Whilst in Devon recently we paid a visit to Cotehele House, just over the border in Cornwall. This is a favourite place; granite walls set in an ancient landscape of trees covered in lichen and a terraced garden that looks over the Tamar valley to Calstock and beyond.
The day was sunny after a frosty start and we took a stroll around the wintered grounds where the sounds of gushing water and the smell of wood smoke blended together as the low sun cast fingers of shadow.
I ventured up the nearby Prospect Tower which was built in the 17th century but whose origins are obscure. After a dark, winding stair climb I emerged into the sun and some wonderful views.
We made our way into the house to find the famous Cotehele Christmas Garland…
‘Every November gardeners and volunteers… create a 60ft long Christmas garland using thousands of flowers grown on the estate. The giant swag … hangs in the Great Hall throughout the festive season.
Preparations for the garland begin months earlier in February when the flower seeds are sown. The first flowers are ready for picking from late April and are then dried in the loft over the summer and autumn before the garland is put together over two weeks in November.
Tens of thousands of flowers go into the garland each year. ‘Ideally we’d like 30,000 but some years we get as low as 20,000,’ explains head gardener Dave Bouch. ‘How many we get is completely down to the summer – we need sunny days and low rainfall – that’s the joy of gardening…..’
‘Each year the garland is different, depending on which of the specially grown flowers have done well,’ adds Dave. The garland often includes ornamental grasses, everlasting sand flower, straw flower, paper daisy, paper rose, statice and garden thrift.
Creating the garland is a task which involves team work and Cotehele’s gardeners and volunteers use scaffolding to add flowers into the growing festive display.’ (courtesy National Trust)
This year marks 60 years since the first garland was created…a real example of ‘modern heritage making’…. When the residents of Cotehele first hung a modest, floral, Christmas display in the Tudor Hall six decades ago, little did they know how their simple decoration would turn into the magnificent garland it is today. To make it an extra special celebration, this year the gardeners grew flowers specifically to give it a ‘diamond’ anniversary look:
31,200: number of flowers in the garland
7,920: number of flowers in the swag around the door
120: number of kilograms the garland weighs
Old School Gardener
On a recent trip to Devon, we stopped off en route to visit this Neo Gothic ‘pile’ in Somerset, former home of the Gibbs family, who made a ‘pile’ of their own, trading in a rather large ‘pile’ of Guano, or South American bird excrement, favoured for its value as a fertiliser in 19th century Britain.
Making our way from the impressively equipped visitor reception and restaurant we passed by a delightful formal parterre garden set some way away from the house, and then toured this amazing mansion, with its glorious colourful decor and richly carved woodwork. Much of the house is in need of renovation, but the National Trust has made great progress in restoring some of the most important rooms.
‘… An ordinary man with an extraordinary fortune, a man of vast riches but simple pleasures. Antony was the second generation of the Gibbs family to live at Tyntesfield. He epitomised the Victorian age, fascinated by art, technology and travel….After buying Tyntes Place for his growing family in 1843, William Gibbs went about making it his own. He remodelled the exterior of the simple regency house into the Gothic extravaganza we see today….Four generations of family life, a love of beautiful things and the accumulation of useful bits and bobs made Tyntesfield a treasure trove of objects. Almost 60,000 objects have been catalogued including everything from priceless paintings and ornate furnishings to ice skates and picnic sets. It is the largest recorded collection owned by the National Trust and tells the story of a wealthy family’s life over four generations….’
From here we made our way through some lovely formal gardens near to the house and then to the Walled Garden, where some gardener must have been a little the worst for wear when he/she planted the lettuces…
Seriously, this series of wobbly lines was done as a bit of light relief in what might otherwise be the normal regimented lines of fruit and veg; I loved it.
And the rest of the garden was interesting, too, though I thought it lacked some variations in height to give it structure.nearby was a rather nice play area with lots of carved and country-themed play features; I especially liked the large slug (which doubles as a nice seat).
There was also a stall selling fresh veg and bulbs so I spent a little on buying some orange Tulips for next year…now where have I put them?
Old School Gardener
The second and final stop on our trip home from Devon recently, was Montacute House, Somerset. Surrounded by beautiful, formally laid out gardens, the warm, honey-coloured stone of the house glowed in the spring sunshine. There was a splendid display of tulips and wallflowers and a magnificent ‘cloud’ yew hedge reminiscent of those at Blickling House, near our home in Norfolk. We were fortunate to meet a gardener in the ”orangery’, which, she explained, was not really in the best spot for this and had in the past been more of a shady water feature, with its tufa – clad grotto. This and it’s surrounds are gradually being replanted with ferns and other suitable species. Pots of standard Bay trees line the terrace outside where once orange and lemon trees would have been placed in summer.
