that extends to the south over the estate to the Weald of Kent, Sussex and beyond.
At the opposite end of the southern gardens is the West Garden, a series of long borders planted in a vibrant colour palette of yellow, orange and red and dominated by Hemerocallis lilioasphodelus and 'Lacy Marionette'. Bound together with Calamagrostis varia and Molinia caerulea ssp. caerulea 'Edith Dudszus’, these borders are bookended by a set of staggered Fagus sylvatica (Beech) columns that frame the setting sun behind an arboretum of trees comprising ancient Oaks, a statuesque Wellingtonia Redwood and a sculptural Monterey Pine. The columns echo the columns at the front of the house and march in tune to the parade of long windows that run the length of the southern elevation of the main house.
From the West Garden, a path leads through the Pergola Garden, with its restored Victorian mosaic floor and custom designed ironwork armature supporting a Wisteria sinensis ‘Prolific’ which even after a few years was living up to its name with a good form and profusion of flowers. From the Pergola Garden we are back at the front of the house, which previously had always lost in a competition with the southern aspect. The new design however, set out to challenge this default, adding a layer of grandeur with beehive topiary of yew and beech. Here too though, an informal formality resounds. Because while there is structure, this is offset by wild abandon with soft, lush, wild looking planting messing up the spaces between the topiary and Rosa Tuscany Superb and Cardinal de Richelieu playing the lead roles in this archetypal romantic diorama.
More gardens are planned to unfold in the future as the masterplan is realised in full. In the meantime though, in its new guise, the house is enveloped by gardens and with the wild animals of the estate managed, biodiversity flourishes.
Photos by Rachel Warne