Manor House, Beaminster
Chris Shaw and Colin Varndell visit a garden full of delights
Published in May ’11
The Indian proverb, ‘All the flowers of all the tomorrows are in the seeds of today’, is incised on a globe, in the Walled Garden at the Manor House, Beaminster. This seems especially appropriate in a garden only recently designed and planted, but which, surely, will become even more beautiful as it matures over the years.
The grounds of the Manor House are to be enjoyed slowly, first circling the four-square building to appreciate the sweeping lawns and mature trees – unexpected so close to the bustling centre of Beaminster; investigate the voluptuous pear sculpture beneath the ancient mulberry and marvel at the immense Wellingtonia, then stroll to where the little River Brit swells into a lake before cascading over a waterfall and heading south towards the coast.
This is essentially parkland, but with a handful of carefully planted areas to provide pockets of colour through the seasons. A late May Bank Holiday Monday is just too early to be able to enjoy the colours of an herbaceous bed adjacent to the house. The long, cold winter had definitely kept gardens under wraps for longer, but that’s part of the challenge of gardening. Timing anything outdoors always has an infuriating element of hit-and-miss.
A ribbon of lavender had been prettily threaded through; it’s a design idea like this that can so easily be borrowed and adapted for use in your own garden, whatever its size or scale. Further down the lawns, beyond the long, formal pond, colour was much in evidence. Seven silver birches are under-planted with heucheras in wedges of deep burgundy and terra-cotta, with variegated dogwoods beneath clipped to stay small. It is a stunning combination that is eye-catching even from a distance and could also be repeated in a smaller garden. Plants do seem to come in and out of fashion and this is definitely the year of the heuchera. They seem to be everywhere, the extended colour range making them ideal for many situations. What began as a plant with green or plum foliage has now diversified into such as the mouth-watering peach of ‘Crème Brûlée’. The slender stems of small flowers are of secondary importance when foliage is as pretty as this.
On the far side of the lawns, another large bed has been planted beneath magnolia trees. Glamorous tree paeonies stand out from hostas, ferns, alchemilla and dicentra, forming a shelter for the pretty summerhouse behind. A shaded path leads from here, past the waterfall and into a woodland walk. Christine Wood, who owns the Manor House, says that this will be the next area to be worked on. Already there is a large hosta bed next to a stepping-stone crossing of the river. Timber and bark are being used to provide a gardening environment that is totally in sympathy with this wild area.
Beyond the small lake is more parkland with magnificent trees. There is space to relax in the shade or stroll, perhaps skirting the water with its handful of exotic birds, as you look back towards the house and wonder what is beyond that distant curved shrub border? The border itself is of broom, lilac, berberis, pittosporum and weigela, which form a background for generous clumps of poppies and day lilies. A large yew tree shades hydrangeas and elegant arches of Solomon’s Seal. The walls behind are pierced by a wonderfully ornate archway, leading into the Walled Garden.
This enclosed space has been only recently designed and planted but is already settling into its role as the showpiece of the Manor. The walls trap the heat and there are seats where one can soak up the sun and enjoy the perfumes of the many roses that scramble over the walls, cling to the pergola and fill the corners of one of the rectangular gardens formed by low, yew hedging.
A circular pond has clear, deep water over a bed of large rounded pebbles. The beautiful central feature is not so much a fountain, more a sexy slither of water across metal, water which then disappears soundlessly into the base of the sculpture without disturbing the surface of the pool. It is mesmerising. The quarter gardens surrounding are either dark in foliage with such as the feathery-leaved sambucus, or light with white iris and potentillas. Alliums spear through, tall stems of allium siculum with its pendant greeny-pink bells and the shorter, more sturdy alliums with their starry globes of mauve, like huge fireworks exploding.
The knot garden has neat box hedging, decorative black arches and old herringbone brick paths leading into the centre. Bark mulch has been used extensively, keeping moisture in and weeds out. Some sections are full of achillea, the flat heads contrasting with bursts of plumed grass and spires of peach verbascum. The ‘proverb’ globe is centred on a path that leads to the edge of the garden with, on one side, a walk of pleached limes. The colour scheme beneath is blue and white, geraniums and dicentra with variegated euonymus. A twist of box topiary and a small fountain are additional talking points.
At the far end of this enclosed space, work was still in progress. A small herb garden with clumps of camomile, chives and dark-leaved nasturtiums has espalier fruits on the walls. Vegetable beds are neatly contained by old stone tiles. A seed-pod sculpture certainly invites comment – and a second look – one gentleman was heard to say that he needed to go home for a cold shower.
One wall of the garden is flanked by an extensive pergola, which has white wisteria twisting up the posts. Climbing roses have already taken hold and there are shrub roses nearby. Rosa ‘Francoise Juranville’ is a stunning coral-pink rambler while ‘Mortimer Sackler’, also pink, sports red new growth that gradually turns green. The climbing, pale pink ‘New Dawn’ follows through the delicate colour scheme with ‘Cecile Brunner’ and ‘Blush Noisette’. Yards of paeonies stand beneath the pergola, including creamy-white, beautifully-perfumed ‘Duchesse de Nemours’ and the delightfully-named single deep pink ‘Dancing Butterflies’.
Colours are cleverly combined, with a row of dark sedum beneath pale pink roses. The borders fill in with clumps of London pride in rosy pink, deep pink cistus, white and navy iris and spires of pale lavender Phlomis tuberosa ‘Amazone’. Viburnum mariesii spreads lace-laden branches in the corner and a pair of boxing hares stand up to each other on the lush grass.
To say this is a pretty garden would do it an injustice. Delicious is a better word. One could sit in the Walled Garden all afternoon and not worry about the rest – but that would be such a pity. The Manor House offers a wonderful contrast and the grounds deserve thorough exploration. Christine estimates another three years before her plans are fully realised. To create a garden such as this must be so rewarding. Opening it to the public gives all of us the opportunity to enjoy the end result.
• The Manor House garden was open under the National Gardens Scheme, with details of opening dates and times in the Yellow Book. Intentions do change, however, so check whether or not the garden is included in the current year’s openings. The house itself is not open to the public.