Category: Great Gardens


On our way home from a recent trip to Devon, we diverted to one of my all time favourite gardens; Hestercombe, just outside Taunton, Somerset.

I remember coming here many years ago, when the local Fire Service were headquatered in the house and the work to restore this classic Lutyen’s – Jekyll garden design was just getting underway. Even then the strong structural elements- though in a poor state of repair-  shone through. Since then, several decades later, the Charitable Trust that owns the place has done a marvellous job in restoring not only the gardens but much of the surrounding parkland too, so that you can wander through a very interesting ‘designed landscape’ reflecting earlier design styles harking back to the’ landscape garden’ school.

The main garden is what you come here for.  Sunken and surrounded by a series of strong pergolas and with two stone rills descending either side, it is a joy to behold. We were fortunate in arriving early in the day and had this wonderful place of quiet and reflection virtually to ourselves.

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The restoration story is a fascinating one, including a quest to find a series of plants that were in the original Jekyll planting plans but which were no longer readily available. This is most notable for a number of gladioli varieties, one of which was discovered by accident as one of the historians associated with the garden was giving a talk..only to be approached by someone who thought he had one of the missing gladdy’s! Since then this rare plant has been nurtured and propagated to get to the necessary scale for mass planting…and the display of gladioli is certainly impressive..

This is a real story of horticultural dedication; a trait seen in abundance all around the gardens. The house, though perhaps less of a priority, is gradually being brought into beneficial use, but it does require some renovation. We finished off our tour with a rather nice lunch in a very classy restaurant overlooking the gardens.

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Frther information: Hestercombe Gardens website

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Some pleasing pictures from my good friend Jen…sorry we couldn’t join you, but thanks for the pictures!

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Further information: Sheffield Park website

I’ve loved Castle Drogo in Devon for many years. A classic Lutyen’s design, the house is as imposing (forbidding?) as the entrance suggests. The gardens are relatively modest for somewhere so grand, I guess partly because of the site perched on a granite outcrop overlooking Drewsteington and Dartmoor beyond.

Our recent visit coincided with a long standing and major renovation project on the house; basically re-roofing to stop water penetration. The story goes that Lutyens used a relatively untested asphalt covered flat roof system when the place was built, and over time this has broken up and so water is getting in where it shouldn’t. It’s a multi million pound project and we were able to climb an external stairway (my other half very warily), to see the work underway, beneath a huge ‘tent’ that encases the whole of the roof and must make for a resonably comfortable work space, notwithstanding the site’s exposed position.  We had a very interesting guide to the works, which are imposing some limits on the areas of the house open to the public, but heh ho, never mind. There was a rather interesting ‘installation’ of many many different kids of clock in one of the rooms!

We concluded our visit with a stroll through the split level gardens,a nice mixture of herbaceous perennials giving a late summer boost of colour and some grasses just coming into their own.

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Further information: Castle Drogo- National Trust website.

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Our second trip to a notable Lake District house and garden was Sizergh Castle, an imposing house standing proud at the gateway to the Lake District. Still lived in by the Strickland family, Sizergh has many tales to tell and certainly feels lived in, with centuries-old portraits and fine furniture sitting alongside modern family photographs. The exceptional wood panelling culminates in the Inlaid Chamber, returned here in 1999 from the Victoria and Albert Museum.

‘A true patchwork of styles, taking a stroll through the House will lead you from the base of the medieval solar tower, through the Elizabethan interiors, into the French regency-styled Drawing Room and beyond. Cherished family photos sit alongside precious antiques, linking the past with the present day. In a house full of contrasts, fine craftsmanship can be seen throughout, from the impressive collection of Gillows furniture, to the stunning Italian-designed ceilings. They all have stories to tell, not least of all the splendid Victorian dining table, which awaits your uncovering of its tales and secrets. From the Battle of Agincourt, to the fight for Malta during the Second World War, the Strickland’s involvement in over 700 years of national history can be uncovered first-hand at Sizergh. ‘

The 647-hectare (1,600-acre) estate includes limestone pasture, orchards and semi-natural woodland. Its rich and beautiful garden includes a pond, lake, a national collection of hardy ferns and a superb limestone rock garden.

Unfortunately an urgent medical need meant my visit was shortened, so some areas of the gardens I will need to return to. But I managed to meet the Head Gardener and compliment her on the quality of the planting in the herbaceous borders (with some clever twiggy supports) and the ‘square foot gardening’ in the kitchen garden. I also loved the Stumpery which shows off the ferns to great effect.

Further information: National Trust website

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A week in the Lake District is always a treat, especially if you have some fine weather. On a recent trip we had a rather mixed bag, meteorologically speaking, but we had great company ( a group of ex college friends) and plenty of places to visit as well as some fell walking. Our first really wet day we spent exploring Keswick and especially the famous Derwent Pencil Museum (the home of ‘Lakeland Pencils’). At first glance this seems like a rather modest museum, but upon closer inspection- and there was plenty of that- I found it delightful. The wall-size information panels and engaging videos; especially the one telling the story of the Keswick Pencil company’s involvement in a project to create a pencil that  could be used by war time airmen not only to plot their route, but to escape enemy hands should they be shot down- it concealed a small, fine silk map of Europe and a minute compass.

