Garden Portrait: Barrington Court Garden

The Kitchen Garden

Barrington Court  gardens were laid out in the 1920’s by the Lyles to a structured design influenced by Gertrude Jekyll and the Arts and Crafts movement – especially evident in the graceful Lily Garden.  (click on the link to visit my previous post)

The former bullstalls (Buss-stalls)

My second visit to this garden was at the end of the very cold and wet May this year (2021) and it looked very different to my visit in early June 2009 when the garden was full of late spring and early summer flowers, including many roses, peonies and oriental poppies. Lockdown has caused a lot of havoc to our lives including the National Trust gardens which rely on a lot of volunteers to keep the grounds looking good. The house and the restaurant were also closed. Being late afternoon the grounds were very quiet, which I like. Not much has changed apart from the opening of some artisan workshops housed in old farm buildings.

The White Garden with a Dancing Faun statue

The garden is divided into several sections with the ubiquitous white garden, which was not looking its best, partly to do with the lack of staff over the past 15 months and partly to do with the cold and wet spring. I’m sure it would have been better during the summer when the roses and lilies were in full bloom.

Weathered Pergolas support wisteria, clematis and honeysuckles and I love the silvery grey oak wood frames around the doorways in the walls.

I also find the various patterned brick paths delightful  – they might inspire some of us at home if we have a spare pile of bricks! (I unfortunately don’t)

There is a central pool garden with surrounding beds of annuals, pansies being the flower of choice with Azaleas and Ceanothus shrubs providing colour on the mellow brick walls. William Strode built the new stables and coach house adjacent to the Court House. The building was originally an open U-shape and has the date 1674 in the brickwork. It now houses a lovely restaurant, unfortunately closed.

Pool Garden and former Strode House (now restaurant)

The large walled kitchen garden was much more colourful that I remembered with wallflowers and Aubrieta lining the main pathway to the lily pond and the statues.

Lead statue of a centurion, on stone plinth

On this visit we were not able to get a leaflet about the garden, nor were there many signs around to give you some idea of what you were looking at. Hopefully once things are back to normal this will improve.

Lead fountain in the form of a boy and a swan.

If you are in the area (north of Ilminster, Somerset) then it is worth a visit to these gardens although many people have expressed disappointment with the house and restaurant being closed and the gardens not being in their former pristine condition.

There is no doubt in my mind that the gardens and parklands that the NT look after are of huge importance in a time when we’re most in need of recovery. Unfortunately Covid-19 has affected all of us and I think we should all be more tolerant and less judgmental and appreciate all the effort that goes into protecting and preserving these historic places. Rant over…

Jo’s Monday Walks

Wells Cathedral – Camery Garden

Archaeological excavations were carried out between 1978 and 1993 primarily on the cloisters at Wells Cathedral and the monuments that were hidden are now displayed on the outer walls. Due to Covid-19 restrictions and a one-way system it wasn’t possible on our visit to see everything, but we were able to step outside into the Camery garden which lies next to the cloisters.

The Lady Chapel is built in Decorated Gothic style.

Here lay an ancient cemetery and the foundations of a succession of demolished buildings, ranging in date from Roman to post-medieval including the late Medieval foundations of the older Lady Chapel, destroyed during the Reformation by gunpowder.

The area has been pleasantly landscaped with trees and shrubs and spring bulbs and there are several benches. It is a tranquil space.

Adjacent to the Camery are the springs from which Wells takes its name.  You can glimpse St Andrew’s Well through a window in the wall into the Bishop’s Palace Gardens, but there is no access from here. You need to cross the moat at the Gatehouse. The first mention of the ‘holy well’ and minster church of St Andrew is in A.D. 766. The springs in the gardens are fed by subterranean streams from the Mendip hills.

From Neolithic times the supply of fresh water attracted settlers and around 700AD King Ina of Wessex founded a minster church just south of where the present cathedral now lies.

I will try and write more about the cathedral itself on my travel blog in the new year.

Garden Portrait: The Bishop’s Palace Gardens, Wells

The weather forecast for our week away at the end of May 2021 (the first in over two years) didn’t bode well. May had been a cold and wet month up until then and it looked likely to continue that way until the end of the week. Never mind. We finally had a change of scenery and another cathedral city to explore.  In September 2016 we travelled up the east coast and stopped off to visit the wonderful cathedrals of Norwich, Lincoln and Durham.

