The gardens and grounds surrounding the Jacobean castle at Chilham are open to visitors every Tuesday and Thursday from 10.00 am to 4.00 pm until 24 September. Booking is not required and admission is £5 per person (free for children under 5). Card payments are encouraged. The castle and keep are currently not open to the public. Dogs on leads are allowed.
The entrance to the castle grounds is from Chilham’s picturesque village square that has been used as a location for films and tv programmes on many occasions. Parking is usually available in the grounds for people paying to see the garden. If parking isn’t availabe on site there is some parking in the square but also a free car park about a hundred yards down the hill from Shelly’s tea room. There is a kiosk just inside the gates where you buy your tickets and icecreams, drinks and greetings cards are also for sale plus some lovely plants grown by the castle’s gardeners. There is no tea and cake available but take-aways can be bought from Shelly’s tea room close to the castle gates between 10.00 am and 4.00 pm or visitors can take their own picnics to eat in the garden; when I was there last week there were quite a few groups sitting on blankets in the sunshine sharing out their food. There are also two pubs in the village.
Chilham Castle sits on a hill with an adjacent earlier (Norman) keep and there are beautiful views from the four formal garden terraces to the south/south-east. The garden was enlarged in the 18th century by the then owner, Thomas Heron with help from Lancelot `Capability` Brown. The lake was added in the 19th century. Climbing steps or slopes is inevitable if you want to see around the garden, although access to the top terraces only involves a few steps or a steepish grassed slope. There are some lovely sub-tropical plants on the middle terrace, but also more hardy garden favourites like phlox, roses, day lilies, agapanthus, salvias and eryngium. The lower terrace border is colour themed and individually shaped clipped yews border the lawn, punctuating the view towards the lake. There’s also a kitchen garden where a good variety of fruit and vegetables are grown along with rows of flowers for cutting for the house (dahlias when I was there). Benches dotted around the grounds provide plenty of places to sit and enjoy the different views or have a picnic. A walk through the nut plat next to the tennis court and downhill through some woodland leads to the lake with waterlilies, the path circles the lake from where there are some distant views of the castle. Climbing back uphill along a mown path through a natural grassy area we saw that there is now a small vineyard on the hillside, in what was a grassed paddock, a gang of workers swiftly working their way through the rows of vines, twisting and training them along the wires. The area around Chilham is now important for its vineyards, more and more being planted every year. A very old mulberry tree sits next to the path just before the Quiet Garden – a dark grove of beech and lime trees with statues enclosed by yew hedges.
There is a women’s and a men’s toilet near the entrance, both suitable for disabled visitors.
This garden is well worth a visit, made even better by not having to pre-book.