Tom Hart Dyke talk


Plant hunter and gardener with passion

Come and hear his exciting tales of……


Growing up at Lullingstone Castle

Kidnap in the Columbian jungle

The making of a ‘world garden’ at Lullingstone Castle

Cressing Temple Wheat Barn

June 9th


Ticket price £12

Book now


More about Tom Hart-Dyke:

Tom Hart Dyke first shot to international prominence in the year 2000, when he was kidnapped in the Colombian jungle on a plant hunting expedition that went dangerously wrong.

Tom and his travelling companion, Paul Winder, were kidnapped while trekking through ‘The Darien Gap’, a dangerous place abandoned by all to warring guerrilla factions. Tom and Paul were kidnapped on Tom’s sister’s birthday 16th March 2000 and were held for nine months and released on 16th December 2000.   During the nine month ordeal The British Embassy gave the boys up for dead, but Tom and Paul’s parents never gave up hope.

Jungle tale:

After Tom’s return home to his ancestral home of Lullingstone Castle, near Sevenoaks, in Kent, Tom and Paul (Winder) penned the best selling book The Cloud Garden (Transworld 2002) detailing their experiences in the jungle. Tom’s jungle antics – building gardens in the mountains, much to the annoyance of his captors – cemented his reputation as a ‘plant nut’. Later Tom wrote another book – ‘An Englishman’s Home’ – detailing the trials and tribulations of developing the World Garden at Lullingstone Castle.

TV Personality:

 In 2001 Tom travelled to South East Asia with KEO films to make A Dangerous Obsession (Channel 4, summer 2002) – the story of Tom’s search for an orchid to name after his beloved Gran Mary Hart Dyke (nicknamed ‘Crac’ by Tom). Tom’s search for an unnamed species was fruitless but the subsequent programme brought him to the attention of many. Kathryn Flett from the Observer named him ‘the new David Bellamy’ for his enthusiasm for his beloved subject – ‘orchids’.

2000-2007 Saving Lullingstone Castle & Return to Lullingstone Castle (KEO films for BBC2)-The story of the creation of The World Garden:

 The idea for The World Garden was born in the depths of despair in the Colombian jungle. Midday on June 16th 2000, three months into their kidnap ordeal, Tom and his fellow captive Paul Winder, were told to prepare to die that night. Paul spent the afternoon of that fateful day in prayer, but Tom decided that the best course of action would be to spend his final day on Earth designing his dream garden! He spent the day drawing plans, in his diary, for a World Garden – containing the plants he’d collected from across the globe, planted out in their respective countries of origin.

Luckily for Tom, Paul and their families, the boys were not executed, but were released in time for Christmas 2000.

Since his release from captivity, Tom has been busy building the ‘World’ in his back garden at Lullingstone Castle. Under the watchful eye of KEO Films/BBC, the man, known locally as ‘the Plant Nut’, has been filmed commandeering his Granny’s 18th Century Walled Garden, within the grounds of the Castle, to create his jungle dream.

Every stage of Tom’s jungle project has been filmed for the 12 part BBC2 series saving Lullingstone & Return to Lullingstone. The garden opened to the public in March 2005 and has seen a steady stream of visitors entering through the 18th century moon gate, and traversing the pathways (or seas) as they literally walk around the ‘ world in under 80 minutes’.

Tom’s garden won the prestigious British Guild of Travel Writers UK Tourism Award 2005.



Heritage Lottery project

Take a look at this sample video:

Part of our Heritage Lottery funded project is to collect personal memories of Cressing Temple gardens. See how we are getting on.

The Friends of Cressing Temple Gardens were set up in 2013 to support the  gardens and Jubilee Orchard, at Cressing Temple in central Essex.  The Friends work with the garden’s horticulturalist providing financial and practical support for plants, materials and specific projects.  Their contribution is welcomed by Essex County Council Country Parks who manage the site.

The Friends of Cressing Temple Gardens became a registered charity in April 2016 (registered charity No. 1166431).

There is always something going on in the gardens. To find out the latest, read our regular snippets from the walled garden, Cullen garden, Jubilee orchard and Community garden.