The Gatehouse

Wells in Somerset is an ancient cathedral city in the picturesque district of Mendip, set in the heart of rural Somerset. It is known as England’s smallest city and named after the springs (or wells) which rise within the grounds of the Bishop’s Palace.

Bishop Jocelyn began work on building the Palace c.1220. Over the years the gardens have changed as successive bishops (60) have added their legacy and today these gardens in Somerset have Grade II listed garden status due to their special historic nature. And naturally a garden I was keen to visit.

The Palace is surrounded by a moat though the gardens extend across the moat into an Arboretum, Allotments and a Community Garden, the Quiet Garden and reflections of Wells Cathedral in one of the Well Pools.

When you enter the gardens the first area is the South Garden, once laid out in the style of a formal Dutch garden with parterres, topiary and an L-shaped canal. In the early 19th century it was transformed into a picturesque and gardenesque style (where specimen plants were left to grow into their own unique natural forms), characterised by wide open lawns, specimen trees (such as  Mulberry, Tulip and Indian Bean trees), flamboyant climbers, bold and luxuriant planting of shrubs and perennials and with the backdrop of the ruins of the Great Hall and surrounded by the ramparts.

“Children’s Wings” from the exhibition “A Light Shining in Darkness” by Edgar Phillips.

From these ramparts you can take in the views of the surrounding countryside and even the Glastonbury Tor.

The East Garden contains the perennial planting in a formal parterre style. In the centre is the original urn dating from the former parterre laid out in the mid-1800s.

Beneath the oriel window a new knot garden was created in 2019. There are also Irish Yews planted in memory of the twelve ‘Apostle Yews’ which stood sentinel in the 19th century parterre.  The dahlia beds feature the wonderful Bishop Dahlias.

Outside the Palace is a small courtyard, but there is no entrance into the Palace here. You need to exit the gardens and enter from opposite the Croquet Lawn.

“White Wings” – the set of white wings directly represents the swans of Wells and their purity. From the exhibition “A Light Shining in Darkness” by Edgar Phillips

Swing Seat (by Sitting Spiritually) outside the Apple Store

From the East Garden there is a doorway leading through the walls to a bridge that crosses the moat leading to the wells from which the city gets its name.

Here you find damp-loving plants such as Astilbes and Hostas, giant Gunnera and plants such as Iris, Rheum, Candelabra Primulas and Rodgersias that create dramatic structure.

We were pleased to see a swan family underneath the bridge. The Bishop’s swans learned to ring a bell for food back in the 1870s and the tradition still continues today, though we didn’t have that pleasure.

Reflection of Wells Cathedral in the large Well Pool

Behind high yew hedges beyond the well pools and past a colour garden representing the stained glass window in the Lady Chapel of Wells Cathedral (though the tulips were long finished)

you will discover The Garden of Reflection. In contrast to the rest of the Palace gardens this is a modern and contemporary garden. It was opened in 2013, replacing a former derelict space and kitchen gardens, and was the inspiration of Bishop Peter Price and his wife Dee. He wanted to offer people a quiet, calm reflective space embraced by the Palace gardens and the nearby cathedral.

The sweeping curved stone seat is carved with the inscription:

“Wanderer, your footsteps are the path, and nothing more; Wanderer, there is no path, the path is made by walking, by walking one makes the path and upon glancing back one sees the path that will never be trod again. Wanderer, there is no path – Only wakes upon the sea.”

~ Antonio Machado, Campos de Castilla

There are 85 silver birch trees planted here underplanted with wildflowers, grasses and perennials.

From here you can see into the Community Gardens and Allotments  home to vegetable, fruit and flower beds and a Victorian-style greenhouse that provides a space for volunteers and community groups to come and learn new skills.

As you can see from these photos it was a dull day with the threat of rain hanging over us. We managed to avoid the worst of the weather by heading into the Cathedral itself, but came back to the gardens (the ticket allows you to come and go throughout the day) later on in the afternoon when the sun was finally shining to sit on one of these benches in the South Garden and enjoy a cup of coffee from the Bishop’s Table café.

