The Courts Garden

The Courts Garden near HoltThe National Trust describe ‘The Courts Garden’ as a delightful English country garden and one of Wiltshire’s best kept secrets. We have to agree… The Courts Garden is right on English Countryside’s doorstep but this was our first visit.

A wonderful mixture of topiary, water garden, orchard and arboretum, with beautiful lawns and English country garden borders, carefully designed to provide an interesting perspective and unexpected vistas at every turn.

Set in approximately 7.5 acres the original grounds and house were associated with a cloth mill, although The Courts Garden were only laid out in around 1901 when the mill was finally pulled down.

Sir George Hastings laid the original garden framework and subsequently Lady Cecile Goff who lived in the house in the 1920′s expanded on his designs, whilst her daughter, Moyra Goff enhanced the Arboretum. Since the 1930′s the primary layout has stayed the same and provides visitors with a marvellous example of English garden history.

The Courts Garden has many aspects which will appeal to garden history buffs, plant lovers and practical gardeners, but for me there were two elements that would draw me back for multiple visits…

The Courts Garden - Typical English country gardenThe tranquil spots in which to ‘plant’ yourself on one of the  numerous benches and perhaps become engrossed in a good book whilst indulging in the luscious atmosphere and beautiful surroundings.

The orchard – when we visited the apples were just approaching their best and grand they looked for sure. A superb range of scrumptious crunchy apples just waiting to be picked… Alas, it was not to be -my hand firmly rapped by ‘her indoors’ as I stretched for the perfectly formed fruit just drifting softly in the breeze.


The Courts Garden has a privately run tea room beyond the house and we though we would give it a try. It easily matched any National Trust establishment and provided attentive and pleasant service. The cutlery, crockery and utensils were immaculate as catering operations go, (the first thing my partner checks) and the menu provided a good choice of fresh food and beautiful deserts. We would give it a five star rating for the service, food choice and quality, although the tables were a little close together.

Scrumptious English Countryside ApplesThe Courts Garden is a fantastic example of an English country garden, spend a couple of hours strolling around taking in the detail then grab a snack in the tea room, whilst you consider where you might drift off to for the rest of the day.

For us -Caen Hill Locks, a flight of twenty nine locks with a rise of 237 feet and located between Rowde and Devizes  in Wiltshire was our next stop…

Kilver Court – The Secret Garden of Somerset

The viaduct and rockery at Kilver Court Gardens in SomersetKilver Court Gardens in Shepton Mallet is known as ‘The Secret Garden of Somerset’ Originally a mill and later the headquarters for British fashion label Mulberry, the stunning historical gardens are an oasis in the centre of an industrial area on the Mendips.

This was my first visit to Kilver Court, whilst I had some expectations of what would greet me, I have to say I was gobsmacked that this little English Countryside delight was on my doorstep, and I didn’t know about it. It certainly was ‘The Secret Garden’ but that probably highlights more about my dormitory existence in recent years, rather than their marketing!

The gardens are of a modest size, around 3.5 acres but beautifully laid out with a spectacular backdrop – a vast Grade II listed viaduct, built as part of the Somerset and Dorset railway in the 1800s.

The foreground is dominated by the award winning rockery and Victorian boating lake. The rockery is beautifully designed and populated with a diverse and well considered range of conifers and rockery plants, interspersed with cascades and lawn. The Viaduct not only provides this quite outstanding backdrop connecting you with the rolling Mendips beyond, but also reveals a quiet, well cared for lawn area with beautiful and traditional English garden borders, taken over by an abundance of butterflies and bees.

Kilver Court Gardens provide an excellent addition for Somerset visitors, and an oasis of tranquillity for locals to indulge in perhaps, a little historic reading. The history of the gardens and surrounding industrial area, from the wool and silk trades, local riots and social reform  through to the days of Babycham. Fascinating and revealing stuff.

Lytes Cary Manor

Volunteer to help maintain the gardens at Lytes Cary ManorThe English Countryside provides plenty of opportunity to drift back to another era, not for nostalgic purposes, but to indulge a little in what life must have been like for earlier generations.

Lytes Cary Manor provides just this opportunity. Home to the Lyte family from the 13th to the 18th century at which point the family could no longer afford the upkeep.

The property was sold to a local MP, and despite the second home allowance (just kidding!) was allowed to fall into disrepair, neglected and used as a workshop and agricultural store.

In 1907  Sir Walter Jenner, a Lt. Col. in the 9th Lancers acquired the property and tastefully restored and furnished with a range of 17th/18th century furniture.

