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February flower count

If you are new to Chartwell gardens blog then welcome! If you have been a follower of the blog before then you will have noticed that it has gone very quiet over the last 6 months or more. This is because there have been a lot of changes in the gardens over that period and one of those changes has been that our resident blogger, Jamie, having completed a secondment at Nymans, has now moved on to a new position with the National Trust at Polesden Lacey.

In the meantime all of our other gardeners have had their hands full keeping the gardens looking beautiful and therefore there has been no time for blogging…until now. I joined the garden team at the end of December working as an intern in the Kitchen Garden under the supervision of Claire Bryant.  The new blog which I started following my 6 month internship can be found at Chartwell Veg Patch


The kitchen garden

This week I have been let out of the kitchen garden to see what else is going on in the rest of the gardens at Chartwell. In the main garden I got the chance to be involved in the February flower count which traditionally takes place every year on Valentine’s Day.


Matt Law who is the gardener with particular responsibility for the formal gardens (rather than the wider estate) and who knows more about the plants at Chartwell than anyone else took me on a tour to spot and record which of our plants are currently in flower.

These included familiar favourites for this time of year such as crocuses, camellia, hellebores, irises, hamamelis (witch hazel) and primroses which I was able to identify without too much help from Matt…


Snowdrops in the Winter Border which is in the Orchard just outside the Kitchen Garden


Winter aconites edge the winter border


Periwinkle (vinca major) can be found near the Water Feature

At the very top of the Winter Border, near the Pet Graves, you be able to smell the sweet scent of these Daphne bholua 'Jacqueline Postill' shrubs before you actually see them...

Daphne bholua ‘Jacqueline Postill’ is currently in full bloom and smelling divine at the top of the Winter Border

… but also a few that are new to me such as pulmonaria (common lungswort) and the spring snowflakes (leucojum vernum). These are closely related to the snowdrop but on taller stems that at first glance make it look more like a daffodil.


Spring snowflake (leucojum vernum) can be found in front of the Swimming Pool

We also cleared and then planted up the border that leads from the Visitor Centre down towards the house with new plants. The old border had become a bit dark and enclosed and the new border will allow visitors to really appreciate the best of the views.


Matt and Chris laying out the new plants

Once they were all in place...

Once they were all in place…

... we were allowed to get digging

… we were allowed to get digging

Sarcococca ruscifolia (sweet box) has a beautiful scent

Sarcococca ruscifolia (sweet box) has a beautiful scent

The new plants include helleborus niger (a white flowering hellebore), helleborus argutifolius (with lime green flowers), lots of beautiful smelling sarcococca ruscifolia (sweet box), ruscus aculeatus (butcher’s broom), some ferns including polypodium vulgare and a good sprinkling of snowdrops. We also left some gaps at the back of the border for some ilex (holly) to go in when our delivery arrives.

It took us most of the day to get all of the planting done and then we watered everything in before mulching with a good layer of manure.


Claire starts mulching – the new delivery of manure was so fresh it was warm and steaming!


Thursday volunteers Lynne and Karen water the plants in


The finished border


A good days work!

The border is already looking good but will of course get better and better as the year goes on.  Hopefully if you have time over half term week you can come and take at look at our work and see if you can spot all of the plants that are currently in bloom.

Becky Reader



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2013 In Review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 14,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 5 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

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Canadian Troops at Chartwell

Emily, our Learning & Events Officer here at Chartwell, has recently blogged about the Canadian Camp in our woods.

Keep calm and carry on blogging


Those of you who follow the Chartwell garden blog will have recently read about our woodland play areas, including the Canadian camp.  If you’re not familiar with the woodland estate, it has long been known to local walkers, but only recently been opened up to our visiting public.  We have developed the area slightly by adding knotted ropes and a scramble net to the WWII era bomb crater, impressive swings on the biggest trees in the park land, and created a camp where Canadian soldiers were stationed during WWII.


The Canadian camp has proven extremely popular with our young visitors, and I have to admit that as a Canadian myself, it’s my favourite place in the woodland.  It’s a magical place, with a brush tunnel, olive green army hammocks, and a little fire pit complete with mess tins.  There’s scope for so much in that little area up in…

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If You Go Down To the Woods Today…Part 1

Welcome to the Chartwell estate!

