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The Secret Gardens of Sandwich in Kent

I have been living in the southeast of England for the last seven years and am still exploring the rich history the area has to offer.

The Salutation manor house and a small part of the Secret Gardens.

The Salutation manor house and a small part of the Secret Gardens.

A Secret Garden at the Heart of an Ancient English Town

I've visited the ancient town of Sandwich many times now. On the way there, you pass a signpost or two showing the direction to a place called "Salutation Gardens" but my curiosity let me down on this one and I always assumed it was a garden centre. Wrong!

So I always passed it by. I generally park by the quay and go for a stroll around the town enjoying the charming old buildings, and narrow streets with interesting names (turning right at Breezy Corner but no further than Hogs Corner). Little did I know that within just a few yards was hidden the beauty of the Secret Gardens at the Salutation, almost in the centre of Sandwich.

The Long Border with a brick-paved pathway.

The Long Border with a brick-paved pathway.

What Are the Secret Gardens? A Little History

A manor house, called The Salutation, was designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens as a weekend retreat for Henry Farrer, from London, and his two brothers. It was built in Queen Anne style between 1911 and 1912, on the site of an old inn.

It is a red brick, two-story building with internal panelling thought, possibly, to have come from a demolished London residence. In 1950, the house was given Grade I listed status. It was the first 20th-century house to be listed in that way, a demonstration of its importance.

Over time it was badly neglected, but restoration started in 2004, and the whole place opened to the public in 2007. The gardens have been restored in Gertrude Jekyll's style, although there is no firm evidence that she was involved in the original design.

These days it is no longer a private residence but somewhere anyone can stay: luxurious bed and breakfast accommodation.

What Is a Listed Building?

In England, buildings are listed if they have particular historic or architectural importance. The older they are, the more likely they are to be listed.

Of all listed buildings, only 2.5% are Grade I listed, and any "modern" building (after World War II) is looked at very, very carefully.

Starting at the Beginning: Our First Visit

Just inside the entrance, we were greeted with a profusion of colours and luxuriant growth as though we had escaped into another world, an oasis of peace and tranquillity. We could hear the outside world continuing on its busy way but it didn't disturb us in the least.

We were in the Secret Gardens. Why had it taken us so long to find them?

A secret garden within the Secret Gardens.

A secret garden within the Secret Gardens.

And the Secrets Continue

It soon became obvious that the Secret Gardens are so-called not (only) because they are hidden from general view behind walls, but because there are so many smaller gardens within the whole—gardens you glimpse through greenery as you pass by. They don't cover a huge area compared with many gardens and estates, but there is just so much to see and enjoy that you'll have to pay more than a fleeting visit.

Lake and island with seat

Lake and island with seat

The Secret Gardens Within

Gradually the gardens yielded up their secrets to us. There were about 15 separate sections to discover, wander around, and enjoy. And enjoy them I did. The Vegetable Garden was a delight, the White Garden an area of cool peace, and the Holm Oak Walk scented with lavender. Each one had its own particular charm.

Formality or the Natural Look?

I don't know whether you'd say The Secret Gardens had a natural look, but it is considered a "typical" English country garden, and very different from the formality of a French parterre garden.

Lutyens-style bench

Lutyens-style bench

Table inside the tearoom with flower and sugar cubes

Table inside the tearoom with flower and sugar cubes

There's a Pretty Tearoom Too

Don't leave before sampling one of the delicious cakes or light lunches on offer. The attention to detail that begins in the gardens continues inside to the table settings.

If you can't visit, then the next best thing is to read.

See the Secret Gardens for Yourself

How to Find the Gardens

The map below shows the position of Sandwich in the southeast corner of England. If you click on the + sign, you can zoom in closer. If you also click on the Satellite button, you may be able to spot the Gardens, though they don't look like much from the satellite image. It's odd, they look small on the satellite image but when you're there, they seem large. It must be a Tardis effect!

They are open all year round, with free entry during the winter months.

Sandwich in Kent

Sandwich itself is very well worth a mention, and in fact, deserves an article all of its own. It is one of the original Cinque Ports set up along the southeast coast of England by Royal Charter in the 12th century. Many of the medieval buildings are still there and are now carefully preserved. If you visit the Salutation Gardens, don't miss the opportunity to visit the town at the same time.

Post Script: After the Floods

High tides coupled with stormy weather on Friday 6 December 2013 resulted in an unprecedented tidal surge. Sandwich was badly hit by the floods and the Secret Gardens did not escape.

Ten years of hard work restoring the gardens to their former beauty disappeared in the space of two hours. The gardens were under two metres (six feet) of water. That in itself is bad enough, but this was salty water. Earthworms, essential to the well-being of a garden as any gardener will tell you, drowned, and plants and bulbs were ruined. Bridges and sheds were broken up by the sheer force of the water.

It took three days to pump the water out but not before £100,000 worth of damage was done.

Nevertheless, after a valiant effort, the gardens were re-opened the following spring, and continuing hard work has restored them to their former beauty.

© 2012 SheilaMilne