Ital­ianate es­cape

Iford Manor, Wilt­shire

Countryfile Magazine - - Contents - Ta­nia Pas­coe is a nat­u­ral­ist, gar­dener and writer, and the au­thor of Wild Gar­den Week­ends.

On the Som­er­set and Wilt­shire bor­der, the pretty River Frome runs through the se­cluded Iford val­ley, bound on each side by steep wood­land, but­ter­cup-filled mead­ows and hedge­lined pas­ture. It was here, on a south-fac­ing slope sur­round­ing a Grade I Ge­or­gian manor, that Harold Ainsworth Peto, ar­chi­tect-turned-land­scape gar­dener, chose to cre­ate his Ital­ianate gar­den in 1899.

You are greeted by a stone statue of Bri­tan­nia who stands ma­jes­ti­cally on the bridge that spans the shal­low river. Be­hind the me­dieval house with its 18th-cen­tury façade is a fan­tas­tic, twisted wis­te­ria, planted by Peto all those years ago. In early June, its bil­lowy lilac racemes still fall in fra­grant cur­tains from its tan­gled grey branches. Swifts cut through the sky and, sprout­ing from ev­ery nook and cranny, wild va­le­rian and self­seeded erigeron daisies flour­ish.


Step in­side the gar­den in sum­mer and it’s easy to think you are in Tus­cany. Blue irises with furry tongues thrive in the shal­low stone ter­races. Rare bronze and stone stat­ues, urns and ar­chi­tec­tural finds from Peto’s grand tour of Italy take pride of place among for­mal walk­ways and log­gias. And yet sur­round­ing all this struc­ture, abun­dant wild flora abounds. Wild martagon lilies are nat­u­ralised in the long grass near the clois­ters; self- sown pop­pies grow hither and thither; and at its edges the gar­den seems to flow seam­lessly into the wilder­ness of the wood­lands be­yond. This mar­riage of the nat­u­ral with the man­aged was at the heart of Peto’s gar­den­ing ap­proach, in­spired and re­spected by con­tem­po­rary Wil­liam Robin­son, au­thor of the still-pop­u­lar book The Wild Gar­den. Both revered the nat­u­ral­is­tic forms and abun­dant feel that na­tive plants can bring to a gar­den – and with them habi­tat and food for the wildlife.


Come in mid­sum­mer and the orchard’s flower mead­ows dance with but­ter­flies, while the es­tate barns pro­vide a na­tion­ally im­por­tant sum­mer roost for greater horse­shoe bats. Book an evening opera performance – part of the Iford Arts sum­mer cal­en­dar – and ar­rive with your pic­nic at dusk to see these rare crea­tures emerg­ing to feed.

Iford Manor is eas­ily ac­ces­si­ble by train from Fresh­ford. From the small sta­tion, it’s a gen­tle one-hour walk along the river, through wood­land and water mead­ows to the gar­den. Con­tinue on to Avon­cliff, with pub and train halt, or re­turn in a loop along the quiet lane back to Fresh­ford, stop­ping for re­fresh­ments at The Inn. Or ex­tend your walk and visit the cas­tle ru­ins at Far­leigh Hungerford, home to Bri­tain’s old­est sur­viv­ing river-swim­ming club. • Open Weds-Sun, April-Septem­ber (£6 for adults).

The Peto Gar­den is di­vided into a se­ries of lev­els, in­clud­ing the Pa­tio Gar­den, the Ja­panese Gar­den and the Great Ter­race (pic­tured)

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