I have been wanting to visit Leeds Castle almost as long as I can remember. Its location off the A20 was on the way to my grandad’s house, and each time we drove past, I’d chime in (or perhaps whine in) with ‘When can we visit Leeds Castle?’…and because it was on the way, but not near enough, we never did it as a day trip from Grandad’s, and there was never enough time to stop on the way there or back.
It was 30 years later that I finally got to visit, possibly the longest-anticipated and most overdue day out I’ve ever been on. The castle itself was charming, and had played a surprisingly significant role in European inter-war and wartime political shenanigans (surprising in that it’s not as well-known as Cliveden, for example) – but the main event was the walk around the gardens afterwards.
Just beyond the stable-yard-cum-restaurant was a walled garden which was pretty much my idea of rose heaven. To begin with, I found the delightfully-named ‘Buff Beauty’ (inspiration for beauty spas the land over), a lovely rose which is one of the most well-known of the buff/apricot shades. Struggled to get a good picture, though, as the flowerbed was half in shade by the time we got there.
In the neighbouring bed was ‘Iceberg’, possibly the most famous white rose of all. I would never pick white roses as my favourite shade (despite my loyalty to the east side of the Pennines), but Iceberg was very appealing with its flat open petals making the yellow centre even more prominent.
I next spotted a striking yellow rose, which had an attractive globe shape which reminded me of the equally yellow globeflower – but it had the rather dull and prosaic name of ‘Eurostar’. C’mon, this rose ought to have a nicer name than that!
Finally we came across a gorgeous fuchsia pink rose called ‘Falstaff’…its flamboyant garish colour certainly matches the name, and the fact it’s a many-petalled double bloom makes it even more exuberant. This is a rose you’d need a lot of confidence to pull off in your own garden; I can imagine it set dramatically against a dark evergreen hedge or beside a fountain topped with a statue of some Greek god or nymph. A bit too extravagant for my little cottage garden, I suspect.
Roses aside, the walled garden was packed with sedums, anenomes, clematis, hydrangea, and pretty much any other lovely summer plant you can think of, and beautifully edged with low box hedges. That’s a look I’d love to pull off on a smaller scale, to create a traditional knot garden in minature, but the recent news about box blight has rather put me off – although the RHS website does rather helpfully suggest similar plants which can be grown in place of box.
Our ticket for Leeds Castle entitles us to free entry for a whole year after the first visit – a great idea in terms of value for money, as we can come back to explore the parts of the garden we didn’t see this time, and of course see what the springtime brings to Leeds in the way of flowers. The six-year-old me is thrilled that I don’t just get to go to Leeds Castle once, but have a return trip to look forward to.