Flowers And Follies: The Intriguing Ways Of Great Comp Garden

Flowers And Follies: The Intriguing Ways Of Great Comp Garden
Great Comp House, seen from the Square Lawn

"It's quite a rummagey around little place, isn't it?" murmurs a disembodied male voice through the trees, just a couple of metres away from us but on a whole other footpath.

The voice isn't wrong. Great Comp Garden is blessed with myriad spots to explore, from sweeping open lawns, to shady forest footpaths and a walled garden. And that's before we get to the intriguing-looking ruins — more on those later.

The Lion Summer House, originally the lavatory for the estate.

Great Comp Garden is a 7-acre plot of greenery, surrounding a 17th century manor house in the Kent countryside. It describes itself as 'near Sevenoaks', but many Sevenoaks residents have never heard of it, such is its tranquil remoteness, which only adds to the vibe of stumbling across a little secret.

It feels like wandering around someone's back garden... which you are, really. The manor house is a private residence, and although its interior is off-limits to the public, its country cottage-style chimney can be seen from all over the luscious garden, making its presence felt from all angles.

It was once the home of Roderick and Joy Cameron, who bought the property in the 1950s and made the garden into what it is today. There are memorials to them dotted around the site, and they are buried under the Square Lawn, right outside their former home.

Roderick and Joy Cameron were laid to rest in their garden.

First things first, you're going to want to pick up a map at the entrance of this one, as it takes a while to get your bearings, and it'd be easy to miss something. That's unexpected from a plot this size, but the dense bushes keep urns, statues, and even full-sized summer houses hidden until they're right in front of you, and at some points, we feel like we're the first people to have walked these paths for many years.

In June, lusciousness is the overriding theme, and we find ourselves walking among some of the greenest greenery we've ever seen. Things never feel too remote though — the traffic from the lane outside rumbles past the Top Terrace, and other visitors can occasionally be heard, if not seen, nearby.

Paths cut randomly through the trees and bushes, some rather narrow, which brings us to our second piece of advice — the Woodland Walk paths can be a little overgrown in places, so wear long trousers and enclosed shoes if you're squeamish of ankle or ticklish of leg. It does, however, make for a shady haven on a sweltering hot day, with impossibly tall trees towering above. Kids will certainly enjoy roaming like wild explorers.

Prefer your greenery a bit more manicured? Three perfectly cut sweeping lawns can be found dotted around the garden, hemmed in with borders of colourful plants, and dotted with wooden benches for enjoying the view. Through spring, expect to see daffodils, tulips and magnolias, while azaleas and rhododendrons emerge in early summer. The garden's pride and joy is its Salvia collection, the work of curator William Dyson, one of Europe's leading Salvia experts, who owns a the on-site nursery.

It can be tempting, particularly on a hot day, to just visit the lawns, take in the views, then head to the tearoom for some well-earned refreshments, but those who explore the Woodland Walk are rewarded with the beautiful sight of the Chilstone Temple, a round, five-pillared temple draped in lilac rhododendron flowers.

The Chilstone Temple

This isn't the only 'ruin'  in the garden. Multiple times, we find ourselves immersed in our green surroundings, before being surprised by the appearance of an ancient wall or pillar which blends seamlessly into the landscape, roof long gone but footprint of an historic building still intact. Best of all is the tower on the Crescent Lawn.

The 'Tower' on the Crescent Lawn

"Oooh, a tower" we thought, inspecting the map, for we're not ones to turn down a good viewpoint, but this tower is not what we expected. Surrounded by trees and bushes on three sides, and open lawn on the fourth, the folly is no longer whole. Instead, crumbling stone walls of various heights leave two staircases open to the elements, moss covering many surfaces, plants wrapping their tendrils around anything they can get a grip on.

The 'Tower' hidden among the greenery

As with all of the abandoned buildings in the garden though, no information about the history of the structure is provided, the reason being that despite putting on a thoroughly convincing show, these are not real ruins.

Nature thrives in the 'ruins'

The were installed in the 1970s-80s by Roderick Cameron, created from materials excavated when the gardens were being laid out. On closer inspection, the steps in the 'Tower' have the patina of decades rather than centuries worn into them. Fake news it may be, but despite being only 10-12ft off the ground, the top of the tower is the place to go to get the money shot of the surrounding gardens.

The view from the 'Tower'

From up here, it becomes obvious that there's one part of the plot we haven't yet explored — the Italian Garden, which was inspired by Roderick Cameron's time stationed in Italy during the second world war. Head through the brick moon gate to the side of the Square Lawn and into a walled garden, where hedges and walls have been used to create something of a mini maze.

Memorials to people who have been involved in Great Comp Garden

Various urns, sculptures, busts and Corinthian columns pop up among the greenery, and one wall boasts memorial plaques to the Camerons, as well as other people who've been involved in Great Comp over the years. The highlight, though, is the small pond, ripe with water lilies and small fish, a fountain at one end, and a brick viaduct running over its centre, all watched over by a palm tree.

The Italian Garden

Double back on yourself to the Old Dairy Tearoom at the other end of the Italian Garden, and tuck into lunch or a slice of cake while you enjoy the peace and quiet. As the name suggests, the barn-like structure was once the estate's dairy, and it's retained many of its original features. Dine inside, or out in the courtyard, and enjoy the scents and sounds of the garden before you head back down the drive and out into the real world.

The tearoom is located in the former dairy building

Great Comp Garden, Comp Lane, Platt, Kent, TN15 8QS. Entry is £8.50 for adults, no advance booking required. Note that the Old Dairy Tearoom can only be visited by paying the garden entry fee.

Find other places to visit and things to do in Kent (including nearby Riverhill Himalayan Gardens) or take a look at our map of ideas for day trips from London.

Last Updated 16 June 2021

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