I always think of Penshurst Place as a true writers’ garden. This isn’t just because it was the home of one of the great 16th Century English poets, Sir Philip Sidney.
or the muse for Ben Johnson’s poem, To Penshurst.
But it is still attracting writers today. Dramatist and short story writer, Gaye Jee (who kindly agreed to read one of Sidney’s poems at the end of this piece) can be found guiding sometimes, and where else would you receive a reply to your email IN VERSE from the office? Also there are regular literary events at both the house and garden. But this isn’t the only reason to love Penshurst. It has a very special feel which I think comes from the fact that it is still a family home – that of De L’Isle family and you can see an exhibition of family portraits and photographs over generations.
I’m lucky in that it’s one of the nearest gardens to my home so I get to visit regularly. This means I see the 11 acre garden at different times…
… and find my own special corners where I can almost imagine myself back to the 16th century when the garden was first laid out …
… and never fail to leave a little lighter-hearted…
… and even walks outside in the glorious parkland (and open to all) make me feel grateful.
But I was grateful to Gaye for pointing out something I would never have noticed before, and that is how much of the garden plays with perspective. So this isn’t just how the hedges allow you to move from one garden room to another and from one height to another, still giving glimpses of the house…
… but she pointed out how the pond at the front of the house, while looking like an oval from the ground…
… actually makes a perfect circle when seen from the first floor reception room.
My new favourite thing. It joins the topiary bear but above all the porcupine as essentials to visit each time.
The porcupine is the symbolic animal of the Sidney family, and may seem a strange one until I read that in ancient times it was believed that porcupines can throw their quills at an enemy.
(Completely off subject, but I love the fact that a group of porcupines is called a ‘prickle’.)
Definitely not prickly is one of the other attractions of the garden at Penshurst Place which is the 100 yard Peony Border…
If you are lucky enough to see it at its prime (in June), I swear it will keep you going all year. Penshurst kindly operate an email list, allowing you to sign up to be informed for when it’s at its finest. It really does fill you up in every sense, and is worth waiting for…
And so I took all of these things, but above all one of Sir Philip Sidney’s sonnets as my writing inspiration. The eagle-eyed among you may recognise the line-ends to Sidney’s sonnet, Astrophli and Stella 1 which I kept to exactly.
Come to the Window
From above, the pond’s a perfect circle as if to show
how even your eyes can be deceived if you think pain
is something those on top will never know.
The perspective’s a trick; I pass the story on to obtain
your interest but better surely than a tale of woe
is the joy you feel at a garden set out to entertain —
topiary beasts to make you laugh, a sense of beauty to flow
right through, white gardens, flags, heart first then brain.
A peony border you rush to see because you think it’ll stay
fresh only fleetingly, forgetting how the wind blows
sweet scent into winter nights until you dream of the way
those bawdy flowers blushed as if caught in the throes
of a delicious secret. Circles have no corners, no room for spite
and what’s important is what YOU feel, not what I write.
And here is Gaye Jee reading one of Sir Philip Sidney’s poems. It was filmed last summer in the sun.
Website for Penshurst Place is here.