In 1948 Sir Walter bequeathed the property to the National Trust who take care of it on behalf of the nation today.

Like many of these properties they have an element of formal gardens as part of a much larger estate. The formal gardens are small, but delightfully cared for, by NT Gardeners, and when I visited, an army of volunteers.

I found a quiet spot in the formal gardens to absorb the sun and drift a while. The lavender garden, is peaceful with the gentle buzzing of a variety of bumble and honey bees, butterflies are in abundance, the sound of the fountain just beyond the hedgerow adds to the therapeutic atmosphere.

The gardens are laid out in fifteen or so distinct areas, including the formal Apostle garden, Orchard, white garden and lavender garden. Adorning the South side of the property is a enticing croquet lawn just waiting to be played upon, but alas, I could find no takers for this quintessential English garden game, perhaps next time :-(

The garden areas are separated by well groomed yew hedgerows and each area offers a mixture of plants in the Art and Craft style. Inspired by the original ideas of Sir Walter.

You enter the house through the Tudor great hall, rebuilt in 1453, adjacent is the 14th century chapel, originally completed in 1348. Take a look up at the ceiling as you enter the great chamber, the magnificent coved and ribbed ceiling is the earliest of its kind in Somerset and includes the Lyte and Horsey family coat of arms.

The house includes nine or so rooms open to the public, other areas are available for short holiday lets.

Beautiful Village of Nunney

Nunney Castle - English Heritage near FromeThe English Countryside is amass with beautiful villages which provide the inspiration for many a poet,artist, photographer, tourist, rambler and day tripper from the Cities.

Nunney, is no exception to this, a beautiful village set amongst the Mendips and close to the market town of Frome in Somerset.

Centred on the village is Nunney Castle ruins, complete with moat, which date back to the 1373 when John de la Mare built the castle under royal license. This 14th Century Knight was hoping to gain favour within Royal Circles and it’s suggested the Castle was built to improve his circle of influence.

Looked after and maintained by English Heritage, castle entry is free and is a perfect place for perhaps a little quiet fishing and a family picnic.

All Saints Church near the Castle at NunneyThe castle was extensively modernised in the late 16th century, but parts suffered significant gun damage during the civil war as the parties held the castle for the king. Despite this damage to the main tower, it wasn’t until 1910 that the tower finally collapsed.

Overlooking the Castle is All Saints Church, separated by the quiet dusty high street with it’s ‘local Post Office and convenience store. The Church dates back to the 12th Century.

Aside from the gentle strolls around the village the immediate area offers some wonderful walking opportunities. Companies like Treasure Trails also provide fascinating walks which provide clues for the whole family to follow,  as you explore and discover this ancient village surrounded by English Countryside.

Barrington Court

Calf Pens at Barrington Court

The National trust own or care-take some of the most beautiful properties and landscapes throughout England. Within the west country we are endowed with many of these great places and as members we are on the trail of discovery and rediscovery of the seasonal bounty on offer.

Barrington Court is centred on Barrington, a quite beautiful, postcard friendly village, so well kept  I had to go back and take a second look. A place of timeless wonder, delightful thatched cottages emblazen with roses clinging to the clean and rugged stone. What strikes me is there appears to be an inherent pride in every household to maintain the beauty and demeanour of the village. All power to them I say!

If you like growing your own fruit and veg, have an interest in sustainability and delight at the wonders of gardeners who know their onions then the walled kitchen garden is right up your street, (or is it patch) row upon row of various native fruit and veg are in different stages of growth. Fortunate for the National Trust, nothing was in a state of ripeness that would encourage me to taste a little sample, although there were a couple of late strawberries that looked just a little inviting.

Barrington Court offers a little of everything – From the Walled Kitchen Garden, traditional English flower garden (also walled!) a small Arboretum, open lawns, craft merchants and orchard. Each area distinct but adding to the overall attraction of this oasis of charm and beauty. I just love it. :-)  In fact, I’d squat in the summer just to wake up to the sight of the rose and iris garden, such a cheerful place with the scent of paradise. (look, it’s my blog, I love the place -okay!)

If this sounds too sugary, is it a surprise given the property was leased by the Lyle family (of Tate and Lyle fame) who provided the means and the vision to create the estate I see today.

I adore the original rose clad calf pens towards the rear of the walled garden, bathed in a shadowy warm sunlight, alive with the hum of bees and gentle bird song.

The overall ambience is restful and quietly inspiring within the walled gardens, with summer colours in abundance. I smile at the creative way someone at the NT has displayed summer brolleys, almost Tate like (the gallery, not the sugar) across the entrance.

