I can picture myself now: waking up with the birds, throwing on a pair of wellies and zipping up my fleece as I walk out to a little hamlet of 13 Victorian greenhouses. The lines of the glass catch the morning sunlight just so, as dawn breaks through the trees. Clutching a watering can, I bid good morning to the succulents and check on the blossoms in the peach case. The vine tomatoes are ripe for picking, perfect for complimenting the watercress paté on today’s café menu. I linger a while in the cucumber house with the scented pelargoniums before the day gets busy and think about how there’s nowhere else I’d rather be.
Okay, daydream over for me, but perhaps this might be the beginning of a life-changing dream for you. Care to swap lives with the proprietors of The Walled Nursery? After nearly twenty years as guardians of the Grade II listed Victorian nursery and garden in Cranbrook, England, Monty and Emma Davies have put their home and family-run business on the market with UK agency Savills to find the historic property its next generation of carers.
Ever since the husband and wife team first met, they’d had their eye on The Walled Nursery and promised each other they’d buy it if it every came up for sale. In 2010, they did just that, and spent the next two decades transforming this historic property, which includes 13 Victorian Glasshouses dating back to the 1800’s, into a modern day business to be reckoned with. Today, the Davies have made the decision to move on and “spend more time with our young sons”, Emma tells me over email.
The nursery has a romantic but turbulent history of caring guardians. The Davies bought it from another couple, Peter and Karen Horn, who spent the 1990s lovingly restoring what glasshouses they could with very little budget and the Davies credit them with saving them from total ruin. Many of the world’s greatest greenhouses were lost to us during wartime, demolished when most of their plants died from neglect and the rationing of coal needed to heat them.
The Walled Nursery that originally formed part of the Tongswood Estate nearly met the same fate, and the gardens were allowed to fall into a substantial state of disrepair for much of the latter 20th century.
The Davies still have the nursery expansion plans of Charles Gunther, a distinguished businessman who bought the Tongswood Estate in 1903. This was a time when botany was still sexy, closely linked with superstitious beliefs surrounding ‘exotic’ medicinal plants being introduced to the West by colonial explorers and adventurous Victorian plant hunters.
“It was the height of fashion to have grand houses to show off one’s exotic plants,” notes The Walled Garden’s history page. When Charles Gunther took over the Tongswood Estate, he added more glasshouses to the original ones built by previous owners of the estate in the mid to late 1800’s. Today, the thirteen glasshouses, all historic structures, include a vinery, a peach case, melon house, fruit house and fernery.
The Walled Garden, which today welcomes the public six days a week as a working nursery, has a shop, café and restaurant, but also plays host to supper clubs, gardening clubs, courses and private events. It has “diverse revenue streams” as Savills’ agent Chris Spofforth puts it.
Just under two hours from London, the 3.5 acre Kent property also includes a spacious two bedroom Bothy Cottage, “comprised of an open plan kitchen/dinning/study area and boasts a bay window overlooking the glasshouses and lawns”.
Green stock (the plants) as well as the gift shop and café’s stock is payable in addition to the sale price. It’s a well-loved business in the community, so we definitely hope to see it continue with the next owners. The Walled Nursery is asking £1.1million.
And if you know MessyNessyChic at all and our love for greenhouses, you’ll understand why this might just be the most painfully tempting life swap of all. Here’s to the lucky new owner.