My family has been living at Lullingstone for 19 generations, so you could say I have roots here. But the ones I wanted to lay down, the seeds of the magnificent World Garden, were not just historical – they were deeply personal. They lie a long way from here in the sweltering heat of the South American jungle in an area known as the Darien Gap between Panama and Colombia. I went there on a planting trip and it went disastrously wrong - our group was kidnapped.
It was a strange, terrible but amazing experience, and much of who I am now came out of it. It certainly changed the way I look at life – but it didn’t change the fact of who I am or where I’m from. Which is where this idea came from – bringing the plants of the world, back to where I call home.
There are not too many places in the UK where such plants would flourish. But they do here, in what’s now known as the World Garden at Lullingstone Castle. It’s difficult for me to express how proud I am of our achievement – but you can see it for yourself, with nearly 8,000 different species and varieties, planted out on a map of the world, each in their country of origin. So what was a significant journey for me has grown into what I hope is a fascinating horticultural voyage for our visitors – and one that includes new and important plants every year, such as the oldest tree in the world, the Wollemi Pine ‘Dinosaur Tree’.
The garden is now home to the National Collection of Eucalyptus with around 100 species, hybrids and varieties. I’ve collected many of these myself, including the rare and beautiful Eucalyptus Silver Princess which flowered here in 2006 – the first time the species has ever done so in the UK!
This is just one of the reasons this corner of the country is truly special. And not just for my Kent family – but for all the others that come here year after year. It’s a place with history certainly, but looking around I hope they see much more. Something life-affirming, blooming – for now and generations to come.
See Tom's work at Lullingstone Castle - www.lullingstonecastle.co.uk