Must-sees: The Garden in the Wood

The 'Pool Garden' at Knightshayes

Former Head Gardener John Lanyon’s description of the Garden in the Wood can hardly be bettered: “the true magic is the silky mown sunny glades and grass walkways, surrounded by intricate plantings. Trees and shrubs create structure and contrast, while under them there is a treasure trove of woodland delights, many of which are spring flowering bulbs. It is like a sweet shop for any plant lover.”

From the more formal areas close to the house you pass into The Garden in the Wood. This was the first part of the great garden Sir John and Joyce, Lady Heathcoat Amory developed after the Second World War. 
Its origins lay in a war-time tragedy in 1945 when a plane hit the tops of trees and crashed nearby, killing the American pilot. After clearing the damaged trees, John and Joyce began to make a new garden in 1946. Sir Eric Savill, who created the famous Savill woodland garden in Windsor Great Park in the 1930s, helped them.


The woodland was part of the Victorian ornamental landscape created to go with the house. Each year a new area was largely cleared, leaving some of the 19th-century beech, turkey oak, black pines and larch trees to provide structure and a favourable microclimate for the new planting. 
Sir John was an enthusiastic plant collector. The latest introductions, selections and hybrids were acquired for Knightshayes as soon as they were available. Lady Heathcoat Amory loved arranging them to create vistas and views, clearings and darker areas. The Garden in the Wood remained her favourite part of the garden for the rest of her life.

spring garden in full bloom at knightshayes

The plant collection at Knightshayes is of national importance. Emphasis on plant diversity combines with overall design of exceptional quality. John and Joyce paid great attention to the aesthetic qualities of individual plants and their visual relationships, with careful positioning and scaling to create harmonious effects. With ever-changing interest, it is at its best in spring and autumn.

The beds are informal and flowing. A diverse range of shrubs includes many camellias, magnolias, Japanese acers, rhododendrons and Kurume azaleas. Under-planting features ferns, hellebores, pulmonaria, liriope and anemones and many others. Small-scale grass paths, informal steps, glades and spaces beneath the tree canopy create an intimate character. You are drawn both to look closely at the plants, and onwards to the next area. All this creates special experiences uniquely associated with the Garden in the Wood.