Q&A with Tony Wiseman, Head Gardener at Penshurst Place, Kent

It’s a beautiful garden, what do you enjoy about it most?

It’s a privilege to work in such beautiful private gardens and we’re lucky to have engaged, knowledgeable owners, who are keen to maintain and develop the gardens.  I worked in organic gardens before this and took a step down to learn about the historic sector before getting the Head Gardener’s job.  I love formal gardens, so I’m in the right place.  We‘re a garden of hedges with a mile of yew, but this is contrasted by The Nut Garden and The Orchard, which bring a softer, more natural feel.

Tell us about what you enjoy most about your job?

For me, it’s the logistics and making it all work that’s the most interesting part of the job.  Personally, I like overseeing the care and development of the roses, we have about 3,500 in the gardens, and the development of the herbaceous borders, which can never be allowed to stand still or they will go backwards. 

What are the spring highlights at Penshurst?

In the formal areas, the snowdrops on Church Terrace, overlooking the garden, always come out first then the daffodils and 2,500 ‘Jewel of the Spring’ tulips in the Italian Garden.  The Nut Garden is also great in spring with lots of bulbs, species tulips and narcissi.  Snowdrops come first under the coppiced hazels, more daffodils and then bluebells which, in a good year, are like a carpet.  Later, the climbing roses take over on the pergola, but for spring it’s all about the bulbs.

Tell us about the famous peony border?

We have four varieties in the 100m border, Lady Alexander Duff, Monsieur Jules Elie, Albert Crousse and Sarah Bernhardt which are white through to pink that blend together and I like them all!   We have installed wires to hold them up as they have large flowers. We make sure they don’t dry out in the spring, when they are forming buds, and give a light feed before flowering.  It’s time consuming to weed them as they are tightly packed but it’s worth it when you see them bloom at the end of May/beginning of June.  A must see, but you have to be quick as it only lasts a few weeks!

Do you have any plans for the garden in the pipeline?

We are looking at possible training schemes, reviewing at least two planting schemes, planting apple trees and starting the process of replacing some of the older roses that are decades old.  We are also changing from petrol to battery machines and working towards more sustainable garden practice