Welcome to the Chartwell estate!

When Sir Winston Churchill bought Chartwell, it is said that he did it mostly for the amazing views you get from the house and gardens. The fact that it came with substantial land (92 acres in all), including a healthy woodland, made it all that much more attractive. Some of our many visitors come initially to visit Churchill’s house, a living museum in itself, while others come to experience our fantastic gardens (in my humble opinion some of the loveliest in the country!). We are also hoping that others still will from now on be visiting us to enjoy the wider Chartwell estate.

The view from the woods shows Chartwell in a whole new light

The view from the woods shows Chartwell in a whole new light

Steve, our Garden Estate Manager, along with our team of gardeners and volunteers have been busy working in our woods for over a year now to make it more accessible to our visitors, adults and children alike. Although many people have been enjoying the area and all it has to offer for many months now, the Chartwell estate was formally opened last week by members of the existing Churchill family. The camera crews were there to witness the event including the ITV News team who produced a great package that you can view by clicking right here.

Once in the woods, we'll point you in the right direction!

Once in the woods, we’ll point you in the right direction!

Six year old Johnnie Churchill and ten year old Alice Churchill walked in the footsteps of their great, great grandfather Sir Winston Churchill on the day, by testing out the new natural adventure play area. Over the coming weeks I will be showing the readers of this blog everything the Chartwell woodland has to offer including…

The Canadian Soldier Camp

The Canadian Soldier Camp

The Bomb Crater

The Bomb Crater

The Chestnut Coppice

The Chestnut Coppice

And the Doormouse Dens

And the Doormouse Dens

You can access the woods from either side of the two lakes or by heading up the path that runs through the middle of them. Once in the woods you can take one of the many paths on the upper or lower levels with our signposts keeping you on track along the way. There are plenty of places to rest and some great views to be had as well as the promise of glimpsing some local wildlife such as the deer that roam through the area or the glades of bluebells and foxgloves depending on the time of year.

There are several swings in the Parkland that leads to the woods, all named after one of the Churchill children and their favourite animal.

There are several swings in the Parkland that leads to the woods, all named after one of the Churchill children and their favourite animal.

After playing on the swings you might need a hard earned rest!

After playing on the swings you might need a hard earned rest!

Some of the photographs that you will be able to take whilst in the woods will be just as memorable as those you take in the gardens themselves. We are looking for entries from either area as part of our Calendar Photography Competition which is still running until the end of June. You can find out more information by clicking here. If you have any pictures from previous visits to us, from any time of the year, please don’t hesitate to submit them and you might get to see them printed in the Chartwell Garden Calendar 2014!


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Visit to Chartwell on VE Day – Vive l’Entente Cordiale!

One of our garden Volunteers Alastair has written a blog about a tour for some French school children he did here at Chartwell recently. Tres bon, Monsieur!

Keep calm and carry on blogging

Wednesday 8th May – VE Day commemorating Victory in Europe and the end of WWII in this part of the world, how appropriate that the Jules Collet primary school in Montivilliers, Normandy, should choose to visit Chartwell on that day! Accompanied by their teachers Véronique Vittecoq and Martine Hamel, the 18 pupils from the school first visited the house, where they showed a keen interest in everything, though the uniform room was a favourite exhibit.

I met the youngsters outside the Exhibition Room and played them a clip of Winston Churchill’s radio broadcast to the French nation in 1941. It seemed fitting that Churchill said in his heavily accented French that “once again I am walking with you today” You can hear the broadcast yourself by clicking on the link:

So accompanied by the spirit of Churchill, I led the youngsters on a trek up into the woodlands…

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2012 In Review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 12,000 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 20 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

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Hibernating In the Boiler Room!

The Dahlias at Chartwell

One of the most popular areas of the gardens here at Chartwell for many people each Summer is the Dahlia bed. Found as part of the cut flower section within the walled Kitchen Garden, our Dahlias really are a sight to behold in a good year. As you can see from the above picture, they can reach a fair old height, even dwarfing our life-size scarecrow we installed as part of a local community initiative last year! Steve takes the process of staking our Dahlias each season very seriously indeed! You’ll understand when I tell you that spirit levels and measuring tape are used!

