Garden Portrait : Dunster Secret Garden

Dunster is a Medieval village in north Somerset on the edge of Exmoor closest to the Bristol Channel. There is a castle on a wooded hill which has existed here since at least Norman times, with an impressive medieval gatehouse and ruined tower giving a reminder of its turbulent history. There is also a working Water Mill that is used daily and produces wholemeal flour that can be purchased in the shop and a lovely octagonal Yarn Market on the High Street where you will also find tea-rooms and independent shops and several nice pubs where you can dine. There are several walks through the parkland and along the river and over a particularly pretty 15th-century stone Gallox bridge. This ancient stone bridge – originally ‘gallows bridge’ – once carried packhorses bringing fleeces to Dunster market.

Several years ago I took the OH here to celebrate a BIG birthday and we stayed in a delightful B&B where the owner was a chef and offered tasting menus. Of course I reserved one for the day in question. What was so lovely about this brief getaway was exploring the lovely village itself which is home to a fascinating collection of medieval buildings. The Parish and Priory Church of St. George is worth a visit, but I want to show you the delightful memorial gardens behind the church which are so well hidden they are practically a secret.

Entering the garden through an arched door you are immediately taken by the richness of the planting. In late spring the borders were a riot of jewel-like colours. Bright orange oriental poppies mingling with tall spires of deep magenta Sword Lilies (Gladiolus communis subsp. Byzantium, better known in the south-west as ‘Whistling Jack‘.) Blue and plum coloured irises line the pathways.

Peonies and roses stand side by side with rock roses ( Cistus ladanifer) with its distinctive brown eye.

Colours contrast and clash at will.

Leaving the garden, back onto Priory Green, you will see a restored dovecote opposite.

Dunster Dovecote

The Village Gardens are next to the church on the site of a former Benedictine priory which was dissolved in 1536. In 1543 Lady Luttrell bought the land to be used as a kitchen garden for the castle, but they fell into disuse until being bought by the villagers and turned into a garden for all to enjoy.

Although not as many flowers here, it is a pretty space with lots of stone decorative pieces in the nooks and crannies. The planting is lush and green with climbers and creepers.

Wisteria

Maybe it is time to go back and see how these gardens look now.

If you like a walk, long or short, then please visit Jo for her regular strolls in the UK and the Algarve and maybe you would like to join in too. She’s very welcoming.

Garden Portrait: Hergest Croft

Hergest Croft is unusual in having been gardened continuously by three generations of the same family over the past one hundred and thirteen years. It lies in the heart of the Welsh Marches with stunning views towards the Black Mountains. The gardens contain a unique collection of rare plants, trees and shrubs and over 90 “Champion” Trees.

The six distinct areas are Hergest Croft, the Azalea Garden, the Maple Grove, the Kitchen Garden, the Park and Park Wood.

My visit took place in late September not long before the gardens would close for the winter. In the Conservatory, many tender plants grow including a wide variety of fuchias and pelargoniums.

In the conservatory

We walked through Maple Grove into the Azalea Garden, which of course at this time of year lacked the beauty of these flowers. Instead paths were lined with hydrangea of a variety of colours.

Hydrangeas

It is dominated by a massive avenue of blue cedars planted in 1900 and many other champion trees.

Coming out onto the former croquet lawn and tennis courts, now enclosed by a large yew hedge, that contains vases of sweetly scented lilies in summer, you get a sense of the beauty of the house and its views over the parkland. The lower terrace border is filled with white galtonias and blue agapanthus.

A pretty rockery leads to a pool covered in waterlilies.

Following the path you reach the sculpture of a fir cone by Joe Smith which forms the centrepiece of the Slate Garden formally edged with five species of box.

The Kitchen Garden contains a traditional vegetable and fruit garden with many rare varieties. The wide herbaceous borders, and a double herbaceous border contain roses, sweetpeas, marigolds, daisy type flowers, achillea, sunflowers and echinops.

Hot colours in the Kitchen Garden

There was so much colour in the kitchen garden. Hollyhocks, agapanthus and Japanese Anemones mingled among the spikes of the artichoke.

Pinks and Blues in the Kitchen Garden

If you want to have a much longer walk then Park Wood has a secluded valley hidden deep within an ancient oak wood containing over 12ha (30 acres) of giant hybrid and species rhododendrons and exotic trees creating an almost Himalayan scene.

Size:  70 acres (28 hectare)

  • Street:   Hergest Croft Gardens
  • Postcode:   HR5 3EG
  • City:   Kington
  • County:   Herefordshire
  • Country:   United Kingdom

If you like a walk, long or short, then please visit Jo for her regular strolls in the UK and the Algarve and maybe you would like to join in too. She’s very welcoming.

Garden Portrait: Powis Castle

Castle with its terraces

The castle and garden is in Welshpool, Powys. The gardens are spread out over several Baroque terraces leading down through shrubs and giant cloud-shaped yew hedges to a large lawned area and a former kitchen garden and a woodland walk. All backed by a patchwork of fields, villages and hills of the Welsh border countryside.

