Country diary: ‘Demanding Ladies’ blossom in a Victorian time warp

Hawkhurst, Kent One of Britain’s largest collections of Victorian glasshouses is being restored thanks to the fond memories of a wartime evacuee

Just outside Hawkhurst, in the Kentish Weald, there’s a walled garden so quintessentially Victorian that stepping inside feels like time-travelling. Rustic brickwork glows in the winter sun; in bright corners the skeletal arms of buddleia seem to beckon the ghosts of bees; and everywhere you look the light is reflected by shimmering glass.

There are 13 crumbling, deeply atmospheric glasshouses – the “Demanding Ladies” – most of them more than 140 years old. There’s a shaded fern house, a long, leaning peach case, a sunken glass corridor for melons and pineapples, a pelargonium house, a carnation house, a hot house with great vats that once steamed with heated water.

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