Jo’s Monday Walks


Garden Portrait: The Chalice Well & Gardens

A place of sanctity,
healing and peace,
to soothe the souls
and revive the spirits.

The Chalice Well is among the best known and most loved holy wells in Britain. The Well and the surrounding gardens are a ‘Living Sanctuary’. In the past it was known as the ‘Red Spring’ or ‘Blood Spring’ on account of the red iron deposits in the water and there are many legends attributed to its waters.

As we were visiting Glastonbury on one of our days out during our late spring holiday in Somerset I wanted to visit this garden on the way to the Tor.  Neither the OH nor I are in the remotest religious, but the thought of a tranquil garden which has been designed with connecting us to nature and the source of life (water) appealed to me.

The gardens may be used for private access for meditations, personal reflections, renewal of vows, remembrance and naming ceremonies out of hours (before 10 am and after 6 pm). There are rules for public visiting that include no smoking, no alcohol, switching off mobiles and remaining fully clothed!

It is probably the most unusual garden that I have visited and maybe one I would have enjoyed more in my younger, hippyish days. I’m afraid I am a lot more cynical now. In fact a group of young ladies who commandeered the various sites during my visit really annoyed me as they carried out their chanting and lighting candles. This did not add to my sense of tranquillity or reflection.

The garden’s landscape naturally rises up from the open space of the lower lawns to the source of the waters in the well head at the top. The idea is that as you follow the water you sense and experience its flow and energy. The cascade, the rill and the pools invite the water to move and flow in ways that delight, inform, calm or provoke inner reflection. Or at least that is what the booklet says. The reality is a small garden with an iron-laden spring running through it.

The well has been associated with healing properties, and after going through what we have these past two years we certainly could do with some of those so I was happy to take a few sips of the iron rich water from the Lion’s Head drinking fountain, which is the only place in the garden safe to drink the water from.  In fact it is best taken in a homeopathic approach:

‘seven drops in a tumbler of water, fruit juice or milk
in times of illness’

It was a hot day, the first of the week and maybe the heat was making me tetchy, maybe I just wasn’t ‘feeling it’ but I was frustrated that many of the interesting parts of this garden were teeming with people who had no intention of moving. I appreciate the fact that many come to this garden to meditate and absorb the serenity, but not those who simply get in the way chatting to each other or those not allowing anyone else through to the attractions.

The saving grace was that there are plenty of seats on which to rest and the open meadow at the top of the garden which felt a lot less claustrophobic and which is a perfect spot to have a picnic. Much of the planting is in restful greens and my favourite purples which also helped, but it is not a garden for gardeners. In all honesty I have to conclude that this particular garden left me feeling rather deflated.

I’m not sure what I expected, but I’ve found more touching, spiritual places without the hype. If you believe in the sacredness of the water, if you like meditating with other people, or you want to see other people that do, then it’s for you.

But for me this seems to be one of those places that capitalizes on, indeed monetizes, myth and legend. I felt more peace and tranquillity in the grounds of the nearby Abbey or the Bishop’s Palace Gardens in Wells.

Jo’s Monday Walks

Garden Portrait: Hestercombe Edwardian Formal Garden

When I visit a garden I do so for several reasons – to have a walk in a beautiful place and to admire the planting schemes. When I was without a garden for ten years I used to dream of what I would do when I eventually had one again, filling folders with photos of borders and flowers for inspiration. So when we stopped at Hestercombe although we headed into the landscape garden first to have a good long walk around the grounds,  what I was mostly looking forward to was the Edwardian garden designed by one of my favourite garden designers.

Hestercombe’s Edwardian Garden, designed by Gertrude Jekyll and Edwin Lutyens, was completed in 1908 and is world famous.  The restoration of the gardens began in the 1970s and was completed by 1980.

There is a large Dutch garden at the east end of the site, with intermingled perennials such as China Rose, fuchsia, and dwarf lavender. Daisy strewn steps led us up  whilst cherubs played their instruments above the terrace and on the urns in the garden.

The beautiful Orangery is now often used for weddings and was indeed being set up for one on our visit. They had a perfect day for it.