March in the Community Garden

What a difference a year makes! February saw nearly 3 weeks of unseasonably high temperatures and can you believe that on the 26th (a year after experiencing the Beast from the East) we had a temperature of 17 degrees and we had to water the whole plot! The temperature was so high that some seedlings in the greenhouse outstripped themselves and became too ‘leggy’ to use, but on the other hand it did bring the skylarks out singing and the first peacock butterfly was seen.
Everything and everyone reacts to an increase in daylight. Its a fact that plants react to the amount of daylight by changes in a light sensitive pigment called phytochrome. During daylight hours it’s converted to an active form and put simply the more daylight, the sooner it gets to become an active form and cause changes in plant growth. So as we have seen an extra hour of daylight in the last 3 weeks so we have seen growth spurts in some, not all, of the plants. Also, by covering some of our raised beds with old pond liner and tarpaulin, the soil temperature has increased by 2-3 degrees above the surrounding soil. This will give us a head start when sowing commences outside later this month.
As in any garden there are successes and failures. Last winter we were overwhelmed with sprouts but this year they have been poor. On the other hand the purple sprouting broccoli has been excellent, despite the wood pigeons best efforts to nobble it. Seed potatoes are ‘chitting’ and the forced rhubarb has produced a good crop of pale juicy sticks.
Early tomato, pepper and cucumber seeds have been sown, but only to produce plants for growing on in the polytunnel, as the temperature and soil conditions outside will not be suitable for tender plants to go out untill late May.
To finish, there is an interesting article in this months Saga magazine regarding the benefits of gardening. It confirms that gardening  can have a deep and lasting effect on a raft of health problems, from aiding recovery from illness and loss of a close friend or relative, improving your physical health through digging, raking etc. and giving you a sense of achievement. It can also help with managing symptoms of age decline, unlocking memories, socialising, even just standing and looking, touching and smelling.

Ready for spring

The start of March already and the recent spell of unseasonal weather has made it feel more like May.  I am jolted into the realisation that spring is upon us and there are still several winter jobs to get done. My optimism at the start of autumn, with that long list of things we could achieve over the winter months with less watering and weeding to do, has changed to a modest acceptance that some things will just have to wait! Having said that, with a glass half full mentality, quite a lot has happened this winter.

For several years I have wanted to replace the wooden bed edges in the potager, which had rotted away long ago. What was meant to be a very geometric and symmetrical part of the garden had, with the vagaries of my grass edging, become something you might think had been cut by somebody under the influence!

From above you can see the intended design nicely.

From the ground it was a different story. But now the straight lines and even shapes have been restored and it looks pretty impressive, not to mention making it much easier to maintain with our shears. Thanks to Pete and the volunteers who helped with this rather back breaking task.

Feeling rather smug at this straight line business, we have also tackled the planting of a new willow bed. The idea is to provide a windbreak for our no-dig area of the community garden whilst also giving us a supply of coppiced willow to use around the garden and for willow weaving projects.



Admittedly they don’t look very promising yet. It looks like some sort of landing strip or a hurdle race  for snakes, but you just wait….these are willows remember and we are expecting them to grow….pretty fast.

The weed membrane is to suppress weed and grass competition, which would be the biggest threat to these plants’ survival in the first few years. We pierced holes through the fabric and planted the willow cuttings two thirds of their length (30cm)  so that they don’t dry out while developing roots.

The other big threat in the early years is rabbit and deer damage, which is why we have surrounded the whole bed with some netting.


By next winter they should be ready for their first light coppice, although it will be two or three years before they are producing the strong annual growth we are hoping for. From then on we must coppice them each winter (or we will have trees – yikes!) using the wood for willow projects and plant supports and offering it to local weavers who would like some interesting colours to work with. As an extra benefit, willow is good for wildlife, producing some wonderful catkins and the colours of the winter stems should look stunning.

As for varieties, we have chosen types that are suited to our growing conditions, a range of colours, vigour and applications. This was quite a task in itself, with over 300 varieties of species and hybrid willows in the National Willows Collection at Rothamsted. Our chosen types include ‘Dicky Meadows’, ‘Dark Dicks’, ‘Jagiellonka’, ‘Bori Pescara’ and ‘Netta Stratham’, to name but a few.

