Great Comp Garden

I’ve enjoyed reading several posts in the last couple of months about Sissinghurst Garden, Vita Sackville-West’s famous creation in Kent. It was among those that I visited on my tour of English gardens in 2003, and one I will always remember.

Another Kent garden, however, has an equally special place in my heart although it may not have Sissinghurst’s instant name recognition. Begun in 1957, Great Comp Garden is the seven-acre creation of Joy and Roderick Cameron.  Since Mr. Cameron’s death in November 2009, Great Comp is now under the care of a curator, William Dyson and is open to the public daily.

I will always remember Great Comp because it was there that I discovered one of my favorite perennials, Astrantia major. It’s a wonderful plant for shade and although it prefers sites that stay on the cool side during the summer, I’ve managed to grow both the species (below) and several cultivars in my mid-Atlantic garden. It’s a real beauty.

Astrantia major, Great Comp Garden

Astrantia major at Great Comp Garden

There is a tremendous amount to take in at this garden. As he built the garden, Mr. Cameron unearthed quantities of stone and brick. Being inventive, handy, and clearly recognizing the value of having a home-made ruin or two to catch the visitor’s eye, Cameron incorporated hardscape treasures in various parts of the garden, such as this walled “Italian Garden” where I took lots of photos.

Great Comp Garden

The "Italian Garden" at Great Comp, complete with an obelisk and hand-build brick and stone walls.

Great Comp Garden

Another view of the "Italian Garden" at Great Comp

I didn’t cover anywhere near the seven acres of the garden, but I found my way into both sunny and shady spots.

Great Comp Garden

Great Comp' s design shows the wide variety of greens that provide interest in shade.

Great Comp Garden

A sunny terrace at Great Comp showcases the superb plantsmanship of its creators.

If you’re planning a visit to see English gardens, don’t miss Sissinghurst, of course. But add Great Comp to your itinerary. You won’t be sorry. And think about adding some Astrantias to your garden. Here are some you can find in my shady back yard – and every time I see them, I think of Great Comp.

Astrantia major 'Ruby Wedding'

Astantia 'Ruby Wedding' in my shady back yard

Astrantia major 'Shaggy'

Astrantia major 'Shaggy'

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15 Comments on “Great Comp Garden”

  1. sequoiagardens Says:

    Thank you, Melissa! Great Comp has always been on my TTD list, ever since my ’95 visit, and I’ve never yet been 😦
    I would love to grow astrantia more than any other flower, but have never seen them in South Africa. We too have long, hot, often humid summers, but my winter night temps are mostly just below freezing. How does that relate to your ‘mid-atlantic garden’??
    Regards – Jack

    • Melissa Says:

      I’m not sure about growing astrantias in a climate with that wide a temperature swing on an almost constant basis. I know Astrantia does better north of here and is very happy in our Pacific Northwest, whose climate mimics England’s more closely. We do have hot humid summers so flowering here is more confined to late spring/early summer. Some of mine have seeded themselves but other cultivars have disappeared, sad to say.

  2. gardeningasylum Says:

    Hi Melissa, Oh I’m so glad you’re showing pix of this great garden. When I was there I remember loving that Italian garden as well as a stunning planting of thousands of hellebores. Mr. Cameron was a bit of a character, gave us a lovely talk and I purchased his book on the making of the garden, which is really quite nice. Cheers, Cyndy

    • Melissa Says:

      I definitely got the impression from the GC website that Mr. Cameron was quite a personality! Edith says she knew him but she is a great lady who is unlikely to elaborate, I fear. He was still alive when I visited and did say hello to our group but it was a busy day in the garden so he didn’t take us around.

  3. Edith Hope Says:

    Dear Melissa, I knew the Camerons and their garden at Great Comp way back in the 1970s and, whilst I always felt that they grew a wonderful range of interesting plants, the overall design of the garden never really worked for me. Far too many heathers and conifers in those days for my liking and no real structure to hold it all together.

    Perhaps a visit is long overdue as the Italian Garden looks most interesting and must date from the more recent past.

    • Melissa Says:

      Edith, I certainly had the impression that this was more of a “plantsman’s garden” than one that had been carefully designed, but I did enjoy the visit. The Italian Garden impressed me the most, I think, because of the “built” elements – although I assume Mr. Cameron didn’t build that obelisk!


  4. I keep finding bricks and stones in my garden as well, maybe I can get Ian to build me a few walls, lol.
    Gorgeous garden, and I love astrantia as well.

    • Melissa Says:

      I’ll bet they grow beautifully for you! Mine are just leafing out so I’m hoping the cool weather pattern we seem to have returned to will make them happy. Good luck with Ian and the bricks!


  5. I began growing Astrantia last season. After watching it perform in my garden I became a fan. Thanks for the close ups of this garden trooper.

    • Melissa Says:

      Glad to hear it is a trooper for you – it struggles a bit here although I do get enough flowers to make it worthwhile. Difficult to photograph, but I keep trying, as you see!

  6. Jean Says:

    Melissa, I have been a big fan of Astrantia since I first made its acquaintance at Sissinghurst. I love the different varieties in your photos. And thanks for sharing an intriguing garden that I have never visited; I will definitely put it on my list!

    • Melissa Says:

      So glad you like the photos. Every year when my astrantias bloom I try to take mote photos but I still like the picture I took at Great Comp the best.

  7. John Says:

    Melissa, thanks for the inspiration on Astrantia. They look very interesting, though my son in Boston said the rabbits like them too…
    Nevertheless I’m inspired to give them a try. Apparently they are hard to start from seed so I probably need to place another order online. Keeps the economy rolling 🙂

    • Melissa Says:

      Once or twice I have seen flower heads bitten off in my garden although I have only deer, not rabbits, so far as I know. And I can confirm that they are hard to start from seed, having tried and failed twice. A good mailorder source for me in the past has been Munchkin’s Nursery, run by Gene Bush. You should be able to find it through a Google search.


  8. […] ordered Astrantia after reading an enthusiastic post on Garden Shoots and I am not disappointed.  An interesting flower, in this case variegated, that plays well with […]


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