Lower formal garden and lines of pyramidal apple trees

The terraces include an Orangery and an Aviary with the sheltering walls angled towards the south-west providing a mild climate in which a number of shrubs and climbers can be found. In spring pretty blue ceanothus spreads like a cloud and pale yellow roses pick up the tones of the red sandstone walls.

There are a number of lead statues in the gardens, most found on the grand terraces and from the workshop of the Flemish sculptor John van Nost. The lead used most likely came from the Powis family’s own lead mines at Llangynog, Montgomeryshire.

The Yew trees are magnificent. The fourteen specimen ‘tumps’ that sit on the upper terrace along with lead urns as well as the bulging hedge at the northern end were probably planted in the 1720s. Other evergreens include darker Irish yews and towering walls of boxwood.

Each terrace has its own theme. Drier conditions on the narrow Aviary Terrace allow for sun-loving Mediterranean, Californian and Southern Hemisphere planting including cistus, carpenteria, broom, lavender and iris and silver artemesia. The roof is draped in wisteria and troughs of creeping figs. Fuchsias are a speciality and often grown in the old basketweave pots.

Lead figure of Hercules on a stone plinth. Hercules is depicted wearing a lion-skin and slaying the hydra (carved in stone), using a club which is made of wood. Behind is the spectacular yew hedge.

Herbaceous borders on the third terrace leading to the lower garden

On the third terrace you find the Orangery and long, box-edged borders.

The bottom of the garden is now lawned (Great Lawn) and used for playing croquet. It used to be the kitchen garden, but now all that remains are the rare, old varieties of apple trees.

Ground cover, bedding plants, including hardy geraniums, roses and delphiniums stretch out from the half-timbered gardener’s bothy.

Here you can wander out of the formal garden and into a wilder woodland landscape, with a path curving towards the western ridge. This area is formed of acid sandstone in contrast to the limestone of the castle ridge and allows the planting of azaleas and rhododendrons.

The path leads to an ice-house and a Ladies’ Bath, both dating from the 19th century and you have views out towards the Long Mountain and Breidden Hills and across to the daffodil strewn paddock to the castle and terraces.

Returning to the western side of the castle we’ll have a peep into the courtyard and entrance to the castle (though I have yet to go inside as I always seem to spend my time in the gardens).

And a final look at the flowers in the woodland area, in springtime.

Size: 25 acres (10 hectares)

  • Street:        Powis Castle and Garden
  • Postcode:   SY21 8RF
  • City:            Welshpool
  • County:      Powys
  • Country:    United Kingdom

If you like a walk, long or short, then please visit Jo for her regular strolls in the UK and the Algarve and maybe you would like to join in too. She’s very welcoming.

Garden Portrait: Stourhead


Stourhead is often called

“one of the most beautiful of this country’s landscape gardens”

with a gentle harmonious planting of broad-leaved trees, conifers and rhododendrons. The valley landscape began in the 1740s by Henry Hoare II who had returned from a three-year tour of Italy and was inspired by the Roman Campagna ( a low-lying area surrounding Rome in the Lazio region of central Italy) which also inspired many landscape painters of the time.

It is probably a garden best seen during the spring or autumn when the tree colours are at their best. But my visit was towards the end of July on a particularly warm, but overcast day. Located in Stourton, Wiltshire the garden is best approached by walking downhill from the car park, past the estate village with its inn, church and row of cottages and down to the lake.

There is a circular walk around the lake, taking in the woods, with glimpses between the trees of the garden buildings. The understorey is mostly a glossy evergreen with shrubs of cherry laurel and rhododendron, here and there a glimpse of wild flowers or hydrangeas and hostas.

Above on a hill is the Temple of Apollo and on the far bank of the lake, the portico and rotunda of the Pantheon. The buildings disappearing as you continue into the woodland and make your way around the lake.

The layout of the garden is not random, but alive with hidden symbolic meanings  and it is no coincidence that Stourhead’s story was based on Aeneas’s  journey to Carthage, following the fall of Troy. The first building you come to (if you walk anti-clockwise) is the Temple of Flora. Dedicated to the Roman goddess of flowers and spring, this temple was the first garden building erected by Henry Hoare II between 1744 and 1746. Over the doorway the Latin inscription reads:

‘Keep away, anyone profane, keep away’.

The visitor then descends on paths in an anti-clockwise route around the lake, recalling Aeneas’s descent into the underworld, finding Dido who turns away from him. Continuing his journey he enters the Grotto, where the river god shows him the way out and he completes his heroic quest by founding Rome, symbolised by the Pantheon.

Palladian bridge and the Bristol Cross

The Pantheon: Inspired by the Pantheon in Rome, this structure was built in 1753-54. It’s the largest garden building at Stourhead. ‘Pantheon’ means a temple sacred to all the gods. The temple is filled with statues of classical deities, including a marble Hercules created by Rysbrack. Well worth a look inside.

