Our last garden visit

Living in Leicestershire we have been in some form of lock-down for the last year. However, we did manage to get away for a couple of nights in September staying at one of our favourite hotels in Devon, Lewtrenchard Manor. As always we are keen to visit gardens and on this trip we visited a new garden called The Newt in Somerset. Some other friends had also visited The Newt and told us we really must try and visit it.

Not the easiest garden to get to but as we found out a garden that should be on everyone’s must see list.

To call this a new garden is not correct. This is a major redesign of a long established garden. The garden is in the grounds of Hadspen House, a Grade II-listed house’s whose palladian façade of golden limestone was reckoned to be one of the prettiest in the country.

In the early 18th century William Player created gardens a la française with geometric plantings with courts, fountains and three axes in the 300-acres surrounding the house. At the height of the landscape garden movement Henry Hobhouse Esquire had Player’s strict geometry cut with picturesque vistas and rolling hills. In the 1960s Penelope Hobhouse transformed the walled parabola vegetable garden, planting within and around it a 20th century Arts and Crafts garden. It opened to visitors in 1970 and is published in Penelope Hobhouse’s 1976 publication The Country Gardener. In 1987 the garden was leased to Canadian gardeners and authors Nori and Sandra Pope. This is a garden with history.

In 2013, the house, along with 800 acres of neglected ornamental gardens, parkland, farmland and orchards, was put up for sale at £13 million. The purchasers were Koos Bekker and wife Karen Roos owners of vineyard, hotel and formal garden, Babylonstoren, (Africa’s only RHS-partnered garden). They set about a project to restore and reinvent the once renowned Hadpsen House and Gardens.

The walk from the car park and already it is looking good
This starts to get magical as you walk through the wood

You enter the garden through the buildings at the top of this picture into a triple height Threshing Barn which also include the Farm Shop, Cyder Press and Bar. It is immediately apparent that the quality and finish of these buildings is exceptional. And I can also say the cakes they were serving were exceptional too.

After coffee and cake enter the walled garden.

The formal gardens have been designed by Italian-French landscape architect Patrice Taravella. The walls are unusual for a kitchen garden in being curved. They form a parabola, the shape of half an egg, and nestling within them is an apple maze. (This can clearly be seen in the aerial photograph above). The design has been inspired by the Baroque gardens brought to this country from the Dutch Republic by William and Mary. They landed in 1688 to seize the throne from the last Roman Catholic monarch of England, King James II, bringing with them Protestant rule and a love of water features and intricate geometry. Here the flamboyance of the Baroque is contrasted with the simplicity of apples.

 The walled parabola garden contains some 460 apple trees from each of the apple growing county of England, trained to form a maze as they grow. A complete tour de force in the art of espaliers, cordons and fans.

Below the walled garden on an axis with Hadspen House is the original bathing pool. The abundance of newts found here gave the garden its new name.

The kitchen garden provides produce to both the hotel and garden restaurants. It has been laid out along the axis and has an interesting range of beds. The overall build finish continues.

Extensive and effective use of grasses creating drifts of colour, shapes and texture.

There are some beautiful ponds, rills, cascades and even movement sensitive frogs that project water at unsuspecting visitors.

Throughout the garden the range and quality of the hard landscaping is exceptional including natural stone setts, pavers and square oak setts.

We were there in mid September and the herbaceous borders were looking good with a good range of plants. The use of big blocks of salvias with box hedging gave a very contemporary feel to the planting.

Beyond the garden there is a large deer park with many accessible paths.

The walks take you to wilder parts of the grounds.
This is the Marl pit created by the ancient practice of ‘marling’ or digging out lime rich deposits to improve agricultural soil.

A steel and timber elevated treetop walk, the Viper that leads visitors above the trees to the newly-opened Story of Gardening. (Given the lock down conditions we did not go in).

And of course every great garden needs a stumpery.

So a rapid tour of this newly redesigned garden. Everywhere the build standards were exceptional. During our walks we talked to a team of dry stone wallers who said they had been working there for over six years. The word on the street is that £100m has been spent on the redesign and it shows.

We will certainly be back and are planning a short stay in Hadspen House in July (lock down rules allowing!) when we can enjoy the garden and grounds after the day visitors have left.