The garden at Mere House extends to about six acres, and provides a variety of colours and contrasts throughout the year. The main features are a wide range of ornamental trees and shrubs, extensive lawns, a woodland walk and the long, narrow lake. Visitors return to the garden year after year to see the snowdrops marking the end of winter, the daffodils in the spring, the rich colours in the autumn – or just to have a lazy day on the lawn in the summer.
The lake was formed in 1780, when the house was built, by canalising and damming the stream which rises in Mereworth Woods to the north-west. The lake returns to a stream which runs east into the lakes at Mereworth Castle, flowing on to join the River Medway at Wateringbury.
Most of the larger trees in the garden and surrounding land were planted by the Stapleton family, Rectors for much of the 19th century. Many of these can be seen in the woodland walk at the eastern side of the garden.
The garden layout you see today is predominantly the work of Sir John and Lady Wells, who laid out most of the beds and planted numerous trees and shrubs from 1958 onwards. They started opening the garden for the National Gardens Scheme in 1971.
A large commercial greenhouse in the kitchen garden and many of the larger trees were destroyed by the devastating hurricane of 1987, and the garden was damaged further in the gales of 1990 and 2014. These gave opportunities for some reshaping and much replanting. In the last 20 years major work has been undertaken to reinforce the lake’s banks, and bunds have been created along boundaries to the south and west to mitigate increasing road noise and light pollution. Probably the largest private earth-moving project in Kent in recent years, the bunds have been extensively planted with trees and shrubs which tolerate poor soil. Other recent work includes a new bed designed by Augusta Macdougall (née Wells), proprietor with her husband of Arvensis Perennials (www.arvensisperennials.co.uk), the wholesale plant nursery near Bradford on Avon.
The present owners of Mere House, Andrew and Tessa Wells, have continued Andrew’s parents’ work in the garden, which they open by appointment and for charities throughout the year, with National Garden Scheme days for snowdrops in February, daffodils in March and April, and autumn colour in October.
The last decade has brought welcome coverage by the gardening press, with the bulbs and spring blossom beautifully photographed by Nicola Stocken Tomkins in her articles in The English Garden (February 2005) and the NFU’s Countryside Magazine (March 2006). Leigh Clapp explored the changes autumn brings in her article, ‘A chorus of colours’, in Kent Life (October 2007), and Vanessa Berridge looked forward to spring in ‘A Kentish delight’ in The Lady (10 March 2009). In 2010 Country Life covered our snowdrop opening (20 January) and our use of barley straw to eliminate blanket weed on the lake (30 June). The garden was runner-up in Kent Life’s amateur garden of the year competition in 2011 and was the Daily Telegraph’s ‘Garden to visit’ on 28 February 2015. Leigh Clapp kindly enthused again about the garden in ‘Blaze of glory’ in Kent Life (October 2016)
In 2015, the garden’s 43rd anniversary of opening for the National Gardens Scheme, nearly 650 visitors came to Mere House garden when it was opened in aid of the charity, raising £3,246.
Despite the wet winter and permanent puddling of many of our bulb areas, we had busy snowdrop open days in February and the daffodils flowered better than we have ever seen them, as they did in so many gardens this year. A warm and sunny day on Sunday 23 October 2016 showed the autumn colour its best for our final National Gardens Scheme opening this year. On all our open days teas, with an extensive choice of home-made cakes, are available.
Other charity events take place in the garden at Mere House, and in recent years it has twice staged the Kent Heritage Event, when national and local amenity associations and conservators demonstrated their activities and skills, promoting a range of ideals and interests illustrating all that is best in Kent’s heritage. Closer to home, several events took place in aid of the £0.75 m appeal for major conservation and repairs at Mereworth’s Grade I Georgian church, now complete, generally open all day and well worth a visit.
The garden is open for group visits (ten or more people) by appointment at any time of the year, as well as the National Gardens Scheme on selected days. Please click on open days for details of all garden openings.