Gardens behind the scenes: looking after Tyntesfield in spring

Spring bedding in full bloom on the terrace at Tyntesfield

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.

In this article, we visit the garden as it awakens from its winter slumber, with the first flowers signalling the start of spring.

Spring is a busy time in the kitchen garden, where early crops are being harvested for the restaurant. The first flowers are blooming in the cutting garden and terrace beds. Buds are unfurling on trees in the pleasure grounds, and fresh new grass is growing on the vast open lawns.

The view towards the house along the holly walk in spring
The view towards the house along the holly walk in spring
The view towards the house along the holly walk in spring

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.

" We feel great affinity with the generations of gardeners that have gone before us, who carried out the same tasks we do today. "
- Paul Evans, Head Gardener
The view across the Dial Garden, with the orangery, bothy and glasshouses beyond, is strikingly similar today to how it looked when captured in this Country Life photograph taken in 1902
The view across the Dial Garden, with the orangery, bothy and glasshouses beyond, is strikingly similar today to how it originally looked when captured in this Country Life photograph from 1902.
The view across the Dial Garden, with the orangery, bothy and glasshouses beyond, is strikingly similar today to how it looked when captured in this Country Life photograph taken in 1902

Flowers for the house

In 1897, Antony Gibbs commemorated Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee by creating a garden where family and friends could take delight in an outdoor room full of flowers. Although beautiful, the garden was designed to be a practical cutting garden. Stone-edge beds enclosed by yew hedges contained flowers year round, to be used for floral arrangements in the house. Flowers were probably also sent to the family’s London residence. The wooden boxes in which they were carefully packed still survive.

The Dial Garden, as it’s known today after the sundial at its entrance, is still looked after in much the same way by a team of volunteers, led by Margaret. By April, annuals have been sown, perennials divided and the dahlia tubers, over-wintered in the apple store, planted out.

Volunteer Margaret divides lupins in early spring in the potting shed, ready to replant in the Dial Garden
A volunteer divides lupins in early spring in the Victorian potting shed, ready to replant in the Dial Garden.
Volunteer Margaret divides lupins in early spring in the potting shed, ready to replant in the Dial Garden
" Plants put on growth quickly on warm spring days. I love coming in each Friday and seeing the changes from the week before."
- Margaret, lead volunteer in the Dial Garden, Tyntesfield

From plot to plate

The walled kitchen garden has been providing food for the estate since the 1830s, and today much of the produce goes to the restaurant. A striking feature is the number of original working buildings, unchanged by time and still in use. They include a weighing and packing room, apple store, tool shed, machine shed and potting shed, not to mention the impressive range of glasshouses. Some contain fascinating Victorian gardening objects - a rain gauge, vine rack, wooden packing boxes, seed trays, rows of carefully stacked, old terracotta pots and a large estate-made hoe, which is still put to use today.

A fan-trained apricot flowering in one of the glasshouses
A fan-trained apricot flowering in one of the glasshouses
A fan-trained apricot flowering in one of the glasshouses
" A spring highlight for me is the blossom covering the wall-trained fruit. "
- Marianne Closius, Senior Gardener

Senior gardener, Marianne Closius, looks after the kitchen garden with two gardeners and a large team of volunteers. Both modern and old varieties of fruit and vegetables are grown. In spring, asparagus, rhubarb, chard, spinach, radishes, broad beans, herbs and sprouting broccoli make the short journey up to the restaurant. The team also venture further afield to gather wild garlic and elderflowers from the estate.

Wild garlic growing under the trees in the arboretum, named Paradise by the Gibbs family
Wild garlic growing under the trees in the arboretum at Tyntesfield, named Paradise by the Gibbs family
Wild garlic growing under the trees in the arboretum, named Paradise by the Gibbs family

Grand formality

The south terrace, which wraps around two sides of the house, was created in the 1850s and developed over the following sixty years. Ten formal flower beds punctuate the lawn on the top terrace, looking much the same today as they would have done in the early 20th century. 

Colourful spring bedding on the top terrace
Colourful spring bedding on the top terrace
Colourful spring bedding on the top terrace

The gardeners create different displays each year to experiment with colour and foliage. Bold schemes with single-coloured wallflowers and bulbs work well on the large beds, while in contrast, mixed wallflowers create a softer, more relaxed feel. This year’s combination of tulips and wallflowers in oranges, purples, deep reds and pinks will provide a rich palette of warm colours from April until the end of May.

" Visitors often comment on the quality of the soil here. It's so good because it's been cultivated for over 120 years. "
- Paul Evans, Head Gardener