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July's Featured Garden

Between the 15th and the 19th centuries, Kilver Court - located in the Somerset market town of Shepton Mallet, flourished as the location for eleven woollen mills. Power for the mills came from the River Sheppey which ran through the grounds and its flow was controlled by a series of mill ponds, dams and weirs.

In the 1850s the Somerset and Dorset railway built a magnificent 317 yard (290m), 27-arched viaduct directly behind the mills. Around this time, Kilver Court was purchased by Ernest Jardine MP, who turned the mills into a ‘model factory’ producing silk and lace. For the well-being of his factory employees he created a landscaped garden called ‘Jardine’s Park’ and turned the mill ponds into boating lakes, formed paths that meandered through attractive plantings and grew fruit and vegetables to provide healthy meals for his employees.

In the late 1950s the site was bought by the Showering family, famous for producing ‘Babycham’. Francis Showering, an enthusiastic and knowledgeable gardener, created a new garden on site based on a 1963 Chelsea Flower Show gold-medal-winning rock garden. Working on a much larger-scale to the original, because of the gigantic proportions of the adjacent viaduct, the garden became a bold and modern design statement. For more than thirty years it was beautifully maintained but seldom opened to the public.

Kilver Court

The Rock & Water Garden
The Rock & Water Garden

Kilver Court Pond & Viaduct

Kilver Court

In 1995, Roger Saul (founder of the fashion and home designer label Mulberry), on the lookout for new headquarters for the company, stumbled across the site. “I knew I was looking for something which was modern but also had style” he remarked. Once he had viewed the property, Roger was confident this was the place.

With Mulberry installed in the mills and plans afoot to turn the neighbouring old school house into a Mulberry factory shop, Roger turned his attention to the garden. Replacing original specimens which had outgrown their position he then turned what he considered to be the garden’s least inspiring feature – “a distinctly ‘municipal parks department planting’ of corporation roses” into a French-inspired box parterre in-filled with lavender, santolina and iris and flanked by two large herbaceous borders each ending with evergreen Magnolia grandiflora thereby creating a vista to the rock garden and viaduct beyond.

In 2008 Kilver Court’s garden opened to the public and today this beautiful man-made landscape, with its fascinating history stretching back over 500 years, is visited by thousands who combine a visit to the garden with some very elegant retail therapy.

Tony Russell

Gardens to Visit 2019

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