It is a bit of a gloomy start for our visits to Montacute and Tintinhull, but the leaves are changing colour, fluttering down, and passing through Melplash pale pink crocus are dotted along one bank. It is a tight fit through the gates to park in what had been the walled vegetable garden, which now has brilliant orange campsis radicans clambering up the wall.
The west front of the house imposing grandeur is heightened by the simplicity of deep hedging tight to its walls to the depth of the wings, no mean feat to get this level. Originally there would have been a hive of activity with stables, animals, kitchens and servants moving in time to the sundial high on the south west corner of the house. Passing across this façade the orangery comes into view on a raised walk that bounds the north garden. To the west a huge billowing cuddly yew hedge overlooks clipped yews surrounding what was a parterre, its pattern now inventively mapped out by lawn mower. Ornate steps and gravel paths quarter the garden to an ornate fountain at its centre, the formality and stone work emphasised by parkland clearly viewed from the raised walk, although the yews reminded me of wombles .
Looking back at the house it may appear to be a square ‘Cotswold’ manor but a grander design is hinted at by the balustrading and gazebos, home for snails, which surround the east court. The original grand entrance had a large outer court and gatehouse, nonetheless the east façade does what was intended, impress the visitor. Standing high and wide overlooking a simple lawn with surrounding gravel walk and herbaceous borders, originally designed by Vita Sackville West in 1945, and offset by two ornate and unique gazebo lodges in opposite corners of the balustrading topped by obelisks.
A beautiful ornate background of ham stone to the bright and inventive planting while encouraging light above and behind for the vines and climbers. To sit in this court is to appreciate the many windowed and ornate east façade, of Mathew Arnold master stonemason, for as well as being warmer than the rest of the garden it was possibly warmer than inside the house, where no casting of clout until May was out would definitely have been practised.
Crossing what was the service drive to the kitchens from the park, where fruit was grown on the west side of the east court wall and no doubt watched over by the porter in his lodge, is the original Pigswheaty Orchard before becoming a bowling green and now cedar lawn with twisted sweet chestnuts and Lord Curzon’s pavilion. A hidden servants’ path runs between the kitchen garden wall and another billowing hedge back to the kitchens, those that must not be seen servicing Lord Curzon. The house itself is filled with historical portraits and rare artefacts.
The National Trust opened the gardens for the club that afternoon and kindly offered free gratis vegetables and apples from their stall, they were delicious. The connection to Montacute is not only locality but also, in 1951 when Vita Sackville West’s palette was considered too muted, Phyllis Reiss reinterpreted the herbaceous borders. As one of the celebrated designers she lived at Tintinhull between 1933 and 1961; then between 1980 and 1993 Penelope Hobhouse was a tenant; and finally, but not least Harold Peto (glorious Iford Manor) also had an influence.
In the stable yard the blue and mauve asters and blue salvias patens crinum were rich in colour softened the cobbles. To the front of the house symmetry is viewed through framed openings and hard landscaping, softened by a surrounding of mature trees; each garden secluded by wall or hedge offering reflection and contemplation of pool or lawn, but the whole would fit into the north court at Montacute. While bright pink asters beloved by bees and ‘for your eyes only’ roses brightened up borders. Stunning colour was to be found in the pots residing either side of doorways and the pumpkins in the vegetable garden: a hive of activity with volunteers busy gardening. Along the border were bright nasturtiums and marigolds, red globes hung in the apple orchard over the fence from a pale drift of white flowers shimmering in the afternoon sunshine.
Text by Sarah Herring
Photos by Sarah Herring; Sybil & Tim Gale