Secret Somerset Gardens I - Lytes Cary Manor

The Apostle Garden at Lytes Carey
Somerset has some spectacular garden secrets lurking in between the folds of its hilly terrain, including Lytes Cary Manor - within easy reach of the main road to Devon and Cornwall -  and an ideal pitstop it for garden lovers who need a break from the road. This is the former home of medieval herbalist Henry Lytes is all too often overlooked as visitors rush to better known properties nearby including Montacute, Tintinhull and Barrington Court, but it's a hidden jewel!
The croquet lawn at Lytes Carey
This four-acre property is a spectacular example of an Arts & Crafts style garden saved from ruin in the last 100 years and restored to its former glory. It's an architectural gem too with its 14th century chapel, and well-restored15th century Great Hall and was once home to the medieval apothecary, Henry Lyte, who compiled "Lytes Herbal" in the 16th century. But it has not always been as glorious as it is today because it fell into ruin in the 19th century and if it hadn't been for Sir Walter Jenner and his wife Flora, who moved here in 1907, the property might not be here today.
Jekyll-style planting and colour schemes at the rear of the manor
Walter Jenner was the son of Queen Victoria's physician, Sir William Jenner. He and his wife rescued Lytes Cary from dereliction by restoring the house and laying out the garden that survives today, using local limestone to build the walls that divide the land into garden rooms and planting extensive yew hedging to protect the plants from the ravages of the weather in this open farmland area. They bequeathed the property to the National Trust in 1949 and since then the garden has been further restored and planted using Gertrude Jekyll colour schemes and style.
The main border at Lytes Cary, designed by Graham Stuart Thomas
The National Trust then let the property to tenants - Jeremy and Biddy Chittenden - who happened to be passionate gardeners and the garden underwent further transformation and finally opened to the public in the 1960s, on Biddy's recommendation. During this period she worked closely with the NT's first garden designer, Graham Stuart Thomas, who designed the main border (above) in 1965. For the next 30 years the property remained under the stewardship of the Chittendens and they continued to improve the garden until Jeremy's death in 1997.
The garden is divided into rooms using local limestone walls and hedging
Part of the charm of this garden is its intimacy and you feel as though you are at a private house, rather than a property that belongs to the nation. The Apostle Garden at the front of the manor takes its name from the 12 topiarised yew bushes originally planted by the Jenners; the Long Border was added in 1965; the White Garden was completed by Biddy Chittenden in 1998; and elsewhere in the garden there is a pond area, vase garden, hornbeam arch and a delightful orchard where visitors can picnic. But wherever you are, a sense of intimacy pervades. This is undoubtedly a very special garden.
The Vase Garden, also inspired by Graham Stuart Thomas
The house too is a veritable historical treasure trove and the Great Hall has magnificent panelling and impressive wooden rafters. Elsewhere you'll find textiles, china and glass to make you gasp, so do take time to look inside as well as out here at Lytes Cary. Open daily from March until the end of October, 11.00-17.00 (except Thursdays). There is a special topiary weekend coming up at the end of the month - Saturday and Sunday 30th and 31st July, with the Gardener in Charge leading tours and focussing on maintenance of hedges and topiary. Free entry to National Trust members.
Making an entrance through the Apostle Garden


  1. I get to be the first to comment!
    But if it's worth a stop to visit these wonderful gardens ... or so it seems in photos. The last photo is stunning, with the path to the house hedges which is lovely.

  2. I was so glad to see and read about your visit to this garden. Unfortunately, although we were staying close by on our recent visit, the garden was closed on the day we were there. We'll be sure to time things for a visit next time. Thank you.

  3. Thanks for the virtual tour - lovely!

  4. well Charlotte I totally agree with you. Lytes Cary is one of my favourite gardens. Plenty of planting and colour to admire it was alive with bees and butterflies on my last visit. Somewhere I am always happy to return to.

    Has the new cafe opened yet?

  5. I love garden visiting, and these photographic tours save me a lot of road miles!
    A wonderful and informative blog...
    Thank you.

  6. Dear Charlotte, I love the Jekyll influence on these gardens - giving a nice contrast to the topiaries. And the intimate effect of garden 'rooms'. A rare find. P. x

  7. This one does seem pretty special. I can imagine wandering around the garden "rooms," spending a bit of time in each one to take in the great garden design!

  8. It looks wonderful! And I'm deeply jealous of the croquet lawn... I love playing croquet on a summer evening, and eventually I hope our lawn will be reduced to an area just large enough for a game of croquet (which is also enough lawn to have an outdoor lunch for up to 20 people, surely that should be plenty!).

    And those borders... *sigh*

  9. Another beauty! I'm spending this hot day in NYC (41'C) virtual visiting gardens around the world and this post is one of my favorite visits so far!


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