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Visiting the garden at Dunster Castle and Watermill

A family of two adults and two small children (with their backs to the camera) in winter clothing walking along a path flanked by an array of plants and trees with brown and green foliage
Exploring the Dunster Castle gardens during winter | © National Trust Images/John Millar

Famous for spectacular views over the Somerset countryside and Bristol Channel, the garden at Dunster Castle will take you on a journey around the world. Known for its diversity of plants and features, the garden encompasses four different microclimates for you to experience, with subtropical, Mediterranean and temperate plants beside the river, in the herbaceous borders and on the terraces.

The garden in winter

Winter is a peaceful time for the garden. In these colder months, the garden team are working hard to prepare for the upcoming season carrying out safety inspections of the trees, pruning shrubs and moving compost to borders.

The South Terrace

With far-reaching views across the Bristol Channel and Deer Park, the South Terrace's present layout stems from the Victorian period. In the 1820s the Thornhill Chapel was demolished and a new wing was constructed in its place which resulted in the terrace being formed.

To reflect its history, the flower beds are planted in the Victorian style. In summer an abundance of brightly coloured bedding plants thrive in the sunny borders. The area has a Mediterranean feel due to the micro-climate which enables tender plants to thrive, including the row of Chusan palms.

A visitor in a mobility scooter explores a pathway in the garden at Dunster Castle, Somerset
Exploring the garden pathways at Dunster Castle | © National Trust Images / James Dobson

The River Garden

With its native microclimate, the River Garden is a wild, wooded area. Green throughout the year, it is during the spring that it fills with colour as the magnolia trees bloom. During the summer, the giant rhubarb reaches its peak, getting so big they make an unusual umbrella if you get caught in the rain.

It is home to some rare species, including the Handkerchief tree, which was grown from seed brought back from Australia by Alys Luttrell in her purse in the 1920s.

Bridges cross the River Avil which runs through the garden. These lead to walks on the wider estate. At the end of the garden you'll find the working watermill and tea-room.

The Yew Bank

There have been yews on this bank dating back to the 18th century when the original drive, The New Way, was commissioned in 1720 by Dorothy Luttrell.

In those days, it was very fashionable to create areas of light and shade within a garden and yews were perfect for creating a cooler area. However, over the years, they grew too large so were coppiced in 2012 and are now kept within bounds.

A close up of a robin sat on a wall at Dunster Castle, Somerset in winter
Robin at Dunster Castle, Somerset | © National Trust Images/John Millar

The Keep

This area was originally the Upper Ward of the Norman Fortress of Dunster and, therefore, is the highest point in the Dunster landscape. In 1721, at the request of Dorothy Luttrell, the area was levelled and turned into a bowling green.

To offer shelter and a dining area for the participants and the ladies, the Octagon Tower was constructed, and this now houses an exhibition exploring the garden's history.

A walk around the keep’s perimeter provides views across the countryside and on a clear day Dunkery Beacon, the highest point on Exmoor.

Exterior view of Dunster Castle and Garden in Somerset

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