The garden was designed and planted by COLIN WELLS-BROWN (1926-2013) and it was hard scaped during the winter of 1992. This involved changing the ground levels in almost all the flower garden area, and whilst the perimeter walls are old, all the ‘retaining’ walls, the terraces and the steps within the area are new.
Planting began in March 1993 in what was by then a virtually barren site of bare soil and muddy puddles. Apart from four trees, two shrubs and a laurel hedge, everything has been planted within the last 29 years. The growth has been remarkable, and the garden is now beginning to look more mature.
The idea of the garden is to reflect the charming view across to the hill’s opposite. As you start your walk up the steps on to the Loggia terrace, there are some plants worth noting. By the back door is a now established PANDARIA. This is semi hardy and usually lives only about four to five years. Walk along the top LOGGIA TERRACE past the mixed variety of pot plants and you will find BRUGMANSIA in pots. There are three types, Pink, Apricot and White, planted out for architectural effect. There are other BRUGMANSIA throughout the garden. In pots we grow ACIDANTHERA and the AMARYGIA PARKERI which flower in late summer/early autumn. You may notice from the terrace/ patio that the valley, or vale, in the near part of the lawn, takes the eye in a continuous sweep curving into the valley beyond. Amongst the great tree groups on the hill of the Coombe/ Valley opposite, note the ACER. Big pots of highly scented Lilly’s are placed here in the early summer; these replace pots of daffs and other spring plants. Also against the Laurel hedge (between the garden and the coach yard) we under planted with Snowdrops mixed with Daffodils in the spring.
Proceed along this top LOGGIA TERRACE. An ACACIA PRAVISIMA is tucked in a corner for added protection in the winter, but where it can enjoy the hot sun in summer. Walk past here to a small PATIO GARDEN. This is an enclosed area, a flowery ‘room’ and extension to the house. It is planted with a mix of Roses, Hydrangeas, low herbaceous plants and is mainly a white garden, an inspiration from Sissinghurst. In July and August more pots of Lilies stand around to fill the evenings with their rich scent. The old stone tank survives from the original garden and was probably a brine tank, then a water tank for the Victorian conservatory which used to stand on this site. It is now the home of goldfish and newts. From here, step down onto the GREEN CIRCLE, the LARGE VASE planted up for the summer in its centre. If the weather is clear, note the long view beneath the Beech tree to the West and to the distant ranges of the BLACKDOWN HILLS.
Continue down three stone steps past a gravel circle in the middle of which stands a large pot with a MUSA BASJOO, or Japanese banana. Now wander along the WINDING PATH all the way to The Temple, complete with lots of pots, a fountain and pool. The high walls and heavy paving make it a warm site under a wide sky. It is planted with Mediterranean style plants, including a Buddleia Agathosma which is quite rare, also Daturas, better known as Angles Trumpets, and Datura’s Thorn Apple. In the summer we bring out a range of Citrus and BRUGMANSIA, with their evening heady scent. The retaining wall offers stone slabs for sitting and between them grow a number of ‘cushion’ shaped plants to ‘suggest’ added comfort. There are lovely sunset views from this terrace. A fragrant Rhododendron called 'FRAGRANTISSIMUM lives here (there is another one in a border in the coach yard) and a Trachelospermum jasminoides against the wall.
The Temple terrace provides a raised point from which to view the ornamental gardens as a whole; a garden secure and enclosed with shrubs and trees, but with hints of distant landscapes beyond. This makes it at the same time both secluded and elevated. Now go through the doorway into the TEMPLE, or sometimes called the ABBOTS RETREAT, with the open fireplace to provide warmth for outdoor supper parties late into a summers evening. From here enjoy the whole long view to the dark headland of HIGH HAM and the low hills of THE POLDENS beyond and the Kitchen garden and orchard. Now return to the Temple and go down the steps to the ARCH ALLEY.
The first arch carries a crab apple, GOLDEN HORNET. It has pink flowers in the spring and will be heavy with yellow crab apples late into autumn. The second arch carries on one side a combination of the dusky pink PHYGELIUS AEQUALIS growing up into the creamy apricot rose JANE AUSTEN. These are paired with a newly planted CYTISUS BATTANDIERI, here grown for the silky texture of its leaves and when more mature, will produce its yellow pineapple-scented flowers. A MACLEAYA grows in the bed on your right, a thug plant but if kept under control most welcome.
When you reach the GOTHIC ARCH in the brick wall on your left, go through, leaving the neat and tidy flower garden for the more informal KITCHEN GARDEN with ‘Cutting Beds’ (flowers for the house) into a pergola built by George and modelled on a Frank Lloyd Wright theme planted with mixture of Rose and Clematis, and on the right-hand side a SWEET PEA WALK. The wall this side has two Cornelia’s, Galcua and Verigata, plus other interesting plants including TRIFOLIUM OCHROLEUCUM. On the left as you enter by the gate there is SUB-TROPICAL. This is planted with a mixture of sub-tropical and tender shrubs including CANNAS and an OLIVE. A grassy walk takes you past the now restored great ruined buttresses of a very old wall recently rebuilt after many years as a ruin, which is said to have once been part of the GLASTONBURY ABBEY FRUIT GARDEN. However, this has now proved to be an excellent backdrop to DALIHA bed and has a new low retaining wall built by Paul in the winter of 18/19. Past this repaired wall further down is another, which has now given us a new boarder to play with. This is known as Laura’s border as Laura was mainly responsible for planting it up. You come to an old Norman stone, part of the Abbey spoils found in so many Glastonbury gardens, which now supports a chalice-shaped vase in honour of CHALICE HILL which rises beyond. This stone may once have held a cross in the Abbey.
