Gardens behind the scenes: looking after Tyntesfield in summer
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 the summer months.
From the first flush of roses in June to colourful terrace planting that peaks in high summer, it’s full-blown flower time at Tyntesfield. The kitchen garden is a hive of activity with produce picked daily for the restaurant and plentiful fresh flowers for the house. On hot days, tree canopies in the arboretum provide visitors with welcome shade and vast lawns are perfect for picnics.
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.
" Summer’s the time to admire all the effort of the last few months, seeing the plants you’ve propagated, planted and pruned thriving in the warm sunshine. "
Coming up roses
By June the central arch in the rose garden is covered with the deep, carmine-pink flowers of rambling rose ‘American Pillar’. The open-cupped, simple blooms are beloved by bees. These may be the original Edwardian roses which delighted Via Gibbs, first wife of the 1st Baron Wraxall, who was especially fond of flowers and added much to the garden’s design.
Nestled into a sheltered hillside, this formal terraced garden with its flower beds framed in patterns of box hedging, provides a tranquil retreat all summer long. Twin ornamental gazebos offer a place to sit and reflect. These were derelict when the estate was acquired in 2002 but have been restored with many of their original decorative Minton wall tiles. They were rediscovered by the gardens team when clearing decades of debris, neatly stacked for safe keeping, probably by a gardener many decades ago.
From lettuces to lemons
Production steps up a pace in summer with a continuous supply of leeks, carrots, salad and new potatoes making their way into the restaurant. A weekly order of 40 lettuces for the kitchen, keeps volunteer Rhona busy sowing seeds fortnightly to meet the demand. Summer’s favourite fruit, strawberries are in season, with varieties ‘Sonata’ and ‘Malling Centenary’ being grown for the first time this year.
Although not a Victorian invention, a no-dig bed is being trialled to show visitors another technique for growing vegetables. It improves soil structure, suppresses weeds and can easily be tried at home. This complements the use of integrated pest management (IPM) in the glasshouses and orangery, beneficial insects that are natural predators for aphids, red spider mite and whitefly. This is the third year of trials and bugs are posted fortnightly until the end of September with impressive results.
" Upon the level are expanses of turf, diversified by gay flower beds."
The terrace beds and container planting around the house come into their own in summer with flamboyant floral displays. These are evocative of Tyntesfield’s late Victorian/Edwardian heyday when colourful, new exotic plants such as coleus, petunias and pelargoniums were in fashion and state-of-the-art glasshouses, powered by hot-water boilers, like the ones still here, enabled their cultivation.
The planting changes yearly, giving the gardeners opportunities to experiment. This year, the star beds on the upper terrace are filled with deep red and purple foliage plants, including dark, feathery spikes of ornamental millet ‘Purple Baron’ contrasting with pink fuchsias and bedding begonias.
The central six beds on the main terrace are loosely based on one of the Edwardian planting schemes discovered in an old photograph, with tall, dark foliage plants such as red tasseled Amaranthus paniculatus ‘Foxtail’ and variegated maize, vividly contrasting with French marigold 'Bonanza Orange' filling the centre of the beds. The large terracotta basket-weave pots around the house, copies of the original Edwardian ones, echo the same colour scheme.