Wandering through Wiltshire

The Peto Garden at Iford Manor is an English garden that you can't miss - it's like something from a dream. I had it at the top of my list for several months before finally getting there and I'm glad I made the effort, because it's outstanding!

Nestling on the side of a steep valley near Bath, the honey-coloured Manor house sits near the river Frome, and the garden rises behind in a series of terraces, filled with surprises. You enter by a simple garden gate and then the show begins! This garden is a masterpiece, with its magnificent cypresses and junipers; its columns, fountains, marble seats and statues - and all in 2.5 acres! You wander through this theatrical feast and wonder just how long it took Harold Peto to make this extraordinary Italianate spectacle in the middle of nowhere.

Harold Peto trained as an architect in the same offices as Edwin Lutyens, but he did not become really interested in gardens until he was in his forties. He bought Iford Manor in 1899 and spent the rest of his life making the remarkable garden that is there today. Much of the stonework came from Italy, as did the inspiration that prompted him to include cloisters, loggias, statues and urns, many of which he shipped home from his travels in Europe in his post-architect years.
Harold Peto also designed the gardens at Buscot Park and West Dean, but it is here at his home that he excelled himself. The steep terrain means that he has used every inch of the hillside to display the finer features of the garden and as you climb the steps (left) a different vista unfolds at every stop, but equally impressive are the views over the valley below. Tucked away at the back of the garden is a Japanese garden.

This magnificent garden is also used as a concert and opera venue throughout the summer months and I cannot imagine a more spectacular place to enjoy music on a balmy English evening, with the backdrop of an Elizabethan manor house and views over the valley. This is a garden where time stands still and you feel that you have stepped back a hundred years - don't miss it!

And if you're in the area, combine this with The Courts at nearby Trowbridge. This is another lovely manor house, surrounded with more than seven acres of gardens, including a rectangular lily pond with spectacular irises. You walk through the gates and see the manor house (above) and then wander through the various different areas, which include an arboretum, formal and water gardens.
The Courts is very low key, but not to be missed. It was given to the National Trust in 1943 and has been well restored over the years, and carefully planted to create the beautiful, peaceful garden that you see today.
Particularly impressive at The Courts is the topiary - immaculately clipped box (below) - that looks a bit like ice-cream beginning to melt in the sun; the water garden (left) with its stepped runnel and the pond shaded by a swamp cypress, but which bursts into colour when the water lilies open. It is here that you get a wonderful iris display in springtime.

If you plan to combine the two gardens (and it would be crazy not to, since they are just a few miles apart), do check the opening times. Iford Manor is only open from 2-5 and is not open on Monday or Friday; The Courts is open daily, but not on a Wednesday, so don't make the mistake that I made and arrive mid-week. In my case it didn't matter because I was visiting other gardens in the area (to be featured later), but if you've travelled a long way to see these two lovely gardens, you don't want to miss one!


  1. What a stunning garden! The pillars are killing me. I am green with envy. This is what I want my garden to look like when it grows up. Alas, I am in hot, dry Los Angeles. Thanks for letting me visit via your lovely post.

  2. I do like gardens that suggest another country or time - adds to the experience. Both these gardens look interesting. Opening times can indeed be a nightmare.

  3. Thanks for sending me a link to your blog. One day I hope to travel to England to see some gardeners, so this will be very helpful!

    Carol, May Dreams Gardens

  4. Wow! Just Wow!

    I could imagine being very happy with that garden although the wonky conifers may bring out my ruthless side after a while!

    Ryan (http://ryans-garden.blogspot.com/)

  5. They DO look like melting ice cream cones! As I was reading, I thought "how can you design box topiary to look like melting ice cream?" I love the antiquated cement structures. The columns and steps especially. They have a mysterious even mystical feel to them. The manor houses...OMGosh. If I were there I would need somebody to pinch me because I'd feel like I was dreaming. You Brits really know how to do gardens!

  6. HA! You've just featured the top 2 gardens on my list to tell you about! The Peto garden's a gem isn't it?

    The Courts is a peaceful haven. Twasn't always so - I've been trawling the NT archives in Swindon (where I'm a volunteer) and found letters of complaint from a few years back about the state of the gardens!

  7. I love your fabulous post. I would also love to have a colonnade like that around my pool.

  8. Beautiful! Summer outdoor concerts is what I miss the most about England. That is a stunning location. Ahh, picnic, candles, champagne and Pimm's - right, am booking my flight now! :-)

  9. Oh, Charlotte, Iford is soo elegant! But, I just love the whimsy of the shape of the boxwoods of The Courts! Janet

  10. Thanks Charlotte, those melting cone topiaries are magnificent and deliciously decadent. The days and hours these gardens are open for viewing will have to be carefully noted when the planning of garden visits is made. The seed was planted in my husbands brain that I want to go to the UK next year at Chelsea time. Hope that seeds grows to fruition! :-)

  11. The gardens in the UK are just FAbulous!!!


  12. Torture -- to think we were in the neighbourhood last year about this time, and didn't know about these gardens. Sigh. Lovely and inspiring. What I wouldn't give for a few more acres, a few more millions, and a few more garden minions.

  13. Lovely pictures.

    A couple of them are reminiscient of the gardens at Heale House, which I think were also created by Peto.

  14. two fine gardens. i visited both in april

  15. Your photos are all amazing. It helps to have something amazing to photograph; most of us don't have such impressive gardens in our backyards! But still, your pictures all seem to glow. I love the lighting and framing.

  16. Charlotte, Iford Gardens has long been one of my favourite gardens. When I named my blog "Green Theatre", this garden was on the back of my mind. It is amazingly theatrical, I would so like my garden to have 1 100th of what this garden has. Maybe one day!


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