You would be forgiven for thinking that we had plunged right back into the depths of deepest darkest winter this weekend, with some parts of the country even experiencing snow this afternoon, but actually we are in spring, quite well into spring. So far into spring, in fact, that the bluebells have well and truly sprouted, and we finally managed to catch a glimpse of them at Emmetts Garden. For some reason we have just managed to miss them there over the last few years, and despite our best efforts have ended up visiting either just too early or just too late. This year we were lucky (and by lucky I mean we have been visiting at every opportunity, hoping to catch them). Emmetts Garden really is a wonderful place; renowned for its bluebells but with so much more to offer, particularly for young families. It is one of my favourite places and our go-to place if we only have a few hours to spare but still want to get away from home (it is 30 minutes by car from Chislehurst, close to Sevenoaks). Although technically not a ‘free’ day out (I do like those), we are members of the National Trust and therefore it is more a ‘pre-paid day out that we might as well take advantage of’.1
“Charming Emmetts Garden is an Edwardian estate that was owned by Frederic Lubbock, becoming both a plantsman’s passion and a much-loved family home. The garden was laid out in the late 19th century, and was influenced by William Robinson. It contains many exotic and rare trees and shrubs from across the world. Standing on one of the highest spots in Kent, Emmetts Garden offers panoramic views over the unspoilt Weald as well as some great walking opportunities. When you visit, you can explore the rose and rock gardens, take in the views and enjoy shows of spring flowers and shrubs, followed by vibrant autumn colours”.2
One of the highlights of Emmetts Garden for my children is the meadow; in summer, a haven for picnickers and sunbathers, and in winter, an oversized lawn for a few hardy sporting families. This weekend we were a hardy cricket-playing family, though I am not sure why we bothered because the game, like most things in life, descended into a giant tantrum, with neither children wanting to play for various reasons (A wanted to bat and bowl simultaneously and did not like being told that solo cricket wasn’t really possible, and E just wanted to stand holding the only ball and a bat almost twice his size – the more appropriately-sized bat wasn’t good enough apparently). But who doesn’t love tearful, screamy cricket in the rain? Anyway, I digress! The meadow is simply a wonderful field for eating picnics and playing garden games, and as we don’t have a proper garden at home, this is quite novel.
At one end of the meadow there is a Discovery Cabin (hut) containing a wide selection of garden games that are free to use, though if you wish to play cricket with crazy toddlers I recommend that you bring spare tennis balls as we could only find one. Admittedly, it is much easier getting hold of these games on a wintery day like today than in the height of summer, but I still love that they are available at all! The hut also contains various colouring sheets and colouring pencils, as well as bug/flower/plant hunting sheets, binoculars, magnifying glasses etc to borrow (as seems common with many National Trust properties these days); occasionally there are also crafts on offer. The most popular toys by far, however, are the ride-on tractors. The hut is located at the top of a small hill and my children love to ride down it, let me drag them, along with the tractors, back to the top, and repeat continuously for as long as they can. Again, these tractors are quite difficult to get hold of in the summer, particularly at weekends, and aren’t actually available at all at the moment while the grass on the hill is being re-grown; I am assured that they will return in the summer, but I can’t say that the last few visits without a workout on the hill weren’t quite nice!
After the meadow you come to the main garden with the beautifully kept trees, plants and flowers. This part of the garden changes with each season and feels completely different on every visit. It is also the part of the garden that is most accessible to pushchairs, though pushchairs are permitted throughout the grounds, if you dare. We have dared, many times, though on some occasions I wished I hadn’t.3 At the top of the hill is a small café, with some indoor seating, and a large amount of outdoor seating (and if you don’t manage to find a table you can always borrow a blanket and pitch up a picnic area on the grass). There are even a few toys inside for children to play with if needed (what am I saying? Toys are always needed, no matter what they are. Find the toys). The food is fairly standard National Trust food, with a large selection of cakes and drinks, and even a limited selection of hot food.
Over the years that we have been going, the garden really has improved greatly (and I already thought it was wonderful to begin with), and this year’s additions have been a new wild play area for children, as well as a teepee. My children love the wild play area, which it is supposed to encourage risk taking in children, with many obstacles for them to climb up and clamber over. There are also many logs and a few basic structures for children to build dens with. One word of warning though: toddlers are not able to carry logs from one place to another. You will find yourself carrying logs from one place to another for a significant amount of time. Although toddlers require a great deal of assistance in this area, it really is amazing what they learn and what you find that they can do for themselves. Adjacent to this is the tepee, which on this visit housed a few tubs of dressing up clothes. A dressed up in absolutely everything at once (fairy-princess-cowgirl anyone?), E just wanted a sword and an oversized hat.
Moving on to the bluebells, the real reason that I started writing this in the first place. Well, they were stunning, coating the hillsides in a thick blanket of purple (because in my opinion bluebells are actually purple), with the odd white one poking through. They grow mainly in the wild woodland area, down a fairly steep woodland path, which if you go down you must at some point come back up: do not forget this. If you are able to manage the walk through this area, I recommend that you do as it is stunning, and there are tree stumps for the children to climb on (I hope that children are allowed to climb on these; children have always climbed on these as long as we have been going and no one has ever told them that they can’t but I apologise if this is not allowed), and hunt for minibeasts etc. But pushing a pushchair along it is fairly difficult. We did manage to get a few pictures of the children looking angelic against a backdrop of bluebells, and isn’t that the real reason why parents visit bluebells anyway? 😛
1National Trust membership is one of the things that we religiously add to our Christmas list every year (along with memberships to the Natural History Museum and the London Transport Museum).
3Although there is a buggy to ferry wheelchair users to the top of the hill from the entrance, if needed, the garden is not particularly wheelchair friendly, with uneven surfaces, steep drops, and steps prevalent throughout.