Published: 10 October 2012
Lullingstone Castle, World Garden
We take a trip 'Around The World' in a walled garden and meet a gardener with many stories to tell at the beautiful Lullingstone Castle in Kent.

To visit a garden expecting to see plants from different countries is one thing, but to be in a garden with the countries of the world around you takes a bit more thinking about.
 

Tom Hart Dyke with an unusual Kniphofia species from South Africa
On a recent trip to Kent I was fortunate to be able to accept the kind invitation of Tom Hart-Dyke to visit his ancient family home to see the walled garden that he has transformed into one of the most interesting plant collections possible.
 
Tom Hart-Dyke’s family have owned and lived at Lullingstone Castle since 1497, Tom is the 20th generation to be in residence. During this long period the castle and it’s estate have seen so much history, from the regular visits by Henry VIII and Queen Anne, decoy airfields during the second world war plus in the 1930’s being home to the famous Lullingstone Silk Farm that supplied silk for royal occasions including the coronation robes.  With all this history associated with the estate it is not surprising that the gardens have played a part. The horticultural development now within the walled garden highlights how Lullingstone is at the forefront of innovation.

Plant hunter

Tom is a modern day plant hunter, replicating the adventures and research of the historical figures we now read about. He has travelled to many countries over many years and has observed rare and beautiful specimens growing in their natural habitat. Tom is also carrying on the great tradition of collecting seed to bring back to the UK for growing into the plants now growing in his World Garden, he also continues the valuable practice of sharing seed and seedlings with other botanical gardens in order to increase their collections and carry out important research programmes.
 
On one such expedition to study orchids in the Columbian jungle he was captured by warring factions and taken hostage. During his nine month ordeal in captivity he was threatened with execution on numerous occasions, at one location these threats were made by a teenage boy armed with a machine gun which, as Tom said ‘Concentrated the mind on what is important’.  During his time in captivity the concept of a garden came into being, all his ideas had to be kept as thoughts however as being caught writing anything down would have been a real threat to his life.


Plans for the garden

A small circular raised border planted with alpines from around the world
As the ideas developed Tom began to focus on the concept of making a collection of plants from around the world and actually planting them in beds and borders that were marked out as the different continents. The location for his inspirational project would be the walled garden back at home in Kent, and the name was to be The World Garden of Plants.
 
With his ideas now a reality, visitors to the World Garden enter through a round moon gate created through the brick walls of the two acre walled garden. The plans for the borders are illustrated on a large information board and once you get your bearings it is possible to quite literally wander around the world looking at spectacular plants that will be new to many people. Some plants may appear to be common to us and they are planted to highlight the diversity of plant species found within that country.
 
It is worth noting that the World Garden is not a garden laid out in neat symmetrical borders planted with season bedding displays, neat lawns and trimmed shrubs. As Tom says ‘This garden is to show everyone just how diverse plants really are and that they come from nearly every continent on the planet’’ he continues ‘’ Here at Lullingstone we are trying to illustrate that living plants are essential to our own well being, wherever you are in the world you can walk around and see plants associated with all kinds of natural occurrences and human activities’’


Continental plant schemes

From the cold alpine regions to temperate forests and arid deserts, there are plants thriving outside in the garden, within the glasshouses and in the large temperate region polytunnels.

Densely planted borders with their geographically themed planting
Each zone really does show the plants in the context of their native country. In the wild these plants are ‘pruned’ by animals or by other natural mechanisms. In the World Garden the hand of man, or to be precise, the garden team have the continual task of keeping plants in scale to their surroundings without turning botanical specimens into suburban sculptures and distorting the visual impact and their botanical accuracy.    
 
The southern hemisphere borders are home to the National Collection of Eucalyptus which comprises approximately one hundred species; many of these were collected as seed by Tom during his travels around Tasmania in 1999. During the extreme cold of December 2010 many of these Eucalyptus plants suffered severe damage, fortunately many are now showing good regeneration but replanting is being carried out to maintain the national collection status. 
 
It is not only the sheer volume of plants in the collection, currently at around 8000 different species, cultivars and hybrids that makes this garden unique, it is also the stories that go with the plants and the person telling these plant stories is Tom Hart Dyke, a master at captivating his audience with stories of his travels and the plants that he has seen. 
 
There are exciting plans to be put in place to ensure this garden maintains not only a great collection of world plants but becomes a great place to learn more about them.

Gardeners of all interests

 

A metal sculpture Baobab tree and the ancient Cedars in the castle garden
Throughout the year many different events are held at Lullingstone Castle, including non garden activities, but The World Garden of Plants hosts a lot that will be of great interest to gardeners of all interests.

I thoroughly recommend a visit to Lullingstone World Garden of Plants in Kent. If possible arrange a group visit when Tom is available to give one of his tours, it will be one of those occasions that makes you rethink your views about the world of plants, quite literally.
 
To find out more about this incredible garden project and the amazing person pioneering it, visit their website below.
 
Reported by Chris Allen  
   
 

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