If you buy fresh cherries while in England, there’s a strong possibility that they were grown in Kent. This beautiful South East county is known as ‘the Garden of England’. It has the warmest climate in Britain, and its fertile agricultural land and country estates grow a variety of fruit, vegetables, flowers, herbs and other plants.
2.4 million bottles of wine
Kent is a big producer of English wine, beer and spirits such as gin and vodka. The county has many award-winning wineries and vineyards, including the country’s largest, Chapel Down. Based in the picturesque market town of Tenterden, Chapel Down has over 950 acres dedicated to grape growing and produces up to 2.4 million bottles of white, sparkling and rosé wine a year. Like many other vineyards in Kent, it is open to the public for seasonal tours and wine tastings.
hops and pubs
The cathedral city of Canterbury was the first place that hops (the plants used in brewing beer) were grown in England, in around 1520. Today, you can visit historic oast houses where the hops were dried. Some of them are now pubs, while others have been converted into private homes. Visit some of the county’s one hundred and eleven breweries to try the huge variety of local beer.
GLASS OF WINE, SIR!
Celebrated author Charles Dickens had a love-hate relationship with the English county of Kent. In his 1837 novel The Pickwick Papers characters alternate between genuinely admiring the county’s history and landscape, and savagely satirising its inhabitants. “Kent, Sir — everybody knows Kent — apples, cherries, hops, and women. Glass of wine, Sir!”. Known as the Garden of England, this historic county in the South East boasts picturesque countryside, quaint rural villages, a dramatic coastline and a rich heritage. To find out more, we spoke to Yvonne Leach. A long-time resident, Leach gives private tours in which she shares her expertise on Kent’s history and present. We began by asking Leach what it was that so fascinated Dickens and herself about the county.
Yvonne Leach (English accent): I always think of it as being two things. It’s where England begins. We’re 21 miles from the rest of Continental Europe. You stand on the cliffs and you can see France. [With] binoculars, you can see the time on the clock tower in Calais. So we’re very near to Continental Europe. So we’ve got this wonderful heritage and history of everyone coming: the Romans, the Saxons, and Normans... All have come to this part. But then we’ve got this wonderful countryside and farmland and rolling hills and so many stately homes and castles.
THE BELGIAN CONNECTION
And as Leach explained, Kent owes its reputation as the Garden of England to its relationship with its European neighbours.
Yvonne Leach: It’s many hundreds of years ago. Some people say it goes back to the time of at least our first Protestant Queen, Elizabeth I. She gave sanctuary to a lot of immigrants that were coming from — I suppose we’d now say Belgium and Holland, the Low Countries. And they helped us with fruit production. Thank goodness for them! We’ve got these lovely cherries here, for example. And because of our geographic situation, we’re near enough to London to get fruit to the court. We’ve got a good climate, we’ve got a good terrain. It’s ideal for growing.
SPARKLING AND STILL
Kent boasts beautiful country estates, landscape gardens and extensive vineyards. Leach tells us more.
Yvonne Leach: There are beautiful gardens — Sissinghurst, for example —, various castles: Hever Castle, and where Sir Winston Churchill lived, Chartwell, is here — beautiful grounds! Penshurst Place, lots of gardens and castles and stately homes. But the vineyards... when I first trained we had about two vineyards. And now nearly every town and village has a vineyard, and they’re award-winning: sparkling wines, red wines now... And the tasting is great fun. And then try the local produce as well, with the wines.
We then asked Leach to recommend her favourite local products.
Yvonne Leach: We also have Whitstable, which is not very far from Canterbury, and that’s famous for its oysters. That was the original place that started the oysters that went up to London in wheelers. So oysters, seafood. We have the marshes, which have their own breed of sheep, the Romney marsh lamb. So at certain times of the year, the pubs will advertise that they’re selling Romney marsh lamb, which is a speciality. And something that’s quite interesting, you love it or hate it, it’s a particular kind of tart called ‘gypsy tart’. And it was invented by a lady who felt sorry for the local gypsies. So she came up with this thing that had all things that are good for you in there: lots of sugar and cream, one thing or another... and eggs. And she fed that to the local gypsy children.
THE WHITE CLIFFS
There are many beautiful spots in the county but one is deservedly world-famous, says Leach.
Yvonne Leach: There are two things. One is not perhaps so much the garden, but it is standing up on the White Cliffs of Dover. Looking out and it brings home the recognition of the fact that we are an island, but how close we are to France. And my local town is Sandwich, and I love Sandwich: medieval, the character, the houses... But you’ve also got all around you those orchards and hops and things like that. And in the middle of Kent as well, a bit further away from me, are rolling hills, and you can go for miles and just enjoy the countryside.