Sitting by Diana’s Bath, with only the occasional carp leaping to break the silence among the blanket of pink and yellow waterlilies, we found ourselves in a time-warp at Penshurst Place, between Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells, in Kent.
It could have been any century – there was nobody else about, no planes flying over, no sound of cars, just the backdrop of the mellow ragstone 14th century manor house.
We sat for an hour, relishing the view until, darn it, one person had the audacity to thunder in talking so loudly that he didn’t really need his mobile phone – he could be heard for miles.
It was a momentary intrusion, and so, transported back to the 21st century, we got ourselves moving to survey the rest of the otherwise tranquil walled gardens.
Even the roses seemed to sense it was their day for being admired, falling over themselves to show off their full glory; tumbling over walls and doorways – and in the Rose Garden, the dreamy cream-pink tinted Macmillan Nurse standard roses were in full bloom above a velvet carpet of Lamb's Ears (Stachys byzantina). Simply lovely and not another soul (or phone) in sight.
The blue and yellow border, designed in the colours of the Sidney family’s coat of arms, has been restored since my last visit and while the Penshurst Blue and Penshurst Yellow iris were going over, yellow climbing roses were so much on the rampage that one of the gardeners spent most of the afternoon taming the golden beauties.
In all, we counted 13 other people during our three-hour visit. There may have been more but we didn’t cross them on the empty paths.
With so few visitors now is the time to soak up the peace at Penshurst Place – and take a picnic. The benches are spaced far apart so there will be no feeling of being uncomfortably close to others. The Porcupine Pantry, with outside seating, is also open for takeaway drinks and snacks.
And on the delicate subject of the Happy Place (toilets), they are close to the entry point, scrupulously clean (with every other cubicle open), plenty of hot water, hand-dryers and hand sanitisers.
Entry to Penshurst Place is through online booking only so morning and afternoon time slots can be strictly allocated, but don’t let that sound like your day will be regimented, the charming reception team offer a huge welcome, and although you can’t see their smile through their masks, watch their eyes light up when seeing you arrive to appreciate the gardens.
Visit in June and July to see The Union Flag garden at its peak with red and white roses edged by blue lavender. It’s a chance to celebrate the best of British again – garden visiting has always been a national institution and Penshurst Place is more than ready to embrace garden lovers (at a comfortable social distance!).
Tickets £12.50 adults