We continued through into the East Rill terrace through pillars and walls cloaked in clematis and fragrant wisteria.

Here we were faced with the view of the Great Plat – a great sunken parterre laid out with geometric borders edged with stone and ringed with luxuriant bergenia.This formal garden epitomises Lutyens’ classical style with Jekyll’s planting scheme softening the hard lines. It is stunning.

The East and West Rill terraces frame this garden each with a 43-metre rill that runs from a hemispherical dipping pool fed by a water spout to a rectangular water tank at the southern end of the garden.

One of the hemispherical dipping pools

A 70m long oak Pergola runs the length of the Plat and encloses the garden at the bottom allowing it to remain linked to and be part of the surrounding countryside.

Doorways and archways through the walls lead you up and down steps to the various parts of the garden.

And at the bottom is the Pergola, a wonderful walkway full of roses and clematis and those magnificent views.

West Rill Terrace and Pergola

Much of the Formal Garden is built of the grey siltstone: the paving is of morte slate, and also the walling, which is laid in narrow courses with lime mortar raked well back to give the impression of drystone walling.

Great Plat

A third terrace, the Grey Walk, borders the northern edge of the Plat.

The House, the Victorian Terrace and the West Rill hemispherical dipping pool

Leaving the pergola we continued along the West Rill towards the Victorian terrace and the house, which affords the best views over the garden and those distant Blackdown hills.

Victorian Terrace

The magnificent Daisy Steps were designed by Lutyens to link the formal garden and the earlier Georgian Landscape Garden.

Daisy Steps

And now we were back at the entrance and ready for a decent lunch in the Stables courtyard before continuing on our journey home.

Jo’s Monday Walk

Garden Portrait: Hestercombe Landscape Garden Walk

On our return to Cornwall from Somerset in late spring we decided to avoid the M5 as it was the first weekend of the school half term and it would be teeming with traffic heading for Devon and Cornwall. Instead we opted for the scenic route along the Atlantic Highway, through Bideford, Barnstaple and Bude and Camelford. I had booked a stopover at the Hestercombe House and Gardens near Taunton so we could have a stretch of the legs followed by lunch before embarking on that longer route. We have seen the sign for these gardens many times on our way up and down the M5 but never visited them. Today seemed like a good time. And the weather was in our favour too which was lucky as we had to pre-book our visit.

The landscape garden was created by Coplestone Warre Bampflyde in the 1750s and offers a series of carefully composed views each designed to look like a painting and inspired by the classical views of Italy.

The Octagon Summerhouse marks the start of this walk and provides a view up the valley.

As you meander around the garden you will pass temples, lakes and waterfalls. The routes are fairly easy to navigate although there are some steep and winding ups and downs which are not suitable for wheelchairs and pushchairs. An all ability-access route is in place around the Pear Pond and the formal garden.

After a very wet May everything in this area was very green.

The Gothic Alcove marks the highest point of the garden from where you can enjoy a spectacular view of the Vale of Taunton which for some reason I failed to photograph.

We enjoyed our stroll up to Sibyl’s Temple along the one way system and admired the views before making our way back down to the Pear Pond (named because of its shape I imagine rather than there being any actual pear trees) where we came across ducks and swans.

Pear Pond

From the Mill pond we entered through the outbuildings into the Edwardian Formal Gardens, but more of that later.

Jo’s Monday Walk

Garden Portrait: Kilver Court

This three and a half acre garden is hidden behind the vast stone textile mills and framed by the sweeping curve of the listed Charlton Viaduct. It is a delightful hidden secret and originally designed by the industrialist Ernest Jardine as a recreational space for the workers of the mill. Now owned by Roger Saul the founder of Mulberry who bought the mill in 1996 as the headquarters for the business. He and his wife Monty, both amateur gardeners, transformed the rather corporate looking gardens into the beautiful space you see today.

There is a lake which reflects the viaduct beautifully, a rock garden with streams and cascades and colourful herbaceous borders.

It’s not a huge garden, but there is plenty of interest for anyone who loves plants.

In late May, the time of our visit – though during an exceptionally cold month – the colour came from large rhododendrons, azaleas, irises and many of the wonderful trees planted around the lake.


