This Week’s Guest Bloggers are the Owner, Head Gardener and Assistant Head Gardener of Hole Park Gardens

Hole park is a family owned and run estate in the Kent Weald covering two and a half thousand acres.
It has been owned by the Barham family since 1911. Essentially the estate is family run and foremost is a family home and the owners Edward and Clare Barham get involved in making the decisions about the running and development of the Gardens, unlike our nearest neighbours Great Dixter and Sissinghurst.

Edward and Clare, Quentin Stark the Head Gardener and Joe Archer the Assistant Head Gardener have meetings in a different part of the garden each week, to discuss how that area currently looks, then make a plan for future short and long term improvements to that area. This can vary from hard landscaping like paths to improve access or perhaps cut down overgrown shrubs to rejuvenate them or under plant with new and interesting plants as we are keen to increase plant diversity.

Edward Barham

After a long winter and with spring now well underway, there is an air of excitement about opening the garden for the new season . Our five gardeners, have worked hard over a long winter with the usual routine tasks of preparing the borders, pruning the roses and mulching the beds, amidst which we add a series of projects. These are, if you like, the amusement or the icing on the cake, redoing a bed, adding to a planting scheme or making some new paths. They make sure that the garden evolves and provide interest for our regular visitors who come to see what has changed.

This year the heather bed has been extended, with a tremendous stone that we found on the estate place there to represent a Kentish rockery, adjacent to which we have laid one of several new paths. We use recycled stone as the base and then rock fines above, a semi cemetaceous natural product which goes down tight once dry. It provides better access for the garden machinery and for our visitors, ever mindful of those in wheelchairs and on some occasions the weight of numbers.

As Covid eases, there is great excitement amongst visitors to be able to get out, after a long winter, and in some cases a full year, cooped up in their homes under varying levels of lockdown. Covid has taken its toll on the estate too with two death in our community and many others remaining naturally uneasy about returning to pre-Covid levels of normality. So we welcome several new members of staff on the opening garden opening team which will give a fresh look to the front gate and to the Coach House Cafe.

Last year Hole Park was amongst the most forward gardens in the country, open from the beginning of May and we even managed to get in some of our well-known events. Sadly the Wealden Times Summer Fair was cancelled but it returns in 2021, this time spread over a four day period 1-4 July. And our Napoleonic weekend is also returning 25-26 September.

Very few coach parties are schedule for the year, which has previously been a significant part of our business, so we will adapt to relying more upon individual visitors for whom advance ticketing is available through a new platform, with all its associated technical problems as we learn new skills. But we will always welcome pay on the day ‘walk-ups’, as they are known in the trade.

We very much hope that you will come and see our garden, the result of 99 years of my family’s input into them, since my great grandfather Arthur started planting in a serious way in 1922/23. He first opened to the public in 1928, as a founder member of what has evolved to become the National Garden Scheme. As we approach our garden centenary, I think we have a lot to be proud of and I hope that Arthur will look down for on high and approve that the family are still so actively involved and sharing it with so many.

The Wealden Times Fair 1-4 July marks the end of our regular opening. I might not write these words with such optimism after a hard three-month campaign of being open 24/7. But for now, we are genuinely excited about sharing Hole Park with you. I wish Easter was forecast to be a little warmer.

Quentin Stark

I’ve been Head gardener at Hole Park for twenty years, I was employed by Edwards Father David, who used it as a family garden with limited opening mainly for the NGS. Over the years I have seen many changes including the longer opening season, this year it will be longer than ever but I relish the opportunity to share this beautiful garden with our paying guests. My role has developed from maintaining a predominantly family garden to one that balances both the needs of the family and public alike. Over the years I have been lucky enough to have the opportunity to redevelop areas of the garden and improve the range of plants we grow to extend our season. We used to be known for our bluebells alone but now I think we are a garden for all seasons. Whether it’s from the first snowdrops in spring, through to the monochrome of the bluebells, closely followed by the riot of colour with the rhododendrons and on to the herbaceous borders in summer, exotic plantings in late summer through to autumn colour in the woodland.
My staff have changed over the years, some like Steve have been there for 20 years and then my trainees from the WRAGS scheme are only placed with us for a year, each of them brings skills and life experiences that are reflected in the gardens and each of them have left their mark. I often look round the garden and have a smile reminiscing about a day we planted up an area in the pouring rain or see a plant the owners insisted on having or a planting scheme one of the team designed. Each of these has made Hole Park Gardens what they are today and I am pleased to be able to take round a group of visitors explaining what the gardens mean to me and I hope I am able to convey the passion I have for gardening. I am proud to be Head Gardener of Hole Park.

Joe Archer is the Assistant Head Gardener who joined the team at the end of March 2020

Joe Archer

My horticultural inspiration derived from an uncle who worked as Head Gardener at the Longstock water Gardens in Hampshire. Throughout my life I was treated to private tours of his amazing water gardens and was struck by the idyllic lifestyle he led including his tied thatched cottage. This always resinated with me and it became a career ambition to become a gardener and to have a slice of this rural way of life.

The chance came to me just over a year ago in March 2020. Having lived in London my whole life I seized the opportunity to take up a position of assistant head gardener at Hole Park in the Kent countryside. My role is to support Head Gardener Quentin Stark in maintaining and developing the extensive gardens. Together with the owners we strive to keep the grounds looking at their best and in turn please the many visitors who come and enjoy the gardens.

What I love most about being a gardener is working through the seasons and the variety of tasks this brings. Working at Hole Park epitomises this, it is a garden for all seasons and with just a small gardening team we are all involved whatever the job. It is a pleasure to work in a garden with so many horticultural assets and my skills as a gardener are constantly expanding and improving.

The gardens are a hive of activity right through the year. In the lead up to opening in April the team work hard by pruning, mowing lawns, mulching and preparing beds to get the gardens ready. Visitors are treated to quintessential English woodland walks surrounded by bluebells and a garden packed full of flowering spring bulbs.

During summer the flower borders take centre stage. Many months of work pay off to achieve colourful displays. Plants propagated in the greenhouses and grown on for the herbaceous borders, rose garden and the tropical border fill what were once bare beds with foliage and flowers. The final showpiece in our display is the autumnal colour, none more impressive than our collection of Acers. Different shades of reds, yellows and oranges turn the woodland into a kaleidoscope of colour.

Autumn is also the time when staff from all departments work collectively on the Christmas tree harvest on the wider estate. There is a great sense of camaraderie and a chance to work in the surrounding countryside in the build-up to the festive season. It is hard but rewarding work and a great way to finish the year.

The joy of working in such scenic surroundings is capped off by having my own tied cottage on the estate. Where once I would struggle to work through train delays and grey surroundings, I now have a five-minute cycle whilst listening to the birds sing. I am very pleased to have found what I was looking for.

For more information regarding opening time please visit their website