Hestercombe Gardens - Gardens to Visit in the UK
Imagine finding plans by Gertrude Jekyll nailed to the door of the garden shed! Amazingly, this happened in the 1970's at Hestercombe Gardens near Taunton in southern Somerset, England.
These plans were a planting guide for the Edwardian terraces below the house, designed in 1904 by Sir Edwin Luytens. The garden was largely a 50acre 18th century landscape garden, then, encompassing a lake, temple and cascades in a woodland walk. Above the house, a Victorian shrubbery was added in the 1870's and a round fountain and lawn placed in front of the house, overlooking the valley where cattle graze. The house is now the headquarters of the Somerset Fire and Rescue Service and it was these firemen who realised there were treasures under the tangles in the 1970's and restored the Edwardian garden with the help of the Somerset County Council. The landscape gardens were restored in the 1990's.
Hestercombe the 'Art And Craft Garden'
But in 1904 the wonderful terraces were designed, and this is one of the best examples of an art-and-craft garden today, with hardy plants and informal stone work.
Luytens designed the landscape details carefully, down to stone edging of water rills to paving in the circular stone seat garden where he sunk several terracotta pots within each other, to give the effect of circles within circles.
Below the house are terraces with stone steps, ponds and a large garden of herbaceous plants such as iris, roses, columbines and valerian. Through a Chinese gate we reach the first terrace which has plantings by Gertrude Jekyll of lavender, the silvery foliage of lamb's ears and purple flowers of cherry pie (Heliotrope) and catmint. Large terracotta urns add presence and stone walls edge the terrace, broad enough to entice the visitor to sit awhile.
From here we approach the Edwardian Orangery, a magnificent building which captures the sun beautifully.
Down some seaside daisy-embellished stone steps and we cross a water rill fed by a dripping circular pool, with decorative stonework around.
Above, a circular stone-walled garden has a simple central circular pool also.
The lowest terrace has herbaceous borders and lawn, surrounded by an impressive colonnaded rose pergola, with honey suckle and clematis, and from here there are views to the valley.
Hestercombe, Water and Stone
Near the second water rill is a large sitting area covered with a half-hemisphere of climbing roses, from which one looks out at beds of roses surrounded by lamb's ears. Circular stone steps at the far end are made of mill wheels, an idea of Gertrude Jeckyll.
The use of stone is superlative and I particularly liked the oval windows in the wisteria-clad stone walls, to peep through and see another element of the garden.
Visiting Hestercombe Gardens
Opening Hours. Hestercombe Garden and Watermill is open all year (except Christmas Day) from 10am until 5.30pm. Spring sees daffodils and bluebells, the herbaceous borders are at their best in summer and in autumn the deciduous trees have superb colours.
Article and photographs by Jill Weatherhead
Jill Weatherhead is an Australian garden designer based in Melbourne's East and the Dandenong Ranges.John Allman
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