Knole is famous for many reasons, not least for being the location of Virginia Woolf’s ‘Orlando’. The shape shifting and time travelling of the novel seem characteristic of the gardens that are not always open.
We chose to wander around them rather than the house because we had visited before and can always go again. The gardens were unknown to us, however.
Entry is beyond the house, through an orangery with doors opening on to a lawn. From here an unfamiliar view of the house is available, reversing what the privileged residents had to their exclusive pleasure. The garden is arranged so that the most elevated of the residents had the best view, not democratic perhaps but who was in the sixteenth century?
Two twentieth century additions are goals for football and a tennis court, whereas before the sport was croquet. Vegetable and herb gardens are away to one side but are arranged symmetrically and decoratively nonetheless. A second flush of wisteria was in bloom along one wall and seasonal borders were demonstrating rotation.
Rising up the slope is a woodland walk. Wherever you stop there is a view of the house or a distant church tower in Sevenoaks. It is a far cry from the abrupt entrance to the estate that demands a right-angled turn off the High Street.
On the drive in we had seen a few of the herd of deer that roam freely across the estate. A couple were also visible beyond the gate of the garden. We noticed more on the way out.
Although visiting the house was not intended we couldn’t resist a glance inside. Two courtyards and a great hall were almost as far as we penetrated, and there we were able to watch a conservator at work on a tapestry. One of the guides explained that the tapestries now go to the Netherlands for cleaning because the cleaning vats there are ‘state of the art’ plus easier on the conservators than having to lean over water to scrub, however gently. Unfortunately photography is not permitted inside so the work we saw can only described. As on picture frames at Petworth the day before, this involved very delicate handling of a mini-vacuum cleaner and a soft bristled make-up brush.