Alexandra Campbell seeks inspiration in an historic garden
Alexandra Campbell finds inspiration in a garden designed by Edwin Lutyens..
I’VE been in the garden at the Salutation in Sandwich, Kent, with head gardener Steven Edney, to get tips for our own smaller gardens. If you remember the 2013 storms, you may have read that this garden was completely washed away by a surge tide, although you would never know it now.
The Salutation house and garden were both designed by Edwin Lutyens in 1912. The landscaping and herbaceous border are still faithful to his original design, but the planting is different.
Now a hotel, it’s thought to be one of the few houses and gardens entirely designed as a whole by Lutyens himself.
There is always an issue over how to take a garden forward when it was originally drawn up by a famous designer. Restoring a house can be complex, but at least it doesn’t grow.
Gardens have a mind of their own – new plants are developed and weather, pests or diseases change. It isn’t possible to preserve a garden in the same way that you restore a house.
So head gardeners such as Fergus Garrett at Great Dixter or Troy Scott-smith at Sissinghurst don’t ask themselves what Christopher Lloyd or Vita Sackville-west would do in this part of the garden, but what would fit with their philosophy and character if they were alive today.
Lutyens’ career was about style and innovation so that’s how Steven interprets the garden.
The garden is famous for its dahlias and has a Dahlia Festival each September. Steven is also developing a exotic theme.
There are beautiful cannas which are surprisingly easy to grow.
Like dahlias, they are not always fully winter-hardy, but unless you live in the coldest parts of the UK, you don’t always have to dig them up in October.
Steven suggests you let the frost-damaged foliage collapse over the top of them, then pile mulch on
top. Cannas have bright, tropical flowers with striking, sculptural leaves, often striped. They make a big presence in the garden.
“It’s important to think about the shape and colour of foliage when choosing a plant,” Steven says.
“Leaves will stay for months, but the flowers may only last a few weeks.”
Steven also looks for unusual varieties of common garden plants. We all know Erigeron karvinskianus – fleabane. Its daisy-like flowers self-seed everywhere.
Steven has found Erigeron annuus, a tall, wispy version which sways charmingly in the wind.
“If you grow a tall, airy plant, grow it in clumps,” he advises. “One or two are lost on their own.”
He also grows an unusual sunflower – Sunflower Rigidus – which has much smaller flowers than the sunflowers we know. It looks like a very tall daisy.
Professional gardeners want us amateurs to try more new varieties of plants as it helps maintain plant diversity.
You can often buy rare varieties at plant shops run by gardens like the Salutation or at Rare Plant Fairs.
Steven uses taller plants, such as grasses or even cannas, as a summer hedge, as he says a row of tall plants can create a secluded corner in a garden in summer. In winter it will have died down and you won’t lose the light.
Patches of meadow in gardens were fashionable when the Salutation was built and today it has a wild meadow lawn with a contemporary sculpture in the middle. Edwin Lutyens would approve, I think.
The Salutation hotel and gardens are open from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. every day of the year. ■