October's Featured Garden
Considered for many years one of the foremost National Trust gardens in Britain, Knightshayes has gone through difficult times recently. Storms and disease have devastated both the protective belts of conifers outside the garden and the over-storey of mature larch trees within. Consequently many smaller choice and tender plants have struggled due to increased exposure to wind and lower temperatures. Hopefully the worst is now behind and new planting and maintenance regimes will ensure this important plant collection survives and indeed thrives in the forthcoming decades.
Notwithstanding the difficulties, Knightshayes is still an excellent garden and one worth visiting at any time of year. Both the Court and garden are positioned high on the eastern edge of the Exe Valley with far-reaching views over rolling Devon countryside to Tiverton. The property is approached along a rising drive through Victorian parkland studded with mature oak, beech, cedar and pine.
To the rear of the Court is a stable block (now visitor catering and retail units) and a two-acre (0.8 hectare) 2003-restored Victorian walled kitchen garden, complete with corner turrets, tiered beds and central pool. The top south-facing wall is bordered with tender and exotic ornamental shrubs and climbers; however the majority of the garden is given over to cultivating heritage varieties of fruit and vegetables. Overall it is a splendid example of a working Victorian country house productive garden.
The bones of the present-day ornamental garden are contemporary with the building of the house by William Burgess between 1869 and 1874. The terraces in front of the house were set out by Edward Kemp during this period, although the current planting is restrained compared to the original Victorian bedding schemes. Battlement-crested hedging defines a series of garden rooms comprising paved courtyards, Mediterranean-style plantings of cistus, lavender, rosemary, agapanthus and other silver-foliaged and sun-loving plants, standard willow-leaved pears Pyrus salicifolia ‘Pendula’, terraces of alpines, troughs, statuary, manicured lawns and topiary hounds chasing a topiary fox.
Set apart from the house is ‘The Garden in the Wood’, created since 1950 by Sir John and Lady Amory, this remarkable 25 acre (10 hectare) garden comprised of meandering walks and glades, supports a fascinating collection of rare ornamental plants ranging from pulmonarias, omphalodes, hellebores and erythroniums, through geraniums, ferns and euphorbias, to tender rhododendrons, magnolias and camellias that you would normally associate with milder Cornish gardens further west. It is particularly colourful in autumn with a fine collection of Japanese and American maples. This garden is a must for anyone with a serious interest in plants.