Last year I was both delighted and honoured to be invited along to Tamsin Westthorpe’s garden Stocktonbury for the unveiling of Rose of the year 2022 “It’s a Wonderful Life”. This shrub rose is a real delight having a delicate watermelon scent, exceedingly good healthy foliage and proliferous repeat blooms that open in a gentle apricot hue, tint pink and finally pale as they age.
Im a complete fangirl of Tamsin’s garden also, its chock full of unusual plants, native orchids and quirky features, well worth a visit and I hope to get round to writing about that soon as it deserves its own post!
This years venue was the legendary Iford Manor, a spectacular Harold Peto garden, which in the style of all good Arts & Crafts garden incorporates excellent plant choices, simplicity of form, fabulous topiary and whimsy in abundance!
Your approach from any direction gives the impression of a secret garden as you travel down single lane tracks. I was lucky enough to approach from the south and so was treated to crossing the humpback bridge with Britannia standing guard. Funnily enough some of you may already know Iford as it was used as a location in the most recent incarnation of The Secret Garden and its not hard to see why!
The owners William and Marianne Cartwright- Hignett are very clear that it isn’t a museum rather a living, breathing entity that relies on a gentle and sympathetic touch from its custodians. One of whom is the delightful Steve Lannin, the Head Gardener, who is fabulously qualified to head its devoted and enthusiastic team.
After being given a potted history of Iford, the influence the wool industry had on its life and of course Harold’s introduction of thousands of pieces of reclaimed architecture to create marvellous follies on its terraced slopes we were introduced to Steve. With a twinkle in his eye he went on to describe how he wanted to create an atmosphere of calm romance within the garden. I think the quote went “I want it to look like an old boy pops in for a few hours every week, puts some stripes on the lawn and pulls a few weeds” which if you’ve spent a few hours in any garden you will know exactly how difficult that is to achieve but oh my life they do it so well!
I digress, first I MUST tell you about Rose of the Year 2023!
Its the most beautifully fragrant climber, It reaches perhaps 2 Meters in height so perfect for your average back garden! Aptly named “Peach Melba” it holds generous clusters of flowers, well spaced, that emerge a peachy orange, gradually turning a strong pink. I can see this being very popular come the autumn when its released for sale!
Being the holder of the Rose of the Year title is no mean feat either, these roses are grown in a wide variety of situations, the contestants being gradually whittled down to the winner. Judged on performance, health, vigour, scent, colour and repeat performance only the very best of the best make it to this prestigious level!
After the unveiling we were treated to the most wonderful lunch in the incredibly modern restaurant. Designed in a manner that is entirely sensitive to its surroundings, it has a fabulously intimate feel. It has wide floor to ceiling doors that on a lovely day can be drawn back blurring the lines between inside and out but double glazed so come the chilly winter diners will feel snug. It has to be said that the staff throughout our visit were all smiling and exceptionally helpful and friendly.
The gardens though! I admit that I did linger over lunch longer than I had planned and as such I did miss a few areas however I have reassured myself that this is an excellent reason to do a return visit!
There really is a serious level of skill involved with making it look like a gardener has never touched the garden and it takes time. Often times gardens are understaffed so everyone is rushing round doing jobs in the quickest way, not necessarily in the most aesthetically pleasing way. At Iford they have got that balance just right.
The landscape architecture provides the most incredible backdrop to the gentle frothiness that epitomises gardens of this the most elegant of era’s. Items that would most likely have become hardcore in the race to modernise European cities at the turn of the century were rescued and recycled into this fantasy land where Romulus and Remus can be found cheek by jowl with the tops of Corinthian columns repurposed to provide a sturdy bench!
Roses and Clematis are carefully trained up Roman Tuscan columns with chain swags in between to frame far reaching views over the water meadows, the river Frome gliding smoothly within its banks at this time of year. Providing a tranquil and pastoral scene with sheep roaming just far enough away to be tasteful and not the messy, smelly, nightmare that they are up close!
The plant choices in the beds are all typically Edwardian era, Rosemary, Nepeta, Eryngium, Verbascums, Euphorbias, Alchemilla, Geraniums and Salvias all scrambling over one another. Jostling and vying for your attention only to find yourself slipping into the cool, green, simple relief of clipped topiary shapes or tree shadowed walks with spring fed rills flowing downhill.
And the steps, of which there are a lot, are all cloaked with Erigeron, Soleirolia, Cymbalaria, Ajuga and of course the trusty Alchemilla
My last stop in my rather rushed tour was to an amazing folly at the far end of the stripy lawn. A peristyle in the fashion of a Roman or Greek temple with a simple courtyard, its arches and columns graced by Ivy and Pelargoniums. Another view over the valley can be enjoyed from here, its balcony invites you to linger with 2 chair comfortably placed to take in the vista.
Having thoroughly enjoyed my visit and in my car perfumed by Rose of the Year 2023 I unwillingly said goodbye to Britannia who stands guard over the Frome and promised to return to see the Japanese garden!