Leaving the Pantheon behind you take in a different vista. Across the lake to the Palladian bridge a five-arched stone bridge built in 1762. Although ornamental, the bridge was intended to look practical. It was designed to create the illusion that a river flows through the village and under the bridge.

High on the hill is the Temple of Apollo, built in 1765, by the architect Henry Flitcroft, to outdo William Chamber’s earlier Temple of the Sun at Kew. It is dedicated to Apollo, the sun god. Nestled on a hilltop, the temple has delightful views over the lake.

People picnic on the lawns. Sit on the steps. Fish in the lake. Although busy the grounds are so vast it doesn’t feel crowded.

The panoramic vistas are wonderful, but for me the best part are the old stable yard and walled kitchen garden, which were being renovated on my visit several years ago. A Foster and Pearson glasshouse dating from 1902 stands in the lower walled garden and housed a collection of pelargoniums.

The success of Stourhead lies in its painterly views; the way you can’t see all of the garden buildings at once and the anticipation of glimpsing a view through the trees. Hoare noted that

 ‘the greens should be ranged together in large masses as the shades are in a painting.’

I’m afraid that I prefer a plantsman’s garden to this landscape garden, my joy comes from the colours and forms of flowers and Stourhead doesn’t really ‘do’ flowers. But nothing can take away the fact that this is a truly magnificent garden landscape.

Size: 93 acres (38 hectares)

  • Street:      Stourhead
  • Postcode:  BA12 6QD
  • City:           Stourton
  • County:     Wiltshire
  • Country:   United Kingdom

If you like a walk, long or short, then please visit Jo for her regular strolls in the UK and the Algarve and maybe you would like to join in too. She’s very welcoming.

Garden Portrait: Polesden Lacey

I have visited Polesden Lacey a few times, but always too late for the wonderful Mrs Greville’s Rose Garden. This National Trust owned property is in Great Bookham, Surrey and designed as the perfect setting for entertaining royalty, politicians and the top dogs of the Edwardian society. Just a little second home then. I’ve never been inside the house where Mrs Greville launched the party house with a royal gathering in 1909 with Edward VII as guest of honour. In the opulent dining room the table is set for this special occasion.

I’m just going to take you for a stroll around the grounds and the formal gardens so grab your parasol and floppy hat and we shall begin.

The House

The present house, a yellow-washed and green-shuttered villa was built in the 1820s, but redesigned for the Grevilles in the French Neo-classical style in 1906. The house stands in a marvellous setting, just below the southernmost ridge of the North Downs and the trees on the lower lawns frame sweeping views over the valley and wooded crest of Ranmore Common.

Rose Garden

Mrs Greville’s roses are a thing of wonder. She was keen to show the foreign dignitaries who visited her house a typical English rose garden. Set out in a simple cross pattern with long, box-edged, wooden pergolas, it was created on the site of the nineteenth century kitchen garden. During the summer months it is a mass of pink, white and crimson. Lavenders, clematis and even wisteria adorn the walls surrounding the garden.

It is enclosed by weathered bricks, statues and a border of lavender. Best in the summer months of June and July. My visit was in late August, but as you can see there was still plenty of colour in the gardens, even if most of the roses had ‘gone over’.

Iris and Lavender Gardens

Within the walled garden are compartments with collections of irises and lavenders. A discus thrower can be found in the lavender garden as well as other statues. A playful sundial situated where several paths converge.

The Thatched Bridge

To the west a path leads past herbaceous borders to a winter garden shaded by three large Persian ironwood trees and beyond is a thatched bridge leading to the former Edwardian kitchen garden, now grassed over.

Herbaceous Borders

These borders line the pathway back to the house and have recently been restored. The southern half was turned into beds to grow potatoes in WWII but now are back to their former beauty.

At 137m long they are divided into four sections. Pastel colours with spires of yellow achillea, kniphofia and day-lilies. Grey-green yuccas, agapanthus add structure and there are many small shrubs such as whitebeam, smoke-bush and viburnums. Berberis, lilacs and hydrangea provide a succession of flowers.

The Lawns

Mostly used for playing a game of croquet on or lounging on the deckchairs with loads of room for children to run around in safety. With the most wonderful views over the Surrey Hills. You can picnic on the Theatre lawn and in the orchard. More urns and statues and even a Roman bath can be found among the trees and hedges of the lower lawns.

Long Walk

The Long Walk stretches for 0.4km eastward above the valley and was begun in 1761. This walk will transport you back to those Edwardian days as you stroll along the terrace towards the colonnades which originally formed part of the regency house at Polesden Lacey. The views over the valley are worth admiring from the many benches along the way.

Size: 30 acres (12 hectares)

If you like a walk, long or short, then please visit Jo for her regular strolls in the UK and the Algarve and maybe you would like to join in too. She’s very welcoming.

Town: Great Bookham
Postcode: RH5 6BD
County: Surrey
Website: Polesden Lacey House and Gardens