In Winston Churchill's footsteps at Chartwell, Kent
|Chartwell, with its impressive magnolia grandiflora|
It's not often you walk in a former Prime Minister's garden here in England, but you can do just that at Chartwell in Kent - home of Sir Winston Churchill and his wife Clementine for more than 50 years. The red-brick house (above), surrounded by 82 acres of gardens and parkland was his home throughout the war years and it was here that he spent all his free time with his family. The house is an extraordinary red-brick edifice, but the views over the surrounding countryside are magnificent and the gardens, now under the stewardship of the National Trust, are impressive.
|Chartwell has magnificent views over the Weald of Kent|
Winston Churchill had already seen one war when he and his family moved here in the winter of 1922. He loved this property and despite his commitments to his country, spent all his free time here for the next 40 years. He once said: "A day away from Chartwell is a day wasted". It completely absorbed him. He loved both the house and the views, and he created the much of the garden that is there today, by moving earth and dredging new lakes and spending much of his time bricklaying - a particular passion of this great statesman, who became an adult apprentice of the Amalgamated Union of Building Trade Workers - and put his newly acquired skills to work at home.
Both Winston and Clementine were keen gardeners. He had a particular passion for fish and she loved her roses. So it's not surprising that both feature high on the list of outstanding features at the property today. When you arrive at Chartwell, you approach the house through Winston's water gardens, including his Golden Orfe pond (below), and Lady Churchill's rose garden - currently in full bloom and filled with the heady scent of English roses.
|The Golden Orfe pond, where Winston Churchill like to sit and watch his fish|
Most visitors come to Chartwell to see the house, still furnished as it was in Churchill's day and with many of his personal possessions on show. You can almost smell his cigar smoke as you wander through the interior! But the garden is also a tribute to the great man, particularly the large kitchen garden, where the family grew all the vegetables they needed throughout the war years. It has been changed since his death in 1965, but offers one of the most spectacular walled gardens in southern England.
This walled garden was no more than an orchard when the Churchills moved here, but during the 1930s Winston used his newly acquired brick-laying skills to turn this area into a protected kitchen garden and the family were able to grow most of what they needed during World War II. This tradition continues today as the National Trust has fully restored the area and is experimenting with vegetables, fruit and flowers. It's an impressive display and much of the produce grown is used in the restaurant here.
|The Golden Rose Walk|
Particularly memorable is the Golden Rose Walk (above) which bisects the kitchen garden - a Golden wedding anniversary gift to Sir Winston and Lady Churchill in 1958 from their children - which features only yellow and gold-hued roses. It's impressive when you see it from above, from the windows of the house, but even more so when you stroll through it and smell the flowers. Lady Churchill's rose garden is quite different and found at the rear of the house. You'll find roses in every colour there.
|The kitchen garden, used by the Churchills, but renovated by the National Trust|
Chartwell will certainly come as a surprise to garden lovers - it's a magnificent property and immaculately maintained. It passed to the National Trust on Winston Churchill's death, although Clementine remained here afterwards. The gardens remain open daily throughout the summer months from 10.00 but the house has restricted opening hours during the winter months (check Chartwell website for details). Notable gardens nearby include Charts Edge, Hever Castle and Titsey Place, which also has a fine walled garden.