We spoke to Head Gardener Ray Abraham to find out what progress his team is making in nursing and nurturing the gardens back into their former outstanding condition:
Please tell me what stage you are at?
We’ve concentrated on the areas around the house because of the opening of Restaurant Interlude.
Now we’ve moved back down into the garden and we’re finding lots of rare plants. My list of plants on the extinction list has risen to around 140 in the gardens so far. Mostly Rhododendrons and Azaleas that are neigh on extinct in the wild. It is only in gardens like this around the world where most of these plants still exist. Their numbers are threatened.
There are many trees in the gardens on that list of threatened flora also. Acers and various conifers we’ve discovered. I’ve found a whole area of the garden where the tree surgeons have been working to make the trees safe where all of the Leonardslee hybrids were planted.
This is a wild part of the garden at the moment but hopefully this winter we will get into it; there are about 35 of Sir Edmund Loder’s hybrids that have all been put in one place. They are fantastic plants but need to see the light of day because the trees around them have grown up; they have branches that need to be lifted up to give some light.
It's exciting, I’m finding all sorts of things. It’s a very unique garden.
Can you give us some names of the rare plants?
One called is Loderi Spearmint, which is a Loderi with a very unique flower; it’s cream and slightly green. There is also Fairy Queen. Also, a couple of White Diamond, and a Pink Diamond, but they have been crossed with other Rhododendrons so they have slightly different flowers and are more highly scented.
There’s a Sir Edmund Loder there too. A beautiful plant with amazing red bark. Also a tree called Cryptomeria Japonica (Japanese Cedar) that we found in this wild area - it’s probably about 200 years old and has bright scarlet bark (due to its age).
It’s takes a good 100 years to get to that colour. In the storm of 1987 it partly blew over and it’s produced this unusual branch that goes up and down, touching the ground.
It was part of the garden that was classed as a nursery, where they grew these plants just to see what they would like in the future. But a lot of them were just left and have been hidden away. Some are very big; they need uncovering.
None of these are in bloom (in September), but there is a red one I found with a label on it that I am trying to decipher. It’s another Loder hybrid; actually a red Loderi.
Can we photograph them?
We would have to cut shrubbery out around them to show them to a good standard - which we will do when there is time!
The garden’s progressing well. Now we’ve got down in the garden we’re finding other rare plants. We found an Arbutus which is a strawberry tree. It’s quite a rare plant for its age because they normally live for around 60 years before they fall away; this one seems much older.
Strawberries are edible but this year it did not flower because it was covered in bamboo. It’s now uncovered and I’m hoping it will reshoot and produce fruit for next year.
There are some places where we will have to be ruthless and cut some of the Rhododendrons down to a reasonable height because some of them are 50 ft tall and you can’t see the flowers!