A formal parterre offers you the chance to sit and relax, before perhaps heading to the rather upmarket Garden Kitchen Restaurant for a spot of lunch.

In addition to the garden there is an excellent nursery and the delightfully named Wiggly Shed which sells seeds, garden tools and peat-free compost to outdoor furniture, garden accessories and other interesting items. In fact if I lived closer I would be spending a lot of time here! Kilver Court Gardens

Edit: Sadly as of the 6th September 2021 the businesses operated onsite by the Saul family, i.e., The Great House, Fashion Emporium, Plant Nursery and Garden Entry, and the Garden Kitchen Restaurant, have closed. Farewell Message

Garden Portrait: East Lambrook Manor

East Lambrook Manor is a small 15th-century manor house in East Lambrook, Somerset, England. It is surrounded by a “cottage garden” planted by Margery Fish between 1938 and her death in 1969.

The English Heritage Grade 1 listed garden is characterised by many winding paths through abundant borders and is renowned as the premier example of the English cottage garden style. It has noted collections of snowdrops, hellebores and hardy geraniums and there is an excellent specialist hardy plant nursery in the garden.

During the lockdown, due to Covid-19, we had to prebook our garden visits and there were precautions in place to protect visitors. Although the garden has meandering paths throughout the very dense planting, there was a one-way system in place which meant having to rush through at a faster pace than normal so as not to block the route for other people. Luckily we had booked an early slot and the garden was not busy.

Our visit was in late May after a very cold April and a very wet May. I was therefore surprised to see many flowers in bloom which I associate with the summer months and certainly in advance of what I had seen in Cornwall.

It is not a big garden, but there is a lot to see. I couldn’t come away without buying several lovely hardy geraniums and also three Geum plants for my garden. If you are ever in the area I recommend a visit here and there is also a rather nice pub opposite for lunch.

Town: East Lambrook, South Petherton
Postcode: TA13 5HH
County: Somerset
Website: East Lambrook Gardens


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.


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: Barrington Court Gardens

Well worth a visit in May/June. Information about the property is from the National Trust website – link below.

Barrington Court garden dates from the early 1920’s. It is laid out in a series of contrasting “rooms” inspired by a very grand design by architects Forbes and Tate with planting suggestions from Gertrude Jekyll despite the fact that she was in her late seventies and had poor eyesight. The structure and style and the Arts and Crafts details still remain intact and this garden is believed to be one of the best preserved of her gardens. Separate colour themes now identify the individual “garden rooms”. The former bullstalls  (Buss-stalls) provide a planting wall for fragrant roses and other climbers.  There is also a magnificent kitchen garden with produce used in the restaurant.

The Court House built by William Clifton in 1552 is a typical Elizabethan E-shaped design in mellow Ham Stone. William Strode added the red-brick Strode House in 1674. Originally the farm buildings it now houses the restaurant and shop. The property is surrounded by cider orchards which are used to produce award-winning cider and apple juice.

Barrington Court is near Ilminster in Somerset in a very rural location and is looked after by the National Trust. My visit was in early June when the garden was full of late spring and early summer flowers, including many roses. Fortunate to have a sunny day it was bliss to wander through the various displays in the Rose and Iris Garden and the Lily Garden which follow the principles of Jekyll’s colour teaching.  Mellow yellow Tudor brick paving, which changes pattern every few metres from block to diamond, herringbone to circle to square, leads you thorough the faded oak doors into the White Garden still very much Edwardian crammed with irises, phlox, roses, cosmos and others. Lavender and box line the patterned brick paths. I cannot describe the heady perfume.

The featured image (top) is Strode House (built by William Strode in the 17th century) which was originally a stable and coach block and is now used as the restaurant. The kitchen garden provides produce for the restaurant; this includes all types of fruit and vegetables. We ate lunch there, a freshly cooked salmon quiche and salad with local apple juice. It was delicious. And within this building is a beautiful inner courtyard with a pond. To the side of the honey-coloured mansion is a wild-flower meadow, complete with beehives.

If you are in the area, don’t miss a visit to this beautiful garden.

(Click on any photo below to walk through this garden with me.)