It is an embarrassingly long time since I got back from Devon. In fact I have been to Scotland and back, but here is the last part of the Devon trip, a stop for lunch at Lytes Cary Manor in Somerset.
The house itself is made of gently-coloured limestone, with mullioned windows, a jumble of gables and a chapel attached. The Lyte family lived here from the fourteenth century until their fortunes declined in the 1750s and they were forced to leave. The house has changed little since their day.
The Elizabethan Lytes were keen botanists and herbalists, but little remains of the garden as it was then. In 1618 the orchard (which is lovely now, too) included ‘Apples, 3 skore severall sorts. Pears and Wardens, 44 sorts. Plummes, 15 divers kinds.’ The Jenners, who bought the house in 1907, laid out the garden with a series of garden rooms divided with hedges and old stone walls. In 1965 Graham Stuart Thomas designed the Main Border and since then the tenants, Jeremy and Biddy Chittenden, have updated the planting, both in the Main Border and the White Garden.
The path to the front door is lined with twelve clipped yew bushes, ‘The Apostles’. Unfortunately, you don’t enter the garden along this path. I’m not sure why, as there is what seems to be a perfectly good set of gates, but one is funnelled in at the side. You need to walk down the path with your eyes blinkered and then turn to appreciate the entrance as it should be. This part of the garden is neat and formal, and is a complete contrast to the Main Border, which you come to through an arch (there are lots of inviting arches, either in old stone walls or neatly clipped hedges). I’ve visited the garden at many times of year and it is always awash with colour, beginning with blues and yellows and ending with shocking pink and crimson. Beyond is another contrast, the peace and quiet of the White Garden.
The Orchard is laid out in a St. Andrew’s cross with a sundial in the centre. Along one side is a raised walk and at each corner a weeping ash is cut so that you enter through a tunnel. There are apples and pears, and also quinces, medlars and crab apples. In spring there is a carpet of daffodils underway. There are lots of little rooms within the garden – Pond, Vase, Lavender, Sunken and Cutting Gardens and a croquet lawn where you can play. In the best country house style, the whole is surrounded by parkland with sheep quietly munching the grass.and fritillaries, but I like it best in autumn, when the harvest is
In early autumn the garden is full of all the usual flowers – scabious, cosmos, dahlias and verbena, but they are beautifully combined and, on a sunny day, this is one of my favourite gardens. The café, while not exceptional, is perfectly good and sitting in the courtyard here is infinitely preferable to being squashed at a plastic table in a Little Chef. Jane