Dorset Garden -Manor House, Lower Blandford St Mary
Chris Shaw and Colin Varndell enjoy a life of wine and roses in Blandford St Mary
Published in July ’11
What could be more perfect than a summer’s evening, a glass of wine, and roses, roses, roses? So it was in mid-June, when Mr and Mrs Mains opened their Manor House garden to visitors at Lower Blandford St Mary. Tucked away well off the main road, cars were being directed to an adjacent field. Even from here I could see roses, cascading over walls and fences where a gate led invitingly through to the garden proper.
There were lovely prospects whichever way I looked so I headed to where the first arrivals were being greeted by Jeremy Mains, who told me that it was his wife, Joanna, who was responsible for the garden. They had six horses, he explained cheerfully, and his involvement was solely the distribution of manure. Hence the glorious roses; manure beats anything you can buy off the shelf.
The main garden behind the house is enchanting, crossed by a pergola of sturdy timbers on old brick piers. The pergola supports roses, with ‘Blush Noisette’ and ‘Paul’s Himalayan Musk’ smothered in dainty pink flowers. White wisteria fills any gaps, threaded with deep blue clematis. More roses, ‘Rouge Cardinal’ and ‘Zepherine Drouhin’ add deeper colour, while ‘Dublin Bay’ is a blaze of vivid scarlet.
In front of the pergola, wide beds of shrubs and perennials are spaced to provide an easy stroll between. These beds are edged with clumps of pink daisies, a perfect choice to fill small cracks where weeds often take hold. Dark-leaved sambucus contrasts beautifully with deep pink roses, pink peonies and clumps of blue geraniums. The varied greens of choisya, dogwood and variegated grasses surround just a splash of peach poppies and verbascum. Close to the pergola are magnificent clumps of delphiniums in light and dark blue.
Dotted all over are the white heads of Allium ‘Mount Everest’. There are dozens of them throughout the garden planted, explained Joanna Mains, by previous owners of the property. It is considered to be one of the best white alliums, flowering in late May on stems nearly a metre high. A sparkle of white is also added by a huge clump of Crambe cordifolia, the flowers held high above the foliage like a cloud. If you have room for this, crambe is a stunner. It is deep-rooted and therefore drought tolerant, and is also very attractive to bees. The informality of shrubs and perennials gives way to a parterre closer to the house, where low hedges of lavender enclose yellow and white roses, in perfect accord with the mellow brick building.
This garden has interesting partitions where much thought has obviously been given to avoiding the obvious. One such is a curving line of brick pillars backed by a yew hedge, the hedge being given an undulating profile. Linking the pillars is a drape of possibly the largest diameter rope I have ever seen; rescued, so Joanna told me, from a skip. She wondered if it could be an old mooring rope and it certainly looks as though it could hold a liner in place. However it is much better employed here, adding a surprising touch of elegance despite its bulk.
Over by the irregularly-shaped pond, chairs indicate a peaceful place to relax. A small cascade provides the sound of water. Shrubs backing the cascade include a dark acer and burgundy rhus, lightened with the silver foliage of a weeping pear. Walking behind this border I found deutzia, viburnum and amelanchier. The border is given year-round appeal by Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Jelena’, which bears coppery-orange flowers in the winter and has good autumn foliage. Phygelius keeps the peach theme going in summer, while lily-of-the-valley provides valuable ground cover. The adjacent more natural area of long grass is full of fritillaries in the spring when the rest of the garden is a mass of tulips.
The formal garden fades into a path leading to tennis courts, but the deep, dark climbing rose ‘Souvenir du Docteur Jamain’ was drawing many just that bit further on with both delicious colour and scent. Many of the roses at Manor House are labelled and visitors were clearly appreciative as details were being scribbled down.
Tearing myself away from the pergola – I kept finding different roses to admire and sniff – I followed a narrow yew walk which gives access into two vegetable gardens. In one, espalier fruit trees and a soft fruit cage provide home-grown desserts, while peas and potatoes cover the more basic necessities. A small greenhouse is tucked away behind a border of alstroemeria. There are flowers, too, in the other vegetable patch; nasturtiums twisting up supports and a central white standard rose with a froth of parsley at its base.
Beyond the vegetables, a small orchard has a border of regimental iris beneath the lobed foliage of a fig tree. Through another interesting partition – a copper beech hedge and ornate gate set into an arch – there are more old trees. Not only are they beautiful shapes, but climbing roses make use of the branches forming a canopy of colour. I was drawn to the stunning peachy-yellow ‘Alchemist’ and could smell its perfume as I approached.
The wide border in this part of the garden contains larger shrubs and small trees such as magnolia and Buddleia alternifolia. The latter makes a splendid specimen and, like so many others plants in this garden, has the added attraction of being scented. It needs to be pruned immediately after flowering, though, cutting back stems to allow new wood to form before the winter as they will bear next year’s flowers.
Avoiding the pair of hounds chasing a fox – wire sculptures that race across the lawn – I found myself at the boundary where I had entered the garden. Against the warmth of the wall are clumps of yellow and peach phygelius, deep pink cistus, euphorbia and yet more roses including ‘Ena Harkness’. The path leads round to the front of the house, which is clad in wisteria, with ‘Madame Alfred Carrière’ tumbling over the roof of the porch.
Opposite the house front, a very deep bed is the ideal location for shrub roses that need room to spread. ‘Cardinal de Richelieu’ and ‘William Lobb’ are there; ‘Felicia’, ‘Nuits de Young’ and the delectable peaches and cream of ‘Ghislaine de Féligonde’. In amongst all the greenery, the small love seat covered with honeysuckle goes almost unnoticed, as does the quirky toadstool nearby. Not to be outdone, Rosa Banksiae lutea makes its own point by scrambling up a large tree.
Returning around the other side of the house to the main garden, a raised brick bed containing different coloured heucheras is a vivid demonstration of how far these plants have come from the original plum and green. If you have a tiny garden, a similar feature could be a source of colour throughout the summer. The rambler ‘Snow Goose’ is a beautiful contrast to vivid pink pelargoniums.
Manor House has a garden that is a delight to visit, but which can also provide plenty of ideas for gardening on a smaller scale. On the other hand, if I am caught rummaging through a skip at any time I am probably hunting for large diameter rope.
• This garden was open in 2010 under the National Gardens Scheme, one of many listed in the Yellow Book. Some garden owners open occasionally, rather than regularly, though; do check whether you will be able to enjoy a visit in the current year.