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Brook Bridges purchased Goodnestone estate in 1704 and proceeded to build the house and formal gardens surrounding it. The gardens were destroyed by his great grandson in the late 18th century and turned into a landscaped park.
The home’s most famous visitor was Jane Austen, a relative through the marriage of the third baronet, Sir Brook Bridges and his wife Fanny Fowler’s daughter, Elizabeth, to Edward Austen, Jane’s brother. She visited many times and after one stay, in 1796, began her first novel, Pride and Prejudice.
During the time of the fifth baronet, in the 1840s, further changes were made to the house and grounds. A portico was added to the house along with a new approach drive, terraced lawns, and a wall.
The gardens were improved in the late 1920s and early 1930s, and the woodland garden and pool were added. Unfortunately, by 1955 all of the gardens were derelict, and to top it off, the roof and top two storeys of the house were destroyed in 1959 by a fire. They were later rebuilt.
It wasn’t until the 1960s that full scale attention was given to rebuilding and restoring the gardens. This was done by Margaret FitzWalter, owner and descendant of the original family. Covering 15 acres they included a walled garden, old-fashioned roses, perennials, annuals, vegetables, and caged fruit, a park, and ancient trees. The head gardener is John Wellard, 40 years into his job.
The popular walled garden has several sections enclosed by brick walls with climbers including wisteria and wall plants that include clematis, jasmine, solanum, and roses. The rose garden contains geraniums and perennials. The summer garden contains flowering borders. The kitchen garden grows fruit, vegetables, and flower borders. A greenhouse is home to exotic plants.
The woodland garden is a more recent innovation, derived from a space grown wild. Here are rhododendrons, a pool, pathways, trees, shrubs, witch hazels, snowdrops, hellebores, camellias, magnolias, hydrangeas, and evergreen cucryphias.
The parterre is located in the lower terrace and was made to commemorate the beginning of the 21st century. Box hedges and planted enclosures mimic those of the early 18th century. Below is the village cricket ground. On a different side of the house is a walk with yew hedges, a lime avenue (planted in 1984 to copy the 18th century one), and a large stone urn.
Located between the woodland and the lime avenue is an arboretum with ornamental trees and birch, sorbus, malus, and robinia. The gravel garden dates from 2003. Here are perennial grasses and foliage perennials. Old trees in the park include an ancient cedar of Lebanon, a sweet chestnut, oaks, and a huge evergreen magnolia.
When visiting the garden expect to see snowdrops, early miniature daffodils, hellebores, daphnes, witch hazels, and mahonias in January and February; in March and April there are magnolias, euphorbias, tulips, alliums and spring perennials in borders, and cistus. May and June bring early-flowering clematis, cornus, wisteria, roses, and mixed borders, while in July and August lilies, salvias, penstemons, hemerocallis and scabious in borders, kniphofias, lavenders, agapanthus, and foxgloves in the woodland garden can be enjoyed. September through November there are hydrangeas in the woodland garden, autumn foliage and flowering trees, Michaelmas daisies, and perennial grasses.
Goodnestone Park Gardens
Near Canterbury, Kent
Off the B4026 on minor roads
Tel. 01304 840107
Open: garden only;February: Snowdrop Day, check website for date each year; March: Good Fri, Easter Sun, BH Mon; April: Sun, 12 noon-4pm; May-Aug: Wed, Thu, Fri, 11am-5pm and Sun 12 noon-5pm; Sep: Sun, 12 noon-4pm
Web: Goodnestone Park Gardens
Member of Historic Houses Association; plant nursery; tea-room; shop.
Insider Tip: The garden is a bit out of the way but well worth the trip. The walled garden is a particular favourite of ours.