It is also feels rather good to be doing something to preserve the ancient craft of basket making. The earliest record in this country is of a basket maker who was subject to the Suffolk Poll Tax in 1381. The guild of basket makers was formed in 1570. Today, the majority of commercial willow growing occurs in the mid- Somerset ‘Levels’, the most important species for basketry being Salix triandra, Salix viminalis and Salix purpurea. The south-eastern counties have been better known for the growing of cricket bat willow, where they are planted at wider spacings on distinct mini pollard systems of about 1m height. Mini pollards make harvesting and weed control easier and rabbit damage less of a problem but they produce a higher proportion of curved rods, whereas a plantation close planted and coppiced to ground level provides straighter, more slender and uniform stems, suitable for basketry. Fingers crossed it all works out this way.

The last of the apple pruning must be completed this month before the trees come into leaf. To help us achieve this we hosted another apple pruning workshop, organised by Orchards East.

It was a rather dreary, windy day, but everyone got stuck in enthusiastically, with much discussion about what to chop off, what to keep, what to leave for another year and what probably shouldn’t have been done the last time!

Some brave decisions were made….

Only 20% of a tree should be pruned out each year, so this large cut was the only action taken on this tree. Renovation is best undertaken in stages over several years and one of the hardest things to do is knowing when to stop! As with all our trees, the aim is for an open centred canopy to allow as much light and air into the centre of the tree. This large cut will most likely result in a flush of vigorous watershoots, to be dealt with next winter, but it has produced a more balanced, spreading shape overall.

We are often asked about the wonderful lichens growing on the trees in our orchard. What are they and are they harmful to the tree?

A lichen is not a single organism; it is an association between a fungus, an algae and/or cyanobacteria (bacteria capable of photosynthesis) . Like all symbiotic relationships it is one which benefits both parties. The fungi requires sugar as a food source, provided by the algae via photosynthesis. Meanwhile, the algae receive protection and are provided with optimal living conditions by the fungus. They probably also benefit from mineral nutrients provided by the fungi.

Many different fungi will form lichens and there are over 100 types of algae and cyanobacteria that grow within lichen fungi. When the algae photosynthesise, up to half the carbon they make is immediately converted to fungal sugars that the algae themselves cannot access – how generous is that!

Lichens are useful indicators of good air quality and they are certainly not a sign of a diseased tree.  The pH or acidity of tree bark differs between species and will dictate what lichens colonise it. Lichens grow extremely slowly, and ancient trees and woods offer an excellent enduring habitat for them, which is one reason to protect and preserve ancient apple orchards.

There are many different types of lichen: leprose, crustose, placodioid, squamulose, foliose and fruticose (get your teeth round that! There must be a song in there somewhere!). So what sorts have we spotted at Cressing? Here is my feeble attempt at some identification:

This amazing lichen, Evernia prunastri, is very common.  It is one of the foliose type (having features resembling foliage). This is a fairly pollution tolerant lichen, it is widespread and can be found on deciduous trees across the country. It is very often found on oak trees, hence being known as oak moss lichen.

Parmotrema perlatum, another foliose type.

Xanthoria parietina, a pollution tolerant leafy type.

Maybe a Caloplaca lichen? Help….. this is getting difficult. My lichen identification skills are sorely stretched!

There are so many types. They are quite beautiful and remarkable. If anyone wants to do some more research and let me know what they discover…..I would be interested to know. We will never run out of things to learn about in the natural world.

We are trying to encourage our visitors to venture further than the tearoom and come over to see what is going on in the gardens. Our ‘Looking good in the garden’ board will be updated regularly as things change – complete with sample sprigs for anything particularly pretty or with a nice smell.

Helleborus foetidus, the stinking hellebore, gets a mention this week. It gets its name from the pungency of the foliage when crushed, but is actually a rather attractive plant and the bees never seem put off by the smell. In times gone by, the root was used to cure cattle of illness. They would bore a hole through the animal’s ear, insert a piece of hellebore root and hey presto, twenty four hours later the trouble was cured.

The glorious flowering display of the Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas) is another feast for the eye at this time of year and a feast for the early pollinators too.

There are feasts for the taste buds coming along in the community garden, with the first succulent stems of our forced rhubarb.

