Water Lane, Hawkhurst

Posted: February 20th, 2023

All walled gardens undergo a renaissance at some point in their history.   Just such a case is Water Lane near Hawkhurst, Kent.  Its last incarnation was the Walled Nursery (see blog post September 2017).  This wonderfully atmospheric 2 acre walled garden of what was the Tongswood estate is no longer a purveyor of plants but a veritable hotbed of activity: a host of workshops, a twice monthly local food market, a shop brimming with stylish covetable merchandise and an excellent restaurant. How did all this come about?

Water Lane near Hawkhurst, \Kent

Water Lane near Hawkhurst, Kent

Nick Selby and Ian James saw it for sale on RightMove.  ‘We weren’t looking for this sort of project (they were looking for land to grow cut flowers) but we fell in love with it’ in late 2020.  It is easy to understand why.  Stepping through the vivid green gate into the walled garden is to enter a different world reminiscent of that marvellous children’s book The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett.

Just a few of the Victorian glasshouses at Water Lane

Just a few of the Victorian glasshouses at Water Lane

Emma and Monty achieved a huge amount during their ownership of the garden, bravely embarking on the mammoth task of restoring the extensive run of glasshouses, but there came a time for them to move on with their young family.

Nick and Ian are now firmly ensconced in the gardener’s bothy, having previously lived in a basement flat in London.  Since 2004 they have run two prestigious delicatessens, Melrose & Morgan in Primrose Hill and Hampstead and a catering business on the side employing some 45 people.

Ian became interested in growing flowers thanks to Marianne Mogendoff and Camila Romain, owners of Wolves Lane Flower Company, a micro flower company in North London whom he worked with in London.  He has installed several no-dig beds for growing cut flowers. There is a monthly ‘The Cutting Garden’ workshop.

Winter salad growing in a glasshouse

Winter salad growing in a glasshouse

Al fresco dining in balmy summer months

Al fresco dining in balmy summer months

Ian and Nick are returning the walled garden into being a ‘productive garden’ growing produce for the restaurant and shop, and flowers for florists and events. Peeking inside a greenhouse growing winter salad is enough to make one rush to the restaurant immediately.  Located in the heated former Carnation house in the winter it relocates to an outside terrace under a tented awning in the summer.

The delectable February menu is inspired by the cookery writer Claudia Roden.  The tables and chairs in the restaurant are contemporary in a subtle colour palette, the terracotta hued chairs matching the brick walls of the garden.  ‘Colour makes people feel happy and we want to bring modernity to the place.’

A corner of the walled garden awaiting Jo Thompson's new design

A corner of the walled garden awaiting Jo Thompso’s new design

Nick and Ian have an ambitious vision for the future and have enlisted the well known garden designer, Jo Thompson, to draw up a holistic phased master plan.  ‘We feel very privileged to be responsible for this place and we want to share it as widely as possible.’  The ideas include a rose ‘orchard’ with a bulb meadow, a quince avenue, a children’s natural play area, a nuttery and educational space and a new landscaped car park.

The small shop is brimming with practical Niwaki garden tools, jams and pickles made on site and an array of stylish cards, notebooks, tea towels and many other covetable items.  All beautifully presented in a chic understated manner.

There are four annual makers markets with at least 20 stalls, each one curated by a renowned taste broker such as Katharine Howard of Country House Locations. The next one is on the 1st of April. There are also local farmers market on the 1st and 3rd Saturday of every month.

Other forthcoming workshops include: Designing a Flower Border with Jo Thompson, Build your own Terrarium with Terrapy Terrariums,  Natural Dyeing with the Natural Dyeworks and Calligraphy for Beginners with Lucy Berridge.

Water Lane is open Wednesday – Sunday 10am – 4.30pm.