The garden at Montacute
Montacute House is among the very few Elizabethan houses in England to have retained its setting within a compartmentalised garden, with the different compartments each offering something special.
What to look out for in spring
The garden is starting to come into its own again after the winter months, with more bulbs emerging and colour appearing as the days pass. Springtime at Montacute House means tulips. You’ll be greeted by them as you come through the gates and pass South Lodge and again as you head through the visitor reception area.
And, of course, you’ll find them in the garden: underneath the cut leaf beech tree, in pots and planters in the Café Courtyard, hiding away in the cut flower border and a vast array in the established East Court garden borders.
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 Garden. 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 and new this year is a mown parterre (find out more below). 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.
The Orangery, tucked into the corner of the terrace, was built by 1840, with decorative obelisks linking it to the Elizabethan origins of the garden. It is shown on an 1848 sketch as 'new Garden Green 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.
A major conservation job was the reshaping of the iconic yews to restore 19th century sight lines.
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.