Standard Bay trees where oranges once were..
Crown fritillaries outside the ‘orangery’
The tufa grotto
‘Montacute is a masterpiece of Elizabethan Renaissance architecture and design. With its towering walls of glass, glow of ham stone, and its surrounding gardens it is a place of beauty and wonder.
Sir Edward Phelips, was the visionary force and money behind the creation of this masterpiece, which was completed in 1601. Built by skilled craftsman using local ham stone under the instruction of William Arnold, master mason, the house was a statement of wealth, ambition and showmanship.
Come face to face with the past in the Long Gallery, which is the longest of its kind in England. The gallery houses over 60 Tudor and Elizabethan portraits on loan from the National Portrait Gallery.
Beautiful gardens surround Montacute, constantly changing, filling the house with scent in summer and providing an atmospheric backdrop for a winter walk…’
Old School Gardener
On the way home from our recent break in Devon, we took the opportunity to visit a couple of National Trust houses and gardens just off the A303, a road that’s conveniently ‘lined’ with some great gardens. First stop was Barrington Court, Somerset.
A large walled garden was lined with displays of wallflowers and tulips which were wonderfully vibrant. Much of the rest of this area was bare earth- or so I thought until I noticed it had been covered with landscape/weedproof fabric and then mulched with compost- one of the gardeners explained how they create planting holes through these layers and so restrict the amount of time they weed- a very useful idea that looks attractive as well as being practical.
I was also glad to see the ‘bones’ of the other gardens (it was rather too early to see the borders in all their glory). To my surprise I also found a Melianthus major in flower! I was told how the gardeners usually give this a protective winter mulch and cover and in the season to follow it puts on lots of leaf growth but no flowers- it must be due to the mild winter that this glorious plant (which smells like peanut butter when you brush the foliage), had managed to put on an early spring show. Having just pruned mine at home to the ground I’m wondering if I would have been better leaving it alone! We shall see if it manages to complete its growth cycle this summer.
Melianthus in flower
Melianthus close up
‘Discover the haunting echoes of the past at Barrington Court, a Tudor manor house free from collections and furniture. Explore using your imagination and your senses to discover a house full of memories, where light fills the rooms and you feel you can almost touch the past.
The property was saved from ruin and restored by the Lyle family in 1920s, when the court house resembled a barn rather than the proud manor house that it is. Close your eyes and you’ll almost be able to hear the sounds and see the sights of the glamorous parties held in the great hall during Barrington’s hey day. On the first floor listen out for the voices resonating from the past, of the young evacuees who called Barrington home during the Second World War.
Stroll through the Gertrude Jekyll inspired gardens, which with their focus on plant varieties and colours are a delight for all the senses. Be spurred on in your own garden or allotment by the stone-walled kitchen garden that produces a variety of delicious fruit and vegetables. Don’t just take our word for it, why not stop off in the Strode House Restaurant to taste these home-grown delights.’
Oh, and yes, we had a lovely lunch in the afore said restaurant….
Old School Gardener
Another trip out whilst in Devon recently, involved a rather tortuous journey (and the need to pre book parking) at the former home of Agatha Christie, Greenway, near Brixham. We were a little limited in what we could see of the gardens, and we didn’t get to some of the feature areas like the walled garden and rhododendrons. Another day perhaps….What we did see was a fascinating house (and contents too) and some beautiful riverside sloping gardens full of interesting plants, typical of so many ‘sub tropical’ gardens along this south west coastline.
‘…The beloved holiday home of the famous and much-loved author Agatha Christie and her family. This relaxed and atmospheric house is set in the 1950s, when Agatha and her family would spend summers and Christmases here with friends, relaxing by the river, playing croquet and clock golf, and reading her latest mystery to their guests. The family were great collectors, and the house is filled with archaeology, Tunbridgeware, silver, botanical china and books.
In the garden don’t miss the large and romantic woodland which drifts down the hillside towards the sparkling Dart estuary. The walled gardens are home to the restored peach house and vinery, as well as an allotment cared for by local school children. A visit to Greenway isn’t complete without seeing the Boathouse, scene of the crime in Dead Man’s Folly, and the battery complete with cannon….’
Old School Gardener
Glendurgan- The Maze, Cornwall via National Trust