Discover fascinating open gardens in three historic places
Visiting open gardens is a way of seeing more of a town than the normal ‘tourist’ usually sees.
Instead of just walking down the streets, you step through the gates and walk behind the walls. Many gardens belong to individuals. Or they belong to organisations, but the public access can be quite limited except on ‘open gardens’ days.
Faversham, Whitstable and Canterbury are three of Kent’s most historic places. Indeed, it would be fair to say that they all belong in any list of the ‘most historic places in the United Kingdom’. All three have group ‘open gardens’ events.
If your friend or partner is not particularly keen on gardens, then perhaps you can tempt them with historic buildings, interesting walks and good places to eat.
Faversham Open Gardens & Garden Market Day
I’m one of the organisers for the Faversham Open Gardens & Garden Market Day It’s held on the last Sunday in June every year.
Faversham is the least famous of the three historic places in this post. But it is steeped in history. Its ancient harbour operated as a Cinque Port in Henry VIII’s time. It has Shepherd Neame – Britain’s oldest brewery – and Abbey Street, the UK’s best preserved Medieval street. Faversham Open Gardens raises money for the Faversham Society, which was started in the 1960s to save Abbey Street from demolition.
The town dates back to before Roman times but is largely Medieval and Georgian. Those who enjoy gardens can visit 30+ gardens on June 30th. Non-gardeners can explore the 400+ Listed buildings and some of the UK’s oldest pubs.
Faversham also has an open garden day with the NGS, with three gardens open. It’s usually earlier in June.
Visit gardens in a historic seaside town
And you can visit the now fashionable – but still fascinating – former fishing village of Whitstable. Although I don’t suggest reading that sentence out loud while eating a mouthful of quiche.
Whitstable opens 10 gardens for the NGS every May with a large selection of gardens. They range from contemporary outdoor spaces to converted fishermen’s yards.
Whitstable’s clapperboard fisherman’s cottages and brightly coloured beach huts still have the feeling of a bygone age. So you can combine garden visiting with fish and chips on the beach, trawling the art galleries and nationally famous restaurants, such as the Sportsman at Seasalter, JoJo’s at Tankerton, The Whitstable Oyster House or Wheelers. Although do book first.
Whitstable’s Open Gardens have seaside-y gardens and gardens behind Victorian terraces. Here’s a review of a previous year’s Whitstable Open Gardens with more detail on some of the gardens. Although not all last year’s gardens are also open this year, several new gardens have joined.
Some gardens overlook the sea. Read about them here if you want to create a seaside garden.
Canterbury Cathedral Open Gardens
And what about Canterbury Cathedral? This is the sort of iconic building that sits on the ‘to-do’ list. It’s been there for more than a thousand years, so it’s easy to feel there’s no great rush.
But if you’re a garden lover – especially one who is linked to non-garden lovers – then Canterbury Cathedral Open Gardens offers a once-a-year opportunity to see the gardens behind the ancient walls.
Held in May for the NGS , Canterbury Cathedral Open Gardens covers both the private gardens and also the patches of open space. The gardens are run by Philip Oostenbrink.
Philip’s own tiny jungly garden in Ash is also open on July 28th. He opens it on the same day as a tropical garden nearby. This belongs to head gardener Steven Edney and his partner, Lou Dowle. Steven Edney was head gardener at The Salutation in Sandwich (now closed). The Salutation is a beautifully restored Edwin Lutyens house and garden.
The Salutation is now closed, although there will be NGS opens gardens in Sandwich, another a fascinating historic town.
More about visiting open gardens in Whitstable, Canterbury & Faversham
Whitstable, Canterbury and Faversham are all just over an hour by train from London St Pancras. They can also be reached from Victoria station, although it’s a longer journey.
Driving: All three towns are close to the M2 motorway, around 30-60 minutes from junctions 5 and 2 on the M25. But travel times can be longer on hot, sunny weekends.
Places to stay/eat: Visit Faversham has information on where to stay, eat and visit in Faversham. Visit Canterbury has visitor information for both Canterbury and Whitstable. There are plenty of Airbnb options in all three places.
And the boutique hotel concept has also just arrived in the area, with The Pig at Bridge joining the more traditional hotels and b&bs.
PS – don’t miss Broadstairs…
Although it isn’t part of any group open gardens, fellow blogger Dan Cooper of The Frustrated Gardener sometimes opens his garden in August for the NGS. (If he isn’t opening, there will be other good NGS gardens in the area.) And Broadstairs is an absolutely charming seaside town, with a generous sweep of golden beach and one of the best ice-cream parlours in the world. It is where Charles Dickens lived. Read more about Dan’s garden, created for entertaining, here.
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