Treasures at Tintinhull

PUBLISHED: 13:33 29 June 2011 | UPDATED: 19:37 20 February 2013

Treasures at Tintinhull

Treasures at Tintinhull

Bristol-based garden designers Lesley Hegarty and Robert Webber reveal <br/><br/>the glory of Tintinhull's serene garden 'rooms'

Having gardened previously near Lawrence Johnstons Hidcote it is not surprising that, when Phyllis Reiss and her husband bought Tintinhull House in the 1930s, she laid out a grid of interconnecting garden rooms, with vistas between them.

Rooms are, after all, Hidcotes raison dtre! But whereas Hidcote is more formal and smart, Tintinhull has a pleasantly relaxed and open style. The great Margery Fish, who herself gardened close-by at East Lambrook Manor, justly said of Tintinhull: Few gardens have this blessed feeling
of serenity.

The six garden rooms, which Mrs Reiss created between the 1930s and the 1960s, around the elegant 18th-century house, itself built of glowing Ham Hill stone, have walls variously consisting of yew, brick and stone, and a grid of paths made of local stone giving a strong axial dimension to the gardens layout carries you effortlessly between them. Your eye is caught and drawn on by the sculptures or seats that end each vista.

Each garden has its own distinct identity. The magisterial Eagle Court and adjacent Middle Garden are characterised by fine globular boxwood domes which guard the central path. The closely hedged Fountain Garden represents a change of pace; here a quieter, even meditative zone with white planting surrounds a circular pond. The linear Pool Garden owes its sense of spaciousness to broad lawns and a central canal flanked by long coloured borders, with strong colour combinations on one side, while the opposite border has a softer feel.

Succession of interest is a key principle. A narrow border of Allium christophii and Iris sibirica Flight of Butterflies gets the Cedar Court off to a flourishing start each year. A wider and attractive mixed border behind follows on to give a succession of interest throughout the year. Roses, especially the rich red Frensham in The Pool Garden, were the stars during our visit, and down the length of the already burgeoning Kitchen Garden marched twin borders of Nepeta Six Hills Giant, which were long enough to keep whole hives of bees happy.

But although it is packed with planterly colour throughout the seasons, the plants remain subservient to the basic structure of the garden. Interestingly, no one has changed the creators original floor plan and it is, of course, one thing to create a garden and quite another to ensure its survival. Mrs Reisss masterstroke was to hand the property over to the National Trust and, from 1961 when she died, Tintinhull has benefited from a succession of tenants who took a close personal interest in the garden.

Leading garden designer and writer Penelope Hobhouse is perhaps the best known of these, and it is to her that Tintinhull owes its current chatelaine, Tanis Roberts. Originally employed by Hobhouse to assist her in the garden, she is now The Trusts Gardener in Charge. Her formal horticultural training at Cannington, and 19 years at Tintinhull, give her a grasp of its essential nature, which none can equal.

Tanis runs the garden on largely organic principles. Aided by a small army of volunteers, without whom she says she would be unable to cope, her standard of horticulture is impeccable. The garden raises its own plants from seed and cuttings. No quick dashes to the garden centre here! Visitor enjoyment is a key priority. People are paying. The garden has to make a good impression. And with over 25,000 visitors a year, it clearly does.

Seasonal containers, always popular, are very much a Hobhouse feature which Tanis has developed further. She has also helped to pioneer the development of the kitchen garden as a key visual attraction. That it is very much a working garden, supplying another nearby National Trust property, Montacute, with produce for its restaurant, is no small part of its charm.

We were very interested to hear Tanis say that in her borders if a plant works, I repeat it. Of course this is sound both horticulturally and design wise, but it was also one of Mrs Reisss guiding principles. This, however, doesnt preclude experimentation with new varieties, which all Tintinhulls guardian angels have found irresistible.

It is perhaps too much to say that Tanis feels the hand of history on her shoulder but she is clearly responsive to the past. I hope Phyllis Reiss would approve of my stewardship of Tintinhull. I fancy

I feel her spirit in the garden sometimes, often satisfied, sometimes frustrated and occasionally irritated by what I am up to!

Irritated? We think not. There is every sign that Tintinhull continues to be in very safe hands indeed.

Latest from the Somerset Life