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Downderry Lavender Nursery

July 4, 2012

This is our third summer living on the London/Kent border. It’s been great having the best of both worlds – an easy half hour train ride that takes us smack bang into the middle of the big smoke or a roll down the hill into the glorious, green countryside of the Garden of England. The more we explore and get to know Kent the more we fall in love with the county. From the undulating High Weald and the Kent Downs, ancient woodlands to the arable land of east Kent, dramatic cliffs on the coast around Dover to the bleak beauty of Dungeness and Romney Marsh, it is varied and truly beautiful. There is much for us to discover and we are doing so bit by bit. Last weekend I went to visit yet another picturesque corner in search of lavender.

This is the time of year for lavender. It’s looking great right now, that gorgeous-smelling, beautiful, useful herb. Last year I went to see fields of it at Castle Farm in Shoreham. This time I trundled down the road a bit further to Downderry Nursery, which holds a Scientific National Plant Collection of Lavender. This is not the place to come to see fields upon fields of lavender. But what they do have is the most diverse collection of lavenders in the world. Down some beautiful, quiet, winding country lanes (with some great views over the surrounding countryside), not far from Hadlow, I arrived at the sun-baked walled garden that is home to the nursery.

The garden is stuffed full of different lavenders growing in the ground but what I particularly liked were the demonstration trial beds, which showed the effects of planting distances, pruning times, mulch types, the addition of grit and different feeds. The hedges looked best at closer spacings – giving a larger, fuller hedge – but I suppose it depends on the effect you are after. Pruning immediately after flowering from early September produced the healthiest, bushier-looking shrubs. Unsurprisingly grit mulch worked the best, as did grit added to the soil (50kg per square metre). The plants by far preferred having no feed – and definitely were not liking manure added on planting!

Trial beds testing pruning times, mulching, drainage and feeding

Demonstrating planting distances for a lavender hedge – pictured here at 23cm spacing on the left and 30cm spacing on the right.

Looking out over the walled garden. You can see many varieties of lavender planted at Downderry Nursery.

The beautiful flower of Lavandula canariensis subsp. canariensis. Native to the Canary Islands – we grew this at Chelsea Physic Garden when I worked there. It’s tender so best grown in a pot and brought under cover in winter. The foliage is bright green and finely dissected.

Lavender basket. Designed by Simon Charlesworth and made by underwoodsman John Waller in just 6 hours! Made to the same design as their award-winning 2005 Hampton Court Flower Show exhibit.

Even the garden furniture had lavender in it – dried lavender suspended in plastic table and chairs.

Even with all these types of lavender on display, I think ‘Hidcote’ remains my favourite. Popular as it is, I don’t care. Deep, rich purple flowers, nicely compact shape, sweet scent, grey-green foliage. Gorgeous.

There were some roses trained against the back wall of the garden. This one, ‘The Generous Gardener’ is worth a mention as it was looking and smelling divine:

Rosa ‘The Generous Gardener’

Rosa ‘The Generous Gardener’. Had a really wonderful scent and a gorgeous soft pink colour. It was looking really strong, healthy and abundant growing on the wall here.

Downderry are leading lavender experts and this is a great place to come for choice and advice. This small family company propagates over 95% of the plants they sell and guarantee their lavenders are true to type. It’s worth buying lavender cultivars (for example, my favourite cultivar ‘Hidcote’) from reputable people such as this because plants raised from seed are often variable.

Downderry are open Tuesday-Sunday and bank holidays from May to September. See their website for more details and for plants sold online.

They can also usually be found at Hampton Court Flower Show and this year is no exception. They won Gold and Best Exhibit in the Floral Marquee – many congratulations to them!

Driving down country lanes

Kent oast houses

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. Chris (Berkshire Dirt-Digger) permalink
    July 4, 2012 4:46 pm

    Great blog Sui Kee – great writing as always.
    Lavender: a real Searle family favourite and ‘must-have’ plant!
    Loved the large lavender basket.
    Yet another visit to put on my ‘to do’ list!
    x Berkshire dirt-digger.

    • July 4, 2012 7:52 pm

      Thank you Chris. Sadly our heavy clay means lavender wouldn’t be too happy growing in the ground here so they have to make do in pots. Didn’t stop me from buying a few more plants though! S x

  2. Rama Lopez-Rivera permalink
    July 4, 2012 9:46 pm

    Nice read. Rosa ‘The Generous Gardener’ looks awesome! Definitely going in the bucket list…

  3. July 7, 2012 8:08 am

    Such beautiful photos, I just want to lie down in those beds and go to sleep, they look so comfortable!

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