Look into the hot house with its mixed collection of plants. Then continue down through the ORCHARD with its paths cut to lead you across Flora’s lawn, or carry on down the path and steps to the WILD POND. This is fed by water from a small spring further up the hill. During summer the water level is low, but after a wet spell the waterfall runs merrily and the pond fills to its brim. The stone LION MASK comes from a ruined 18th century garden that we knew in Sevenoaks in Kent. The pond is home to NEWTS and FROGS, and plenty of DRAGONFLY LARVAE.
Now step through the NUT WALK where Blue Hydrangeas glow in the shade, and stop for a moment to enjoy the ‘window’ opening to the left with its view of the GREAT OAK. In the spring this area is a mass of Snowdrops, Primroses and Bluebells. Continue along until you can turn left down to the BASTION. The area here is planted with KIRENGESHOMA a genus containing two species of plants in the Hydrangea family. Both are clump-forming perennials native to Eastern Asia. This BASTION was completed in March 2000. It has a seat to catch the evening Sun and a green view along the bottom of Bushy Coombe. Suddenly one is outside the garden and into the countryside-but safe from the cows that may graze the meadow. Now, double back past clumps of BAMBOO to go over the little wooden bridge which will take you into the WEST GARDEN. (Please note: After rain the wood on the bridge may be slippery). We have “tried” to build a rill here on the winter bourne, at the top of which is a GUNNERA MANICATA.
If you look now to the Coombe you will see two pillars. This is not an actual gateway to the Coombe but a suggested one; they sit at the end of a long pathway which we call the Cider Walk as it was cut in an old Cider Orchard.
The ORCHARD here has been embellished with varieties of apple trees, a Morello cherry and a plum. The far boundary is planted with evergreens to hide houses beyond, and in front of this are dotted several varieties of VIBURNUM TINUS and varieties of eucalyptus to make a soft screen of dark green and grey foliage. The aim is to give this orchard a flowery, romantic character. Drifts of daffodils are planted beneath the trees for the spring and rambling roses, KIFSGATE and RAMBLING RECTOR, climb through some of the apples and over the archway.
The wide grass avenue to your right is the CIDER WALK with cider apples all up the left-hand side, and species Hydrangeas on your right. At the top of the Cider Walk, a sharp turn to the left brings you into THE JUNGLE. Here the planting includes BANANA trees and a fan palm, ECHIUMS and other sub tropical plants. This was an area heavily shaded by Leylandi but now opened up to increase the Jungle area. The small path leads you through a Banana grove of MUSA BASJOO, a Japanese semi hardy banana.
The pathway continues round to the right to a bed of mixed HELLEBORES.
Walk on up and you now find yourself in the ‘GRASS GARDEN’. This area was planted in the spring of 1996 and is now maturing to have quite a different texture from the rest of the gardens. On the left is a wide area planted with unusual shrubs including HOHERIA ANGUSTIFOLIA, HOHERIA SEXTYLOSA, VIBURNUM ODORATISSIMUM OMNIENSIS, and the rare PLAGIATHUS BETULINUS from the ‘Lost Gardens of Heligan’. The overall ‘texture’ of this garden is from the collection of grasses; some will grow to 8 feet high, to sway and rustle in the breeze over a shimmering under planting of the silvery blue of ELYMUS, the BLUE LYME GRASS (reputed to be Miss Jekyll’s favourite grass.)
Tour round the circular bed past a Laburnum next to a White Wisteria, Longissima Alba, underplanted with a mixture of grasses. Also note the Clematis Anniversary on the frame of the Wisteria. Then down the gravel path, past the wall for FIGS on your left, and through the gap between the ‘COTTAGE ORNÉE’, take a quick view of compost bins and the cool house, planted with a range of tomato’s and other salad crops in the summer and as a frost-free house in the winter. Go back into the Kitchen Garden and wander here for a while before returning to the main garden.
Re-enter the Flower Garden through the GREEN DOOR up to your left to find the square FISHPOOL with its fountain. The bed on your left-hand side is a mixed herbaceous group of plants mainly white and cream. On the right-hand side is a ROCK GARDEN planted with foliage plants to complement the textures and colours of the rocks rather than for the flower colours. Now you may step back a small way and turn to your left, with the SILVER bed on your left, and through the RUINED ARCH. (Built 1993) One side of this Arch sports a deliciously scented WATTAKAKA. Turn left, up the wide steps, past a pair of old French Vases onto the CROQUET LAWN facing the house. Looking from here, the bed across to your left, alongside the white pergola, 'features' bronze foliage and white flowers. The bed under the Beech Tree 'features' silvers, pinks, reds and mauves. The central raised square bed displays the whole palette of colours used in this part of the garden – white, pink, pale yellow and mauve and over to the right, below the High Terrace, the bed 'features' mainly yellow and apricot with slashes. But most of these beds also contain a little ‘catalyst’ colour of pink and blue to heighten the effect of dominating colour. The retaining wall across the end of the Croquet Lawn is built with pockets that back into an infill of good quality soil, so that it can support some shrubs and other plants.
Walk down across the lawn and down the grass slope to the SMALL URN. Also in this border to the left stands a handsome clump of ARUNDO DONAX, the Giant Reed. Returning up the pathway on the opposite side is a dramatic variegated version of the ARUNDO DONAX. This bed has been replanted in 2017 as a mainly white and cream bed. Through the last of the flowery alleys, out through another green door and back into the COACHYARD.