Every once in a while you come across a place with a timeless air about it – not flashy or cutting-edge, but with a calm, gracious look of antiquity and love about it that grabs your heart. That’s King John’s Lodge in Etchingham. It’s plonk in the middle of East Sussex off the A21.
The house is a Grade II listed Jacobean manor restored by the present owners and the garden opens regularly for the National Garden Scheme. The garden with its rose walk, wild pond, meadow areas etc. is not full of ‘specimens’ – but has a lived-in, relaxed feel, with hundreds of cranesbills jostling under mature shrubs and trees, spreaders like Vinca minor are allowed to spread, and rambling roses…well they ramble.
It’s not a fussy garden, but there is a pleasing formality to the main lawn areas in front of the DDG house (drop-dead gorgeous, if you need to be told), in spite of the glorious abandonment of pretty things seeding themselves into the cracks of the flag-stones in front of the house. The immaculately-kept lawn runs down to a very satisfying formal pond, and the gentle sound of trickling water contributes to the extraordinary sense of tranquillity. No wonder that Bed and Breakfast guests staying here become enchanted by its atmosphere.
The nursery is quite small and littered with artefacts found during the renovation of the house and garden- Roman coins, musket balls and so on; it is full of healthy-looking common and less common plants, mostly hardy herbaceous perennials but also a few roses and shrubs and mostly grown on site. There is also a rather wonderful shop of garden ornaments, objets d’art, tools and the like, displayed with the barest nod towards commerciality but heaps of charm. The owner, Harry Cunningham, clearly loves his plants, knows them very well, and is happy to dispense information about their needs and care to his customers.
And then there’s the tea-room – oh, the tea-room! It looks out over the High Weald and is charm itself with quirky mismatched crockery and wooden furniture. It serves tea and delicious home-made cakes (yes OK, it was lemon drizzle cake and yes OK I ate a gigantic slice myself without sharing).
This is not an ‘out there’ garden. If you want to spend an afternoon in the peace and beauty of a true English garden with the sound of water around you, a lovely house behind you, a glorious view ahead of you, and follow that with tea and cake and a treasure or two from the nursery to take home afterwards, then King Johns Lodge is for you.
Opening Hours: See website. Telephone: 01580 819220. Postcode TN19 7AZ.