The crown of this plant has been covered to prevent light reaching the stems. This encourages them p to make early growth and the pale, forced stalks can be harvested for use in cooking when they are 20cm – 30cm long. This should only be done on established rhubarb plants. Young plants may not have sufficient energy reserves to produce the early stems, and subsequent growth may be affected.

Time for a crumble! And with that tasty thought I urge you all out into your gardens to get growing for another year.





February in the Community garden

Now we’ve entered the new year, even though the weather is cold, damp and downright dismal, the daylight hours are increasing and Spring is within reach, the seeds for the coming year have been ordered and the new growing season can soon start.
February means we can sow more broad bean seeds outside, weather and ground conditions permitting, to accompany the autumn sown ones and hopefully the pheasant family wont decimate them this year!
March means sowing can begin under heated conditions in the greenhouse to produce plants for the polytunnel. Possible sowings outside include salad crops and early carrots, again weather conditions permitting, in beds which have been covered to warm the soil up, using our new cloches. We hope this will provide earlier crops to sell in our shop, which this year will be situated outside in a more prominent position. Together with the new signs made by Jane, this will grab the attention of old and new customers alike.
Roll on summer!

Cold….but so beautiful

I have always had a dislike of the cold.  I thrive on the sun and the heat so on days like these you are likely to find me wrapped up in at least five layers of jumpers and still complaining about numb toes and fingers. But, I have to say, there are so many things I love about this time of year, it is well worth putting up with a few winter challenges just to be outside on one of the rare but beautiful frosty mornings, seeing the bare outline of trees silhouetted against a blue sky and taking in the exquisite scent of winter flowering shrubs – its enough to lead one to poetry!

I never tire of these classic shots of the walled garden as they change in each season. Our time lapse cameras have been taking shots regularly for the last nine months so it will be very exciting to see a whole year in the garden unfold before our eyes. These are shots from my mobile taken from the platform this week, showing the mist hanging in the air and the frost crisping every surface.

Winter is such a good time to see the bare bones of a garden. Time to appreciate the strict formality and precise geometry of the walled garden design rather than being distracted by the colour of its plants.

We try to feed the wild birds throughout the winter period but they must be admired on days like these when the work is tireless to find enough food to keep up their body temperatures and maintain sufficient energy levels for sustenance through to spring. I feel extra generous and give them a bigger portion of sunflower seeds on the most frosty of mornings.

Even when there is little gardening to be done, one of our volunteers has been hard at work preparing for the season ahead and making sure everything is ready to tempt our birdlife to choose Cressing as Location Location once the urge comes to make a nest and raise the next brood. This robin box is tucked safely behind the broom (Cytisus scoparius) where there will be ample cover and perching spots on departure and arrival at the nest.

This new Blue tit box has been positioned in the mulberry tree (Morus nigra), complete with woodpecker guard just in case the wrong kind of prospector comes around.

Before all that happens, however, it is the winter visiting birds that catch our eye and none more so than the eagerly awaited Fieldfare (Turdus pilaris – some names are so unfortunate!).

Roughly a million of these birds arrive in the UK each winter from Scandinavia and sometimes it can seem as if they are all at Cressing! Arriving at work on a cold winter morning to see vast numbers of these tough birds spread across Dovehouse field hunting for invertebrates or suddenly seeing them take flight in a flourish of silvery white underwings are sights not to be missed. So far this season they have been seen in small numbers but as the rowan and hawthorn berries in their northern habitats become depleted we hope to see many more of them through February.

Fieldfares are on the RSPB red list of endangered species, meaning there has been a severe (at least 50%) decline in UK breeding population over last 25 years. This clearly wasn’t a problem in Chaucer’s day when they were regularly trapped and eaten, a time when their highly gregarious nature was a distinct disadvantage. Thankfully today we prefer to admire their tough, robust character, shrugging off the challenges of the harshest winter landscape.

‘Fieldfares are strong purposeful birds. I have watched them leave a thicket roost at daybreak in a gale – the wavering curtseying flock bored its way forwards with ease, with a zest in overcoming difficulty, and they flew high, while bigger birds, gulls and woodpigeons, sought advantage by keeping close to the ground’

Eric Ennion The British Bird 1943

Colour is such a rarity at this time of year, it stands out and catches the eye wherever it is found and there are precious few sights more delightful than the disarmingly delicate looking blooms of cyclamen (Cyclamen coum) as they pop up above the leaf litter.

