Gardeners faced with unremitting chalk take heart from the famous chalkpit garden at Highdown, near Worthing, birthplace of an excellent white magnolia, and another near Ipswich, Lime Kiln, where a former secretary of the Royal Academy, Humphrey Brook, grew roses that only he knew, to sizes that only he dared. Pruning was not in his
vocabulary; nor mulching nor manure – or so goes the legend.
I was reminded of his garden and its ferocious cascades of rosy growth the other day when we visited his neighbours the Blakenhams, at Cottage Farm almost next door. Lord Blakenham’s father, as treasurer of the RHS, engaged me to conduct (as they used to say) the society’s journal in the 1970s. The woodland garden I saw then has developed prodigiously in the intervening years. Tall specimens of Magnolia campbellii are unexpected on the east coast, and presumed not possible where chalk is in evidence.
Just how much difference a layer of topsoil makes is demonstrated at Cottage Farm by a most ingenious feature. Suddenly, surrounded by every flowering tree, by thickets of bamboo and the lush undergrowth of a classic woodland garden, a grassy path spirals into a shallow pit, leading to a strange white eye in the earth, like a pool of milk. The solid
chalk bedrock is staring up at you, laid startlingly bare.