Lime Kiln is a wild, romantic old garden of around 2 acres. The existing gardens were first established in the 1920s by Countess Sophie Benckendorff and later, in the 1970s and 1980s, Humphrey Brooke established it as the first rosarium in the UK. Since his death in 1988, the gardens have become somewhat neglected in parts although the roses are still magnificent during the summer months. Roses grow in wild profusion; over pergolas, arches, walls and summerhouses, through trees, and up over each other. An unusual feature of the garden is the fact that it is on the edge of a disused chalk quarry; the subsoil is hard chalk and the soil itself is an extremely alkaline loam.
Originally an old Suffolk farmhouse with a working lime kiln, the house was bought by the widow of the last Tsarist Ambassador to the Court of St James in 1918, Countess Sophie Benckendorff. It was she who laid out the formal paved gardens near to the house and this area still retains many of her plantings including the Irish Yews, a cypress and even some of the roses. The gardens were formally laid out into walled areas: the Mulberry Garden which centred around a very old mulberry tree; the Courtyard and the Paved Garden; the Sunken Garden which was then the Croquet Lawn; the remaining areas were lawned and ran into woodland which disguised a number of large, disused chalk pits. The old beech and lime trees to the front of the property must have stood there for many years before Countess Sophie began her work here.
Following her death in 1928, the garden became neglected, but was restored by Humphrey Brooke and his wife, Nathalie (a granddaughter of Countess Sophie), who acquired the property in 1954. Humphrey gradually became fascinated by the old roses and set about establishing the first Rosarium in England, dedicated to the revival of old roses and stocked the garden with over 500 varieties of old roses. Against advice, he proved that roses could be grown on chalk subsoil. He included species, old shrub roses, rugosas, hybrid musks, hybrid perpetuals, hybrid China ’s and Bourbons, but not hybrid teas and floribundas. He collected roses from as far afield as Ireland , the Orkneys and even the famous Sangerhausen Rosarium in East Germany , which he visited in 1973. Humphrey Brooke’s methods of cultivation were unconventional. He did not prune, or spray, or use artificial fertilisers and he rarely used manure. His methods were very successful as many of the original roses remain and have grown to incredible sizes. Humphrey ‘discovered’ a number of roses and was responsible for re-introducing them back into cultivation eg Woolverstone Church Rose, Sophie’s Perpetual, White Flight, Limekiln and Hunslett Moss. Some particularly memorable specimens in the gardens today are the huge ramblers climbing high into the trees with their blooms cascading down to the ground eg the Garland, Kiftsgate, Limekiln, Cerise Bouquet, Paul’s Himalayan Musk, R. Moschata Floribunda to name a few. Other unusually large specimens include R. Californica plena, Perle d’Or and some of the species roses which line the edge of the lawn.
Following Humphrey Brooke’s death in 1988, the garden again became neglected. New owners made valiant attempts to restore parts of the garden in the late 1990s, but it was a huge task. By the time we bought the property in 2002, the house itself was seriously dilapidated and required extensive repairs, leaving little time to attempt any work on the garden other than researching its’ history. Recently we began work in tidying and cataloguing the specimens which will help to make it possible to re-appreciate the roses and gardens. There are still many roses that remain unidentified so visitors are encouraged to offer suggestions and if they have any previous literature or photographs of the garden, we would be extremely interested to hear from them.