Groombridge Place Gardens and the Enchanted Forest combine a traditional heritage garden with an ancient woodland. The gardens won a Tourism South-east award for excellence in 2005 and the house and gardens starred in a production of Pride and Prejudice, released in September 2005. The 17th century moated manor house on the property is not open to the public. It served as Longbourn, the Bennets’ family home. An exhibition on the filming and some costumes are on show.
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Settlement of the area began as early as Saxon times. William Russell was granted in 1230 the lordship of the manor and built the fortified manor house surrounded by a moat. About 1400 Groombridge was purchased by Thomas Waller of Lamberhurst. The estate was bought by Thomas Sackville, 1st earl of Dorset in 1604. It was sold to pay the 3rd earl’s gambling debts.
In 1662 Philip Packer inherited the estate and built Groombridge Place, planting the gardens in 1674. In the 18th century the house laid empty for 20 years. It is thought smugglers stored their booty in the house during this time. The estate was inherited by the Rev. J. J. Saint in 1800. In 1919 a Mr. S. W. Mountain bought the house which had no indoor plumbing or electricity. In 1991 the estate was sold and the house contents auctioned off. The gardens were opened in 1994.
The traditional gardens are divided into a number of different areas. They were first laid out in the 17th century and were designed as outside rooms of the house. In the 18th and 19th centuries new plants were introduced, and many trees planted.
In the early 20th century the knot garden, white garden, and peacock walk were created. In the knot garden are black tulips and blue pansies. Opposite the knot garden is a giant chessboard where games can be played. Visit in April to see thousands of spring bulbs—tulips, hyacinths, daffodils in the formal gardens and parkland.
The Apostle Walk is a central pathway through the gardens, bordered on each side by 12 drum yews. The herbaceous border is planted with traditional English garden perennials that include asters, rudbeckia, salvias, and hollyhocks.
The white rose garden was once an orchard. Over 20 varieties of white roses grow here, blooming in June, along with foxtail, lilies, primulas, tulips, peonies, poppies, hyacinths, and lavender all in white. In June mauve wisteria climbs over the moat wall. Water lilies take over in August in the moat and forest pools.
The oriental garden has a two foot high grass fountain in the middle of the lawn. It’s covered with a dome of grass over which water pours. Ornamental trees are planted here, and there is a border by the wall with dahlias, clematis, verbena, salvias, and poppies. The drunken garden was the setting for the Sherlock Holmes book, The Valley of Fear by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, a regular visitor to the garden.
The secret garden is reached through a door in the wall by the edge of the moat. Here a stream is located. In bloom are cherry trees, azaleas, and candelabra primulas. In May the laburnum come into their own in the secret garden. The Draughtsman’s Lawn was planted to commemorate the film The Draughtsman’s Contract based in the 17th century and filmed here in 1983.
The Enchanted Forest, a place especially for the kid in all of us, is set on hillside and is home to goats, alpacas, giant rabbits, a zeedonk—cross between zebra and donkey, and deer. For the kids there are playgrounds and huge swings. The Dark Walk, a raised ¼ mile wooden boardwalk, winds its way through the woodland on the side of a hill. More active attractions are rope swings, nets, a log walk, hanging tyres, tubing tunnels, and an aerial runway.
The Serpent’s Lair is a fantasy garden, while the dinosaur and dragon valley is a fantasy land of hatching dinosaurs and their nests. Also in the forest are a double spiral, a mystic pool, and the village of the groms, especially for small kids with its tiny homes for mythical creatures. Tree fern valley is home to fern trees that came from the alpine region of Australia.
The Raptor Centre is a conservation centre for birds of prey. Flying displays are held three times a day with eagles, hawks, owls and falcons on the wing. The garden is home to a number of canal boats that take people on cruises on the estate. A former dairy houses the Conan Doyle museum.
Groombridge Place Gardens
Groombridge, Tunbridge Wells, Kent
On the B2110, south-west of Tunbridge and south of the A264
Tel. 0 1892 861 444
Open: gardens only; four days in March; April-end Oct, daily, 10am-5.30pm or dusk if earlier; house not open to public. Raptor Centre flights held at 11.30am, 1pm, and 3.30pm.
Self-service restaurant; shop; parking
Photos by Barbara Ballard and courtesy Groombridge Place Gardens as noted.