No winter hat needed here. It is as tough as old boots, despite its delicate looks, leading to the following description by Vita Sackville- West in The Garden 1946  ‘The little frightened cyclamen,with leveret ears laid back…’

It thinks nothing of temperatures down to -10ºC, providing the soil is not waterlogged, and being native to the coastal areas of the Black Sea and the mountains bordering the northeast Mediterranean it is happy growing in regions with cooler, damper summers and plentiful winter rainfall, such as we have in Britain (hmm… are they a thing of the past?).

Many different explanations have been given for the name Cyclamen, deriving as it does from the Greek Cyclos, a circle. The most probable that it was given on account of the characteristic spiral coil of the stalk after flowering. ‘The head or seede-vessel shrinketh downe, winding his footestalke, and coyling it selfe like a cable’, so said the 17th century herbalist John Parkinson.

Another star of the garden in January, though not for its colour as much as its magnificent show of catkins, is the cobnut (Corylus avellana). This tree, the central feature of our nuttery, is laden with catkins this winter. Several years ago I made the decision to start coppicing the four outer trees in this collection of cobnuts, leaving just the central specimen as a standard tree. The five trees in this tiny area had grown to a size where they were competing heavily for available light and none had fruited well over the past four years. Coppicing the four corner trees has allowed extra light to reach the central tree and the result in flower power is clear to see. Hopefully this will also improve the understory of spring flowering bulbs and flowers as they, too, benefit from the extra light afforded by the ancient coppicing routine. An added bonus will be the hazel poles produced, which will be used as supports around the garden, as they would have been by the Tudor gardeners four hundred years ago.

Now some dates for your diaries. Coming soon:

The Friends of Cressing Temple Gardens annual quiz


Friday 15th February 2019



Cressing Temple Visitor Centre


Teams of 4-6 people, £5 per head.

Tea, coffee provided

Bring a bottle/snacks


Book your table (space limited to 10)

Tel: 07747670058

A date to reserve for later: What promises to be a fascinating talk by….

Tom Hart-Dyke

Plant hunter and gardener with passion


Come and hear his tales of……

Growing up at Lullingstone Castle

Kidnap in the Columbian jungle

The making of a ‘world garden’ at Lullingstone Castle

Cressing Temple Wheat Barn

June 9th


Details of ticket booking to follow later this month.

Free Arbour Talk 18th January 2019

Image may contain: one or more people, sky, outdoor and nature

Friday 18th January 2019, 13.30 – 15.30 at Cressing Temple Barns

Our new arbour is now finished! This is an important milestone in our @heritagelotteryfund project ‘Celebrating the History of Cressing Temple Garden’. Come along to this free talk given by Joe Bispham, the historic joinery expert responsible for building the new arbour. Joe will talk about was involved, the techniques and materials used and the challenges faced along the way. Weather permitting there will also be a chance to look at the arbour itself.

The lecture is free, but please contact to register your interest so that she knows how many people to expect.

See you there!
#NationalLottery #HLFsupported

Happy Christmas

As we all retreat indoors, ready to spend a few days away from the garden it is comforting to know that everything has been left neat and tidy and the plants that need a bit of extra TLC at this time of year and all safely tucked up somewhere. Our gardeners’ shelter comes in very handy for those plants that don’t mind the winter cold but really resent getting too wet.

Dear Myrtle (Myrtus communis) has the extra cosiness of a layer of hessian and bubble wrap.

One of the winter jobs is to remove the tender bedding plants from containers and replace them with a winter display instead. Well, having left it a bit late to plant anything new in the oak barrel planters by the tea-room we settled for a couple of seasonal oblesiks instead.

