An Elizabethan garden in winter
Montacute House is amongst the very few Elizabethan houses in England to have retained its setting within a compartmentalised garden, and in the Winter months the different compartments each offer something special.
The court was the original entrance to the house and is bounded on three sides by balustraded walls of glowing Ham stone, adorned with lanterns and obelisks; and on the west, by the terrace of the house. The old walls shelter mixed flower and shrub borders, following a planting scheme devised in the 1950s by Mrs Phyllis Reiss of nearby Tintinhull. Known for her clear colours and large groups of foliage plants, it provides interest throughout the year.
This is bounded by raised walks and on west and north sides, by hedges of yew. Within these are rows of clipped Irish yews. Below the raised walk on the south side there is a border of shrub roses containing several ancient varieties that were in cultivation when the house was finished in 1601. From the raised walk on the north side are good views over the park, and a gap in the yew hedge at the north-west corner gives access to the steps that lead down to the ice house.
This extensive lawn with a pair of tall cedars at its south end was known, according to the manorial survey map of c.1782, as Pig’s Wheatie Orchard and was converted into a bowling green in the 19th century. The wall on the west side supports fan-trained fig trees (planted by the Trust c.1945) and the servants’ path which runs the length is screened from rest of the garden by a clipped wibbly wobbly yew hedge. It is thought these English yew hedges are about 150 years old and until 1947 they were straight, without the lumps and bumps you see today. It was during the harsh winter of that year when snow lay thick for weeks that the flat tops of the hedges collapsed under all the weight.
Today the Cedar Lawn is a highly popular destination for families to picnic under the magnificent cedar trees and enjoy some lawn games.
The West Drive
The West Drive marks the approach to the house with a grand avenue of clipped Irish yews leading you to the west gate, which is adorned with gate-pipers as well the Phelips family crest (basket of flames), and bearing the date 1787.
The Garden Orchard on the South Drive is one of the less formal areas of the garden, which makes it an ideal for running around, climbing trees and eating picnics.