Monday, 17 April 2017

Exploring a secret garden near Tonbridge

You can visit the furthest-flung corners of the earth, spend all your money on air fares and hotel stays, and sometimes the best surprises are the closest to home. I spent my Easter Saturday exploring a little-known garden just a couple of miles away from my home in Kent, and got just as much satisfaction out of it.


The place in question is Broadview Gardens at Hadlow College, just outside of Tonbridge. The College itself specialises in animal care, horticulture, agriculture and the like, and is partially an outpost of the University of Greenwich.


On Easter Saturday, the College grounds were all but deserted as we followed the signs to the car park for the tea rooms and gardens. Admission is free, and don't worry if you miss the map board on your way in - the gardens aren't big enough to get (too) lost in.


A word of warning - much of the gardens are spread on grass paths like the one above; something to bear in mind when choosing footwear or bringing prams or wheelchairs. The initial hedge-lined corridors give a feeling of vastness, but once you start popping your head through the gaps, the gardens become more intimate.


One gap in the hedge leads to a man-made pond, surrounded by an unusual colour of tulip. Three benches are dotted around this section of the garden, and fountain equipment hints at some sort of water display, but alas, it wasn't functioning when we visited.


The layout of the garden and high hedges, mean that turning each corner is like discovering a little secret, and stumbling across each bench feels somewhat voyeuristic.

Wandering further leads to the highlight of the garden - the lake. It's a decent-sized body of water, overseen by some trees of impressive heights, and awash with reeds, lily pads and, if you look closely enough, fish. It would be easy to go OTT and wax lyrical about its seclusion and tranquility, but the reality is that you can hear the incessant rumble of traffic on the nearby A26, just beyond the arboreal wall. Still, it's not a bad view, is it?


A few local residents made an appearance while we were overlooking the lake - 13 little ducklings going about their swimming practise, plus a mother duck ferrying them around.


As well as the usual tulips, camellias, rhododendrons and the like, the garden is home to some unusual species of plant, enough to fascinate the casual observer and fixate the keen gardener.



Further exploring reveal another little secret - and one that kids are bound to love - a cave created from the root base of a fallen tree.


Said cave even has its own sign:


Dogs aren't permitted in the gardens, and you'll need to keep an eye on little ones as there are plenty of open ponds and lakes, including this Japanese-style offering complete with raked stones.


As you exit through the garden centre, remember to cast your eyes right for a view of the nearby Hadlow Tower (open to the public on a very limited number of days each ear - check the website for details).


As well as the garden centre, there are tea rooms serving up drinks, cake and light lunches.


Broadview Gardens, Hadlow College, Tonbridge Road, TN11 0AL. Admission is free.


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