The first plants that Rudyard Kipling ever knew were exotic ones. He was born in India in 1865 and spent his first years surrounded by palms, mango and banana trees, and lush growth everywhere he looked. But all that changed very dramatically! When Rudyard was five years old, his parents took him to England.

Rudyard Kipling
Rudyard Kipling

He and his younger sister were left in Southsea, today part of Portsmouth, in a horrid little house called Lorne Lodge. The children were in the care of Captain and Mrs Holloway, who were paid to look after them, but the years there were nightmarish for both children, who missed their parents and were treated with great cruelty by Mrs Holloway and her son. There was no lush garden for the lonely children to play in – just a small courtyard at the rear of the house, with no places to hide or lovely plants to enjoy.

Once schooling was over, Kipling did a great deal of travel. He returned to India, he spent time in the USA, and he even visited Australia and New Zealand. He married an American woman and they had 3 children and finally the Kiplings decided they needed a family home that would be secluded from the press and the passing carriages filled with fans of his writing who intruded upon his privacy (Kipling made his fame when in his early 20s and was a hugely popular writer throughout his life). And so in 1902 they purchased Bateman’s, a gorgeous golden stone Jacobean manor house in East Sussex.

Garden at Batemans. Photo courtesy Charlotte Weychan, The Galloping Gardener
Garden at Bateman’s. Photo courtesy Charlotte Weychan, The Galloping Gardener

Kipling hoped in this home to preserve the heritage of both house and land, to keep the English past alive there. He purchased 300 acres of the surrounding farmlands, ensuring they would be saved from development, and he wrote poems about Sussex, its rich history and its natural beauties. He spent hours planning his garden and when he won the Nobel Prize for Literature (he was the first English writer to do so, and remains the youngest recipient of the prize to this day) he spent all the prize-money on his garden.

Pond and sundial at Batemans. Photo courtesy Charlotte Weychan, The Galloping Gardener
Pond and sundial at Bateman’s. Photo courtesy Charlotte Weychan, The Galloping Gardener

A delightful ornamental pond was built, he erected a sundial with the words ‘It’s later than you think’ inscribed upon it, and he designed a pergola for an ancient pear which still grows there today. Kipling was probably not an active gardener, getting down to pull out the weeds – he could employ others to do those jobs – but he certainly delighted in his garden, spent much time in it and encouraged visitors to do the same.

Batemans and orchard. Photo courtesy Charlotte Weychan, The Galloping Gardener
Bateman’s and orchard. Photo courtesy Charlotte Weychan, The Galloping Gardener

Bateman’s is one of my favourite gardens in all of England! There is a lovely wild garden, where wood anemones and spiky scillas grow amongst the grasses; there is an orchard for the fruit trees he loved and a walled mulberry garden; there is a charming walk to the old water mill where Kipling’s favourite ‘Wriggly nut tree’ grows by the little bridge and skunk cabbages and arums abound. I love the rose garden by the pond where the roses Frensham, Betty Prior and Mrs Inge Paulson grow. No matter where you wander in the grounds of Bateman’s, there is always something new and lovely to enjoy. I have visited the place in many different seasons, and it is always different and always beautiful.

Batemans. Photo courtesy Charlotte Weychan, The Galloping Gardener
Bateman’s. Photo courtesy Charlotte Weychan, The Galloping Gardener

Today Bateman’s is in the care of the National Trust, and the rooms of the house are preserved as they were in his time, filled with Kipling’s possessions and books. It is a wonderful literary museum to visit. The garden is always popular with the many visitors. The Trust’s garden historians ensure that plants suitable for the Edwardian era and earlier are all that grow there today and that plantings are kept as close as possible to what they were in Kipling’s day.

Garden at Batemans. Photo courtesy Charlotte Weychan, The Galloping Gardener
Garden at Bateman’s. Photo courtesy Charlotte Weychan, The Galloping Gardener

In 1911 Kipling wrote a poem that celebrated his love of gardens:

The Glory of the Garden

OUR England is a garden that is full of stately views,
Of borders, beds and shrubberies and lawns and avenues,
With statues on the terraces and peacocks strutting by;
But the Glory of the Garden lies in more than meets the eye.
For where the old thick laurels grow, along the thin red wall,
You’ll find the tool- and potting-sheds which are the heart of all
The cold-frames and the hot-houses, the dung-pits and the tanks,
The rollers, carts, and drain-pipes, with the barrows and the planks.
And there you’ll see the gardeners, the men and ‘prentice boys
Told off to do as they are bid and do it without noise ;
For, except when seeds are planted and we shout to scare the birds,
The Glory of the Garden it abideth not in words.
And some can pot begonias and some can bud a rose,
And some are hardly fit to trust with anything that grows;
But they can roll and trim the lawns and sift the sand and loam,
For the Glory of the Garden occupieth all who come.
Our England is a garden, and such gardens are not made
By singing:-” Oh, how beautiful,” and sitting in the shade
While better men than we go out and start their working lives
At grubbing weeds from gravel-paths with broken dinner-knives.
There’s not a pair of legs so thin, there’s not a head so thick,
There’s not a hand so weak and white, nor yet a heart so sick
But it can find some needful job that’s crying to be done,
For the Glory of the Garden glorifieth every one.
Then seek your job with thankfulness and work till further orders,
If it’s only netting strawberries or killing slugs on borders;
And when your back stops aching and your hands begin to harden,
You will find yourself a partner In the Glory of the Garden.
Oh, Adam was a gardener, and God who made him sees
That half a proper gardener’s work is done upon his knees,
So when your work is finished, you can wash your hands and pray
For the Glory of the Garden that it may not pass away!
And the Glory of the Garden it shall never pass away !

Brief Encounters
Brief Encounters

You can read more about Rudyard Kipling and his fascinating visit to Australia in my book Brief Encounters: Literary Travellers in Australia published by Picador in 2009. It costs A$30. To order email Susannah Fullerton.