Sunday, 26 July 2009

The Peto Garden at Iford Manor

Iford Manor

A visit to The Peto Water Garden at Buscot Park back in May aroused my interest in the architect and landscape gardener Harold A. Peto. This week I decided to do a little more research and paid a visit to The Peto Garden at Iford Manor, his home from 1899 to 1933.

Harold A. Peto.

Peto was an architect by profession and the partner of the renowned English architect Sir Ernest George. However, in 1892 Peto resigned from their partnership due to health reasons and an increasing desire to live in the countryside. In 1899 when he visited Iford Manor with his lifelong friend, garden designer and author Avray Tipping he knew he had found the place to test out his ideas.

View from the cloisters.

The garden is situated in 2.5 acres on a steep hillside. Terracing has formed an important element of the garden design for this challenging space. As an architect Peto believed that a gardens beauty lay in the combination of architecture and plants. He had a particular fondness for Italian gardens where flowers held a subordinate place amongst walks, statues and pools. It is at Iford Manor where he has experimented with these ideas using his eccentric collection of anitque fragments. His efforts were well accepted by the society of the time and Tipping wrote of him "If the relative spheres and successful inter-marriage of formal and natural gardening are better understood today than ever before, that desirable result is due to the efforts of no one man more than to Mr Peto."

Statue of Britannia standing on the bridge at Iford Manor.

Once you arrive at Iford Manor and you have eventually gotten over the stress of running the gauntlet of a very steep and narrow single track lane, you cannot help but notice the beauty of the Frome River that runs along side it. A beautiful 15th century bridge sits in front of the manor capped by an imposing 18th century stature of Britannia that Peto had brought from Dorset. I was initially a little concerned at this point that I was going to find the gardens too formal, but as I looked from the bridge and saw the walled garden in the distance with it's topiary seats I realised there was an element of humour to the garden too.

The Walled Garden.

As you enter the garden you see the Loggia standing in a paved courtyard.


The architecture is broken with planting, not the usual english country garden sort, but carefully chosen and often quiet unusal plants. I particularly liked the sea of golden Bupleurum fruticosum in a bed near the Loggia.

Bupleurum fruticosum

Opposite the Loggia is a semi-circular pool with bronze deer on plinths either side of it. The deer are copies of bronzes found in the garden of the Villa of the Papyri in Pompeii.

Pool with bronze deer on plinths.

From the courtyard, steps lead you up to a series of terraces with more unusual statuary and plants.

View of the first terrace steps.

Cassia coryembosa

There is a lot to take in in this garden and a very eclectic mix of antique artefacts. Below the steps leading to the lawn lie a beautiful pair of marble lions dating to around 1200.

Italian Marble Lions.

Each set of steps leads further upwards to a different terrace. The final series were edged with masses of lavender tumbling over the walkway. It was smothered with butterflies and bees.

Steps leading up to the Great Terrace.

Meadow Brown butterfly on lavender.

Painted Lady butterfly on lavender.

As I made my way through the swathes of lavender and butterflies I reached the Great Terrace. On the far side of which the Castia, with it's 13th century pink marble Verona columns immediately grabbed my attention.

View from the Castia.

The paved terrace outside the Castia was full of beautiful white day lilies which formed a wonderful point of contrast to the large clump of Lobelia tupa opposite them.

White day lilies.

Lobelia tupa

There were lots of little water features dotted around the garden, gargoyles with water pouring from their mouths, statues standing over pools of water, but the one I really liked was this small bronze lion outside the Castia.

Bronze water feature near the Castia.

After leaving the Castia the grand terrace sprawls across a vast area with box topiary, statues and columns.

The Great Terrace

Romneya coulteri

Bronze of Romulus and Remus with the wolf.

The bronze statue of Romulus and Remus suckling from the wolf was another striking piece of art on the terrace. It was made for Peto from a mould taken from the original in the Capitol Museum in Rome. The beds in this area were full of day lilies and one or two other beautiful plants such as the Romneya coulteri above.

Day lilly from the Great Terrace.

As well as statuary there were large terracotta urns flanking yet more steps leading up to the next level of the garden. One of the best statues in this area was of an 18th century German dog with an itch.

Dog with itch.

Everywhere you turned in this garden there were butterflies. For a garden that was supposed to focus somewhat less on plants it was certainly full of life and colour. I adore gardens crammed with plants, but I really did enjoy Peto's Italian folly. There was so much to see, plenty of places to rest and contemplate, some beautiful plants and a view to die for from every direction.

Brimstone butterfly on crocosmia

On refection, if anything I would say there were too many butterflies. I ran myself silly chasing after them all with the camera and in the end had far more pictures than I had space for on the blog!

Lily pool.

For what seemed to be initially quite a small garden there was an extrordinary amount to take in. The wisteria enclosed lily pond was beautiful and to my surprise hidden behind the Great Terrace was an idyllic Japanese Garden. There is too much to describe with this garden and the hidden treasures to be found at every turn. Up a steep embankment behind the Japanese Garden for example, I was quite amazed to see a large fat Buddha sculpture looking down at me. I discovered it quite by accident, and if I hadn't been exploring off the main walkway I would never have spotted it.

The Peto gardens are full of terraces brimming with plants, wildlife and quirky architectural features. It is a delightful way to spend and afternoon getting lost in Peto's daydream. Everything about this place is unusual and eccentric, right down to the cream teas served out of the housekeepers window. As you wait for your delicious home made cakes to be handed to you, you can see the scones being warmed in the Aga. What more could a garden visitor want than a thoroughly entertaining afternoon and delicious home made cakes and cream teas?


HappyMouffetard said...

Thank you for the fascinating tour and great photos. I know what you mean about too many butterflies - SomeBeans nearly gambolled off a cliff in Austria a few years ago, chasing swallowtails to photograph them!

Rothschild Orchid said...

I think I would probably have done the same. I've never seen one in the wild but desperately want to.

William Cartwright-Hignett said...

We were thrilled to discover your kind report following your visit to Iford and I do hope that you will visit again. You mentioned the butterflies, and it might amuse you to know that in the past we have successfully run "Butterfly Days" for children, with a local conservation group because these mysteriously erratic creatures just seem to love the valley here. We consider ourselves very lucky to have them!

I hope you won't mind if I link to your blog from the Iford website.

Best regards,


Rothschild Orchid said...

Ah yes, you have hit the nail on the head there William; I really am a big kid where beautiful butterfiles and gardens are concerned! You are very lucky to have so many varieties at Iford, I believe I saw two or three that I had never seen in the wild before on my visit.

I would be delighted if you were to add a link to my blog on the Iford website.

Many thanks for stopping by,