The Courthouse, built in the 1500′s is currently unfurnished, but provides a fantastic way to explore the nooks and cranny’s rarely available in most properties of this age, and allows the imagination to create it’s own vision of times gone by.

Barrington Court made me just feel good on so many fronts, the tranquillity and restful nature of the Walled Gardens and the splendour of the Court House backdrop, even the shaded walk through the arboretum. If you get a chance, take an hour or two to explore this wonderful little place.


Hestercombe from the top of the Great Cascade

As the sunbeams pound down on the South West of England, off we ventured to discover the delights of Hestercombe Gardens. Located a short drive from the M5 and Taunton near Cheddon Fitzpaine.

Described as ‘paradise restored’ our expectations were high of the 50 acres of lakes, temples, cascades, woodland walks, formal terraces, vivid colours and views that will take your breath away.

The gardens are made up of two primary areas, the landscape or informal part and the formal gardens originally designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens and laid out by Gertrude Jekyll in the 1870′s.

We chose to explore the informal gardens area first, a Georgian landscape created by Bampfylde in the 1750′s. As with many English gardens, they were abandoned over time, but now faithfully restored and maintained by armies of professionals and dedicated volunteers with the same eye for beauty as their original designers.

Foxgloves were in abundance alongside the rich green woodland areas as the path winds its way around the edge of the valley. We found a beautiful spot above the Great Cascade to sit a while, relaxed by the sound of falling water below our feet. One things that is so evident is the beautiful bird song that is filling the trees around us.

The far end of the gardens we discovered the Chinese bridge which offered a perfect place to shade from the midday rays, whilst occupying ourselves with the water-borne capers of the local wildlife. The water levels were pretty low, but we think this is mainly due to the restoration work associated with the Watermill complex and Mill Pond.

There are various features incorporated into the landscape  gardens, the Witch House made for some interesting conversation, but we weren’t spellbound!

Overall we spent a couple of hours meandering the paths, enjoying the welcome shade and waiting patiently for sightings of rare butterflies.

The Formal Gardens

The formal gardens comprise the Victorian Terrace laid out by the first Viscount Portman between 1873 and 1878 and provides a beautiful vista over the Edwardian Formal garden below and views for miles beyond.

The layout and colours epitomise the traditional English garden style and a number of well placed benches provide the perfect opportunity to sit a while and enjoy.

The landscaping and vista combined make this a beautiful and inspiring place to be whilst perhaps, admiring the original vision of the designers. The Orangery, fits comfortably within the structure of the garden and the main house and is gifted a perfect lawn on which to catch up on that latest novel.

We enjoyed our first visit to Hestercombe’s fifty or so acres. Retiring ourselves to the Courtyard for a refreshing cup of tea and a slice of lemon drizzle cake, we pondered on when we would return to catch up on the latest restoration work around the Mill Pond.

Mottisfont Abbey

Walled Rose Garden at Mottisfont Abbey

Mottisfont Abbey is located near to Romsey in Hampshire, a National Trust property I had heard about, but had yet to visit.  Renowned for it’s wonderful walled rose garden, and splendid riverside walk, I was keen to take a look whilst the roses are in bloom.

I wasn’t disappointed. As you walk through the entrance to the walled garden you are hit by this quite delightful scent, and expanse of colour. I’m not a rose expert, but there are many varieties to indulge the senses, and beautifully planted amongst the most exquisite English garden.

The walled garden is at the far end of the property and a gentle stroll through the trees towards the font provides some welcome shade from the midday sun. The large expanse of lawn and fields provides ample opportunity to find your own quiet spot for a family picnic, spot of painting or sketching, or perhaps just stretch out and absorb yourself in the works of William Wordsworth, whilst the world around you seems to become just a gentle buzz in the background.

Clover and buttercups are in abundance as we stroll towards the riverside walk, stopping for a moment to explain the workings of my camera to Luke, a young lad intrigued by the gadgets in my hand, and perhaps less interested in the habitat that surrounded him, at least for the moment.

The trout were active in the river, jumping to catch whatever delights dropped from the hands of welcome feeders scattered along the banks, in the distance across the fields I could see a group of walkers parading like Ants. There is a longer walk, several miles I think which takes in the perimeter of Mottisfont and beyond.

The National trust facilities are consistent with all other NT properties we have visited. The staff are friendly, approachable and informed and the Restaurant/cafeteria serves up well prepared and enjoyable food. This is a place that reflects much of what we enjoy at English Countryside and is a perfect place to invest two or three hours, or more if you just want to chill.

Busy when the roses are in full bloom, but a definite place for us to revisit.