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.
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, 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.
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?
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.
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, the Holm Oak Walk scented with lavender. Each one had its own particular charm.
Walks and Paths Around the Gardens
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.
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 you'll notice outside in the gardens themselves 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 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 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
Please Stay a Minute and Say Hello!
goldenrulecomics from New Jersey on May 01, 2013:
We traveled to Sandwich several times when we lived in England. Wish we had known of these gardens at the time!
JadeHandmade on September 29, 2012:
What a beautiful garden!
GramaBarb from Vancouver on September 24, 2012:
I'm so happy to have stumbled upon your delightful lens. If ever I could go to England this garden would be on my list of places to visit.
Cynthia Sylvestermouse from United States on September 13, 2012:
I love discovering secret gardens. These are lovely!
crstnblue on August 22, 2012:
Glad to hear about this place & wonderful photos!
fugeecat lm on August 19, 2012:
The garden looks beautiful!
SheilaMilne (author) from Kent, UK on August 19, 2012:
@jptanabe: The tearoom is a must! :)
SheilaMilne (author) from Kent, UK on August 19, 2012:
@Soapmarked: Done! :)
Tea Pixie on August 18, 2012:
I have been to Sandwich but I missed the gardens. Likely because it was the wrong tome of year (february), but I did catch the lovely local market day. :). I absolutely love your photos and writing.
Soapmarked from TX on August 18, 2012:
How beautiful! Would you consider adding a map so those of us who are ignorant of geography can see where you were? Pretty please?
Christine Hulme from SE Kent, England on August 18, 2012:
Yes- I've visited this place too- so beautiful. Your photos are lovely- a good representation- well done!
Jennifer P Tanabe from Red Hook, NY on August 17, 2012:
It looks so lovely! If I ever get to visit Sandwich I'll make sure to visit the Secret Gardens, and stop in the tearoom of course!
pheonix76 from WNY on August 17, 2012:
Thanks for taking us along on this beautiful journey. :) Looks like a nice spot to sit and read for a day.
Liz Canham on August 17, 2012:
I love the photos. Thanks for publishing them.
Jennifer_Glennon on August 16, 2012:
Love th pictures. This is truly a wonderful garden.
justPets on August 15, 2012:
Nice photos presenting the beautiful flowers.
John Dyhouse from UK on August 15, 2012:
My wife and I love visiting gardens, one of the things we spend a lot of time doing. This one looks great and I would love to "do" it. One of these times when we are in the area I will have to make a detour. It is not an area we tend to visit often however, unfortunately. Still I have your photos as second best, thanks for sharing
GarminApproachGPS on August 15, 2012:
Oh what can i say, in one word - Beautiful....:)
AishwaryaTiwari1 on August 15, 2012:
Picture Perfect !!
anonymous on August 14, 2012:
What a wonderful discovery you made and thank you for inviting us along on this beautiful tour of the Secret Gardens. I just had to page up and down several times and would guess that you did something similar as you went back and forth to the various gardens with gardens within gardens showing off their beautiful secrets. This would be a day well spent in lingering....beautifully presented!
Monica Ranstrom on August 13, 2012:
How beautiful! Thank you for sharing this amazing garden!
anonymous on August 13, 2012:
Thank you for a delightful write-up about the gardens; we're really pleased you enjoyed your visit - and that you finally succumbed to curiosity and popped in for the day.
We hope to see you again soon. Our Dahlia festival will be in full swing at the beginning of September and we'll have hundreds of them on display throughout the many 'rooms'.
Jon (The Secret Gardens)
P.S. We have a book written and ready to be published, detailing the history, folklore and legend of the garden. Keep your eyes peeled for it soon!!
Leah J. Hileman from East Berlin, PA, USA on August 12, 2012:
This is amazing. I would love to visit this site someday. Thanks for sharing.