Our way home took in the splendid former home of the poet Wordsworth, Rydal Mount alongside Grasmere. Though the rain continued off and on, we had an interesting look round this humble home with many interesting exhibits on the famous poet and his family. The gardens, cascading down the hill towards the lake, were also wonderful, even in damp weather. A flowing plan of mixed borders and woodland gardens seemed just right for this spot.

Further information:

Derwent Pencil Museum

Rydal Mount

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Our second recent Devon garden trip was to the beautifully located Overbecks- a house full of curiosity and a garden of sub tropical exoticism. The house itself is perhaps nothing special , but it contains a panoply of collected items and interesting artefacts accumulated by the original owner, a German inventor called Otto Beck. A room of dolls houses (witha lowered door opening to make the point that this is a room for youngsters), and dispays of bird eggs, stuffed anumials rocks and so on, make this a house of wonder.

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The gardens- another example of a Devon valley being used to great effect in creating a sub tropical microclimate- is wonderful, with a winding path taking you around the wide range of interesting plants , and the occasional view across Salcombe Bay. It was a sunny day and we had a delicious meal on the terrace.

Further information: National Trust website

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On a recent trip to Devon we revisited a couple of favourite National Trust properties on the south coast. The first, Coleton Fishacre, is an arts and crafts house and garden originally owned by the D’Oyly Cart family of ‘Gilbert and Sullivan’ musical fame. The house, built in the 1920’s, is furnished in period style and provided an interesting example of a homely scale house, in contrast to so many huge ‘vanity projects’ of the pre First World War age.

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But even more impressive is the garden with its typical valley microclimate providing the opportunity to grow some rather exotic species. I was especially impressed with the borders near to house with the array of Echiums in full flower and a splendid alpine raised bed. The wider estate is a rich mix of trees and shrubs with some wonderful views towards the sea. Well worth a visit.

Further information: National Trust website

 

The Old Vicarage Garden at East Ruston is a particular favourite of mine, and one I take students to as it beautifully demonstrates a lot of key design principles and ideas. It also has a wonderful vibrancy and variety, including a dry river bed garden and other areas designed with a particular style. The owners are very knowledgeable plantsmen and come up with some delightful combinations.

It also has a very strong structure, largely created by the lines of hedging that the owners have planted as shelter belts; given it’s proximity to the North Sea coast. Though the overall style is ‘modern arts and crafts’, in keeping with the house, the hedges create a series of garden rooms with their own micro climates and connecting pathways, where a range of different garden styles have been successfully introduced. It’s located between North Walsham and Stalham in Norfolk, and well worth a half day if not a full day visit. I hope you enjoy the pics I took on a recent visit with our friends Jen and Dave…

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Further information: East Ruston website

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We were very lucky to have a morning to spare before travelling home from seeing friends in Cheshire, recently. Tatton Park was a half hour drive away, so we headed off. I was eager to see this garden which is a prominent National Trust property (though run by the local Council) and features in the annual round of RHS Flower Shows. I wasn’t disappointed…

Our friends took us straight to the most talked about area here, the Japanese Garden. WOW! It was a delight, especially as the various Maples were newly in leaf. The sun was out and the garden, with its changing levels, water and Japanese feature buildings and monuments, was breathtaking.

After this we had an hour to get round as much of the rest of this beautifully kept estate, including fernery and palm houses, bothy, walled garden, tower garden and wider woodland areas with some superb early Rhododendrons. You could easily spend a day or two here exploring the wider parkland as well as the 50 acres of richly varied gardens…enjoy the pics!

Further information:

National Trust website

Tatton Park website

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Travelling back from our recent trip to Hull, we stopped off at a National Trust property in Derbyshire, the north midlands- Hardwick Hall. The Hall itself wasn’t open on our visit, but promises to be a fascinating example of high 18th century bling, so a return visit is in store….meanwhile how about the gardens?

After a pleasant lunch, sitting outside in the sunshine, we made our way around the rather splendid house (picking up a brief history from a very helpful guide) and explored the interesting entrance gardens and walled gardens that sit alongside the impressive pile.

The gardens are kept in good condition, as you might expect, and provide a wonderful opportunity to diversify and create areas of interest in what might otherwise seem to be an underdeveloped layout. Certainly the mixed herbaceous borders surrounding the House looked to be firing up for a wonderful summer show, but I was left thinking that more could be made of the walled garden….maybe I’ve been spoiled by my experience of regenerating the Walled Garden at Blickling! However, it was a very pleasant walk and I was very impressed with the various neat and interesting ways of interpreting the gardens and what’s currently of interest…something Blickling could do more of…

We didn’t have time to explore the wider estate, but it would seem to be packed with interesting walks (including a sculpture walk), complete with roaming herds of deer and other animals.

Further information: National Trust website

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