There are tens of thousands of different types of Dahlias which has been made possible by the fact that the Dahlia plant has eight genes that control its appearance while most other flowers only have two. This means that you can get pretty much any colour of Dahlia flower these days – except blue. In the mid 19th century a London newspaper offered £1 to the first breeder able to produce a blue dahlia. This reward has never been claimed however and breeders are still striving for the elusive blue colour. This hasn’t stopped bands such as The Gaslight Anthem writing songs about ‘The Blue Dahlia’, which could of course have fitted nicely into our horticultural rock music playlist we began to compile on this very blog a while ago, and which you can have a look at by clicking here!

Our Dahlia ‘My Love’ in full bloom

The Dahlia is named in after a Swedish botanist called Anders Dahl and originates in Mexico. It was brought to Europe during the 18th century by Spanish explorers where the beautiful flowers grew well in European soils, but couldn’t survive even the mildest Winters. The dahlia therefore remained a rarity until the invention of the greenhouse and the practice of lifting and storing the tubers during the harsh, cold months. Lifting the tubers and keeping them indoors each Winter stops Jack Frost from getting his icy fingers on them. It is this process that we have recently completed here at Chartwell and one that I will take you through now…

The flowers and foliage are cut to near ground level once the first frost has blackened the petals and leaves

This is the amount of supporting stakes that we removed as part of this process!

In mild regions and on well-drained soils, it can be possible to leave the tubers in the ground and cover with a 8 – 15cm deep layer of bark chips or similar mulching material to protect them from frost. Although we are obviously situated in the milder south east, our soil is quite heavy and we choose not to risk this process!

The clumps are carefully lifted with a fork so as not to damage any of the tubers, as Ann, Tony and Jan are doing here

The soil-covered clumps are then left in a sunny spot in one of our glasshouses for a few weeks to properly dry off naturally

Once the soil has dried, as much of the remaining earth as possible should be gently scrubbed off. Alastair is doing a fine job here!

Although this isn’t an absolute necessity, we like to coat our tubers with green sulphur powder to try and prevent the occurrence of storage rot over Winter. This is one of the few chemicals that we allow ourselves to use here at Chartwell as the chance of it interacting with the environment in a negative manner is negligible

All that then remains to be done is place our precious cargo on the slatted benches in Churchill’s boiler room under the mansion!

Although the boiler room should keep the tubers cool and dry to prevent rotting occurring, we will still check on them from time to time, removing any unhealthy specimens so as to make sure the rot doesn’t spread to the others.

Sir Winston and Lady Churchill kept Dahlias here during their time and we try to keep true to their designs by keeping the same varieties where possible. Some of them have proven very hard to source however but all of the Dahlias you will see in the gardens at Chartwell next year have been here since the 1960’s at least and some back to Churchill’s heyday. If you pop down and see us next Summer for example you’ll find the likes of ‘Glorie van Heemstede’, ‘Wiegenlied’, ‘Hayley Jane’, ‘Susannah York’, ‘Vicky Crutchfield’, ‘My Love’, ‘Snowflake’ and ‘Corydon’ standing tall and proud in the cut flower bed. Care is taken to bring them into growth in our cold frames next Spring before planting them out as only ‘Glorie van Heemstede’ seems to be commercially available these days.

As our Dahlias are towering over you the next time you find yourself at Chartwell during late Summer, try and remember the journey they’ll have taken to our boiler room and back again!

Movember Update!

Johnathan, Gary, Andy, Giles, Ali G, Ron and Jamie from the Chartwell Movember team!

We’re well into the final week of Movember so if our crumb catchers aren’t looking bushy now then they probably never will be! We’ve had great fun doing this during November to raise money and awareness for male caners such as prostate cancer and testicular cancer. I’ve probably annoyed quite a few wives and girlfriends of those taking part by persuading their partners to get involved and grow a ‘tache, but never mind! The donations have been flooding in but if you would still like to contribute, please do so at and it will be much appreciated…



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