Gardens behind the scenes: looking after Tyntesfield in autumn
Ever wondered how we keep our gardens at their best throughout the seasons? Follow our four-part series to discover the important conservation and horticultural work that happens behind the scenes. This year, we’re shining a light on the extraordinary Victorian garden at Tyntesfield in Somerset, and meeting the experts and volunteers responsible for its care. Here we visit the garden during autumn.
Misty mornings and long shadows signal the beginning of autumn. Across the estate, remarkable fungi magically appear overnight and the shorter days trigger the changing colours of deciduous trees and shrubs. In the kitchen garden, all manner of squashes are being harvested and the gardeners are kept busy caring for lawns and undertaking the mammoth task of hedge cutting.
Just seven miles from the centre of Bristol, yet a world apart, Tyntesfield nestles in a tranquil landscape overlooking the Yeo valley. In 1863, William Gibbs rebuilt the house in the fashionable Gothic Revival style, employing leading craftsmen and designers to decorate and furnish its interiors. Outside, formal terraces and topiary-lined walks, an arboretum for rare trees and a rose garden were created. The extensive kitchen garden, its glasshouses and the impressive Neo-classical orangery were added by William’s son, Antony.
Tyntesfield was saved for the nation in 2002 through public donations, and contributions from the Heritage Memorial Fund and the Heritage Lottery Fund.
For over 15 years, volunteer mycologists John and Doreen have been carrying out monthly surveys of the fungi found across the estate. Over 1,000 different species have been recorded, this unusually high number reflects the diverse habitats found at Tyntesfield.
Autumn is the best time to spot some of these mycological marvels, especially when warm days are followed by rain. Colourful Waxcaps appear on the lawns and various Inkcaps can also be spotted, their fruiting bodies eventually dissolving into a black liquid, hence the name. In the woodland many puffballs make an appearance, these ghostly white spheres are filled with trillions of spores.
One of the most magical sights to look out for is the Fairy Ring on the South Lawn. The underground mycelium from the fungus creates a bright green ring on the grass. Although visible for most of the year, it's in autumn, when the fungus fruits, that the mushrooms appear. In folklore, these rings are said to be caused by the imprint of fairies' feet, dancing in a circle and bad luck will befall those who step inside one. Perhaps the myth arose as both edible and poisonous mushrooms produce fairy rings. As with all fungi across Tyntesfield, look and enjoy but please don’t touch.
Lawns and hedges
Autumn is the time for lawn maintenance and hedge cutting at Tyntesfield. Not all the lawn areas are treated the same. The gardeners scarify, feed and aerate the croquet lawn to keep it in good condition but across the terrace lawns weeding by hand is necessary to avoid disturbing the orchids. The soil fertility in these areas is kept low to encourage the wildflowers and fungi to flourish.
Keeping the formal hedges looking sharp and in good condition is a huge undertaking. Hedge cutting begins in late August and continues through until November. It’s labour intensive, hard work that’s shared by all the gardens team. The hollies are the last to be tackled. Their pin-cushion heads along the holly walk are cut back into shape in late October, along with the crowns of holly which are the centre-pieces in the formal flower beds along the terrace.
" Look out for the Japanese maple in the garden above the north side of the Chapel, its autumn hues blend brilliantly with the Gothic architecture."
From the mid-19th century onwards, four generations of the Gibbs family planted a significant collection of ornamental trees across the garden. Many came from the most important nurseries of the day, such as Veitch & Sons in Exeter, who sponsored famous plant hunting expeditions. Some horticultural knowledge, courage and initiative were essential attributes for a plant hunter. Often travelling alone, to unexplored regions of the world, they risked life and limb to bring back plants never seen before in Britain.
Autumn is the best season to enjoy many of the magnificent trees which grow across the estate. One of the most striking is the Chinese rowan (Sorbus hupehensis), discovered in 1910 by Ernest ‘Chinese’ Wilson, the last significant plant hunter employed by the Veitch nurseries. Its bluish-green leaves turn bright red in autumn, making a strong contrast with the clusters of white berries.
When Japan reopened trade with the West in the 1850s, plants became a significant commodity. Japanese zelkova (Zelkova serrata) was introduced in 1861 and the example at Tyntesfield was probably planted in the 1880s. It has a graceful shape, attractive bark and the leaves turn a spectacular golden orange in autumn.
There are many beautiful maples, including the three-flowered maple (Acer triflorum), relatively rare outside of specialist collections. Like all acers, it has brilliant autumn colour with fiery orange leaves and its exfoliating bark reveals pale, copper-coloured wood beneath.
Another notable tree in the garden is the Red Oak (Quercus rubra), first introduced from America in 1724. Unlike its English cousin, the leaves are very pointed and accompanied by acorns which take two years to ripen.
The walled kitchen garden is a very productive hub in autumn, the squashes taking centre stage with their impressive shapes and colours. The 'greens' cage is bursting with brassicas ready for harvesting. Around 15 varieties are grown, from cauliflower 'Romanesco Navona' with remarkable whorls of lime-green florets that look as good as they taste, to kale 'Emerald Ice', which has ruffled green leaves with attractive white centres and is equally flavouresome. Many of the greens are served in the restaurant alongside delicious cottage pies and surplus produce and flowers are displayed for sale outside the kitchen garden.
The results have been encouraging from this year's trial of a no-dig bed in one of the shadiest parts of the kitchen garden. Crops planted here have done as well as or even better than, those in other beds, so the size of the area will be extended over late autumn in preparation for next year's growing season.