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.

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.






Damp and dismal

Sometimes it can be hard to keep one’s spirits high at this time of year. It all looks so sad and drab and the nights fall so quickly.

Every job we do seems to be a messy one and some days, when the wind is sharp and air damp, we really have to steal ourselves to make the extra effort that is always required of a winter gardener.

Nevertheless, take a little time to fully appreciate what is going on in the garden and there is still a lot to be cheerful about. Take the stunning display of the Mahonia x media ‘Charity’ in the Cullen garden:

Such an impressive sight in the gloom of a November morning is guaranteed to brighten the spirits. And, despite the cold, I saw a brave bumble bee taking advantage of this plentiful supply of nectar this week, reminding me that there are other busy workers around at this time of year too.

Mahonias are impressive winter shrubs, carrying flowers with a lily of the valley scent which last for many weeks. these are often followed by small plum coloured berries that are a useful food source for birds through the winter. Mahonias are close relatives of the Berberis, they are usually very hardy, unfussy about soil and are happy in the shade. What is not to like? Well, the spiky leaflets are hard to love I admit, but they are evergreen and shiny and set off the bright yellow flowers perfectly.

There are other valuable evergreens in the garden that come into their own at this time of year. When choosing plants for our gardens it is sometimes very difficult to choose an evergreen over the seductive lure of all those colourful summer flowers winking at us from the plant table, but how silly we are to neglect the evergreens, the stalwarts of the garden in the winter season.

And here is one of my favourites: Sarcococca confusa.

All right, I know it doesn’t look much but oh boy, you wait until you walk past it on a sunny winter’s morning and get hit by the most wonderful scent from the tiny but aroma packed flowers arranged all along the stems.

Like the Mahonia, Sarcoccocas are easy, obliging plants and are fantastic in shade and poor soil at the base of taller shrubs or under trees. Make sure you don’t make the mistake of putting them at the bottom of the garden where you will probably never venture just when they are giving the best of their scented flowers. I grow them on the approach to our front door, giving us a cheery welcome when we leave or return home in January and February.

But if aroma is not enough and you want winter flavour as well, then surely Rosemary has got to be the star winter evergreen. Who would buy dried rosemary when you can have your own ready supply all winter long by growing your own? This one, the straightforward Rosmarinus officinalis which has grown to about 4ft in the walled garden might be too large for most of our modern gardens, but rosemary grows very well in a container and is easy to grow from cuttings, so you can always have a manageable sized plant ready to replace one that has got too big.

This next plant in my winter hall of fame might look like yet another boring green plant to you, and Viburnum tinus does have an unfortunate reputation as a ‘car park shrub’  or as the ubiquitous new build front garden specimen, but I think it looks rather good, carefully shaped in this way, looking healthy and glossy and very permanent. It is the kind of plant that gives me faith and confidence that it won’t be blown away by winter winds, reduced to a soggy lump by winter damp, or frozen to death by winter cold.

And like so many evergreens, this one has a winter trick up its sleeve, in the form of rather pretty, pink clusters of flowers in late winter and the earliest part of spring. One of the best forms, and also the most commonly grown is ‘Eve Price,’ a real backbone of the winter garden.

You may be getting the hint by now. I have precious few flowers to show you this month. But the winter garden is all about structure and form, and as you can see from this picture of the forecourt garden, it can look appealing with not a flower in sight. Most of the flowery plants in the walled garden are herbaceous and if we didn’t have these evergreens, how uninspiring it would look at this time of year.

But there are a few flowering plants that simply refuse to give up, like this ever present and ever reliable marigold, Calendula officinalis. It might not have the same razzmatazz it had earlier in the year, but for sheer sticking power and relentless cheerfulness it has to get my vote.

Not many people seem to celebrate bonfire night so much these days but we decided to do our bit with a bonfire day. We thought it might keep us warm, only to find it was about the warmest day of the winter so far and very soon we were all sweltering! It was good fun as bonfires usually are, and had the added satisfaction of reducing the garden waste pile quite considerably.

Its amazing what we get to burn on these bonfires but don’t be alarmed. We do still have a car park (and a tea room!)

While some of us were getting hot and bothered over the bonfire, others were busy turning the last of our apple harvest into demijohns of potential cider. With expert instructions from Howard, each participant took home the beginnings of their Cressing home brew. We eagerly await the results and will let you know how the party goes!

Recent jobs in the garden have included felling a small Prunus tree in the Cullen garden. It is always sad to see a tree go but this one had suffered a major split to the main trunk earlier this autumn, leaving a weak and mis-shapen tree that we decided was better taken down to make way for something better. In fact this corner of the Cullen garden had been rather optimistically planted, with several trees and shrubs in close proximity. An easy mistake to make at planting time but a situation leaving difficult decisions once they all become grown ups. We have decided to replant this shady corner with tough, rabbit proof ground cover that can also provide a bit of colour, such as Bergenia and Geranium macrorrhizum with a more modest shrub for the back (another one of our trusty winter evergreens perhaps) . There is still a large silver birch and another Prunus very close by, so plenty of height and interest and perching places for the birds.

On the other side of this garden we have decided to plant some more Peonies, another tough and easy plant that the rabbits find unpalatable. I have chosen an intersectional hybrid peony, called ‘Bartzella’, which we are hoping will give us gorgeous yellow flowers in a couple of years.

Intersectional peonies are a cross between the larger woody tree peonies, like the pink one we have already in the Cullen garden, and the smaller herbaceous peonies that die back to the ground over winter. The intersectional types, first developed in the 1940’s, are said to have the advantages of both types. They have the sumptuous flowers and attractive leaves of a tree peony but the leaves die down in winter so you don’t have something looking like this all through the gloomy months.

Also, the flowers don’t need staking and the leaves persist much longer than the herbaceous types. I must admit they are new to me, a red rag to a bull for us gardeners, so it will be interesting to see whether they live up to their reputation. Knowing my luck they will be the only peonies tasty to our rabbits!

The Heritage Lottery project is progressing very well, with more interviews being added to those already done and our first glimpse of what the finished film might look like (make sure you take a look by clicking on the video link at the top of this page to see a teaser).

We are hard at work developing new ideas for garden interpretation and hope to revamp of the wellhouse to house a set of Tudor costumes for our younger visitors to try on in a spirit of getting to know what it was like in Tudor times. These costumes have been skillfully stitched by one of our multi-talented garden volunteers, mainly out of charity shop fabric, old sheets, blankets and mens’ shirts. A fantastic example of up-cycling. Visiting children will be able to choose from an array of aprons, jerkins, coifs and holbein hats and follow the instructions to dress like a Tudor.

As we move into December it is comforting to know that all the tender container plants are tucked up for winter, moved to the greenhouse, shifted closer to the garden wall or placed under the gardeners’ shelter or simply wrapped up in situ to wait it out. This was the only option for the large pomegranate (Punica granatum) in the knot garden. It looks quite happy wrapped up in its oversized fleecy bag and is starting to feel festive! I think I will join it and open the first door on the advent calendar.