As we go into the coldest part of the year and the shortest days I always watch with added admiration as the birds busily flock to the bird feeders in a heroic effort to keep warm and maintain their energy levels through winter. No sitting by the fireside with a glass of ginger wine for them! And one of the birds we are very likely to see at this time of year and one that is a constant companion of the winter gardener is the much loved Robin (Erithacus rubecula). It surprised me to learn that the robin is part of the Thrush family, closely related to the Nightingale, Redstart, Blackbird and Fieldfare. Also, it is the only bird in this country that you are likely to hear singing at night in winter time. The nightingale also has a reputation for nocturnal singing but this is a summer visitor so if you are lying awake at night this Christmas and hear bird song, it is most likely the robin.

I wonder how many of you have had cards like this one this year?

The robin first became a popular feature of Christmas cards when the fashion of sending cards through the post took off in the 1860’s. Early examples often portrayed the robin with a letter held in its beak possibly associating the red breast feathers with the bright red uniform of the Victorian postman. But its reputation as a bird of winter cheer long pre-dates the 1860’s and its association with Christmas might even have pagan roots along with many of our other Christmas traditionjs. Whatever its origin the splash of bright red colour on the robin’s breast, and  the holly berries, is a welcome hint of winter cheer in an otherwise dreary winter scene.

There is plenty in the winter scene at Cressing Temple that is far from dreary and there is nothing I like better than arriving for work on a cold, frosty morning and admiring some of the most beautiful natural images of the year.

As with all seasons in the garden, winter is a time to look ahead and plan for what is to come next, and with this in mind work has continued in the community garden with further development of the no-dig bed area. Thanks to a surplus of straw from Spooky Fun and yet more from our visitation from Rudolf for the Christmas Grotto, the whole area has had a generous addition, which will slowly rot down over the winter and become incorporated with the compost and manure that has also been applied this autumn.

The plan for 2019 is to plant the extended section with pumpkins and gourds, which did so well on this patch in 2018, and use the remaining space for the start of soft fruit garden. the posts and wire being erected here are for a thornless blackberry, in front of which have been planted autumn fruiting raspberries, gooseberry bushes and some strawberry runners from our existing plants. We are looking forward to offering this fresh berry fruit along with all the other produce next year and with the price of such things being so high in the shops we would expect them to be popular.

The news of our Heritage Lottery project is that the arbour rebuild is finished and looks very splendid indeed. Once the weather has done its business of blending in the new timber and our roses have done their business of scrambling over their new structure, it will take on the look of something that has always been there and we will have the added confidence that nothing is going to drop off unexpectedly and know it will stand for many years as one of the focal points of the garden and something to be admired and enjoyed by all our visitors.

To mark the completion of this part of the project, there is to be a free lecture for anyone interested in hearing more about its construction. this will be given by Joe Bispham at 1.30 on 18th January in the conference room at Cressing Temple.

Anyone interested in coming along can find out more details by looking at the  website for the Traditional Building Skills courses offered by Essex County Council.

If you would like to attend this free lecture please phone 0333 013 2738 or email

Of course we mustn’t forget how this has all been possible, thanks to the generosity of the Heritage Lottery Fund.

While on the subject of celebrations, the volunteers celebrated the end of the year in time honoured fashion with a morning of willow weaving followed by a Christmas party. There were  some creative 3D reindeer….

A variety of Christmas trees….

And a few festive stars.

It all took some serious concentration at times but was enjoyed by all I hope.

For the Christmas party we had the use of the farmhouse kitchen which was far warmer than the garden and we managed to fill it to bursting, with people and food!

It was a very jolly occasion, a chance to chat to people you don’t always see, wish each other complements of the season and round off the end of the year in the company of Friends.

I like this time of year for the chance to reflect back over the past 12 months and remember all the good times and the many things that have been achieved. I feel particularly fortunate to be surrounded by such a supportive and enthusiastic group of helpers and would like to thank you all, wholeheartedly, for everything you do for Cressing Temple and the gardens. So many of you give your time, quietly, reliably with the minimum of fuss or need for recognition and it is this steady, regular commitment that makes such a difference and is truly appreciated.  It is quite amazing how much time is given voluntarily by so many people who care about Cressing Temple and the community created there. Although it is sometimes hard to measure these things objectively, the results of your hard work show: in the look of the gardens, the positive comments of visitors and the reputation of Cressing Temple as such a special place to be part of.

Thanks to you all, have a well deserved rest over Christmas and the New Year and I will see you all in 2019.