Peregrine and Deirdre Massey have spent 25 years transforming their terraced garden from a state of wilderness to a series of gracious outdoor rooms, unearthing some exciting discoveries as they went – including a walled garden and an ancient bluebell woo
An ancient bluebell wood is just one of the beautiful highlights in this glorious garden of rooms
Peregrine and Deirdre Massey have been redeveloping their picturesque gardens at Boldshaves, a small private estate near Woodchurch on the eastern fringe of the Kentish Weald, for almost 25 years. Before the attractive Arts and Crafts-style house was built in 1902 at the top of the incline, the south-facing hillside had been cleared of trees in the 17th century for grazing sheep, leaving the surrounding ancient coppiced woodland to the north, east and west, as well as ‘shaves’ – narrow stands of trees as wind breaks – and when Major Bold owned the property in the 18th century, the area became known by his name: ‘Bold’s Shaves’. ‘When we arrived in 1994, there was no garden to speak of and we didn’t know there was a walled garden flanking the eastern façade of the house until we discovered it when clearing a thicket of undergrowth in our first winter,’ says Peregrine. ‘People always think taking over a wilderness must have been a nightmare, but I can think of no better starting point for creating a new garden; infinitely preferable to taking over someone else’s idea of perfection and studiously setting about maintaining it.’
With a spectacular 100-acre wild bluebell wood and stunning views, the stepped gardens are a delight to wander through. Extending out from the house, the partly terraced seven-acre garden stretches down a south-facing slope, looking ➤
towards the Wealden landscape across vast green paddocks dotted with grazing sheep. ‘The bones of the garden you see today evolved over about a 15-year period, balanced between the demands of a growing family and an international career as a barrister and mediator,’ he explains. ‘But I think I always had an idea at the back of my mind of what I wanted the end result to be: a succession of interlinking compartments running down the hill to the south of the house, making good use of the views towards Shirley Moor in the distance, and seamlessly merging with the ancient woodland.’
A tour of the garden will take you through a series of loosely divided rooms as well as an atmospheric woodland walk. The formal areas in contrast with the natural setting make for a glorious landscape to explore, full of fresh greens, brightly coloured tulips, blossom on the bough and a sea of violet-blue. Fragrance fills the air and there’s a sense of renewal throughout the garden.
Visitors can explore the transformed walled garden where the sheltered microclimate supports southern hemisphere and semi-hardy plants, such as Ceanothus (Californian lilac), along with a camellia dell, herbaceous borders, a flame bed, an Italian garden, a garden to celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, a vegetable garden, a wide variety of old-fashioned English roses and an Elizabethan herb garden. ‘One of our latest projects is to turn the borders adjoining the Diamond Jubilee Garden into a series of beds in the colours of the rainbow, running red, purple, blue, green, yellow and orange down the hill,’ Peregrine adds.
Lending structural formality are a pergola walk, lines of hedges, architectural foliage from phormiums, repeated clipped shrubs such as Photinia x fraseri ‘Red Robin’, and defined paths.
In April, highlight plants include delicate snowy white blossom on Amelanchier lamarckii,
clouds of pink prunus, and the unusual ornamental shrub, Staphylea colchica, with its fragrant creamy flowers, and its even rarer relative S. holocarpa
‘Rosea’. Other unusual spring-flowering shrubs include Drimys aromatica (Tasmanian mountain pepper) and Cercis chinensis. ‘We also love the sight of the tree peonies coming into flower: they only last for a couple of weeks a year, and so are a huge indulgence unless you have the space, but what an exciting plant to grow,’ Peregrine enthuses. ‘Paeonia rockii (Rock’s tree peony) should be seen by every gardener, if only once in their lifetime!’
Bordering the garden is the extensive ancient woodland with meandering paths that wind through the carpets of woodland anemones followed by the magical bluebells. ‘As much as it has been fun developing the garden, we have derived at least as much enjoyment from managing and reclaiming the ancient woodland, which had been allowed to grow out unhealthily in the 20 years or so before we arrived here,’ Peregrine explains. ‘The woodland is principally down to oak standards with hornbeam, hazel, sweet chestnut and avian cherry underwood; and we have introduced a coppicing regime that enables us to put in place a cycle of renewal that should be fully sustainable into the future.’
All your senses will be stimulated; the unique fragrance of these iridescent nodding beauties fills the air, while the colour is incomparable to any other flower. ‘Listen to the nightingales, as they will now sing in the woodlands for the next month or so,’ he says. ‘They and the woodcock, which are with us in the winter months, are ground-nesting birds, so we leave patches of bramble and other low-growing vegetation for them. An over-tidy wood would risk them moving elsewhere. The range of song that the nightingale can manage is truly remarkable, most audible after dusk when they have no competition from other birds, but certainly to be heard during the day as well, once you get your ear attuned to their various calls,’ says Peregrine as he strolls, soaking up the atmosphere. It is a garden to be savoured, and opens through the year so you can catch the bluebells or call in at other times to see the progression of the seasons.
● The answer lies in the soil – quite literally, so look after yours. On clay keep it well covered with mulch so that it does not get waterlogged in winter or bake solid in summer.
● Prune roses in a mild spell in late January – and get it done before the spring rush is upon you. A lot of other flowering shrubs can also be attended to then.
● Don’t be tempted to sow seed too early in the season.
● Don’t forget the attraction of smell in the garden – all your senses need to be engaged.
● Don’t be too tidy in managed woodland: think of the needs of your wildlife. ➤
The formal areas contrast with the natural setting and make a glorious landscape to explore, full of fresh greens, bright tulips, blossom and a sea of violet-blue
Above: Vibrant tulips are dotted among clumps of euphorbias and phormiums in the hottoned border
Above right: A glossy-leafed
Photinia x fraseri ‘Red Robin’ makes a shady canopy for a bench placed to take in the vista
Right: Subtle colours of fresh greens and golds in the curving border by the barn