|The moated gatehouse at Cothay Manor - visitors enter the gardens through the ancient wooden door|
Gardens nominated as my "Wish List" candidates are really worth making the effort to travel a little further to see, and I start this series today with Cothay Manor in Somerset, which is now open for the summer. As English gardens go, this is one of my favourites because it's not only one of the most romantic I've seen yet, but is constantly changing throughout the seasons as different part of the garden come into bloom (so what you see here today may not be in bloom when you visit).
|The Walk of the Unicorn in May (top) and June|
Although getting to Cothay Manor requires nerves of steel to negotiate the narrow country lanes with their high-sided hedges, plus a good satellite navigation system, your efforts will be rewarded! You'll soon forget the winding approach and the rigours of reversing into passing places because this must surely be one of the most romantic gardens in Britain. You'll feel as though you've stepped back 500 years in history here in the heart of Somerset, when you see this wonderful house and garden!
Although the origins of the manor are lost in the mists of time, there are records of a property belonging to the de Cothay family dating back to the 13th century. The current house was built in 1485, but the backbone of the garden is the Lt. Col Reginald Cooper's creation - he bought Cothay in 1925 and was close friends with both Lawrence Johnston of Hidcote and Harold Nicolson of Sissinghurst. He planted the 200-metre yew walk which remains the backbone of the garden here today, giving access to a series of garden rooms, planted in different styles.
|The flower filled meadow at Cothay|
Your first view of Cothay is the moated gatehouse (top). You park your car in a field and then wander across a flower-filled meadow (above), and find yourself in 12 acres of stunning gardens, lovingly tended by owners Alastair and Mary-Anne Robb, who arrived here in 1993. They have put their own inimitable mark on the property since moving here and perhaps the piece de resistance is the Walk of the Unicorn (above), where planting changes with the seasons.
|Green lawns and 90-year old hedges all add to the atmosphere of this property|
Beyond the garden rooms there are acres of green lawn, punctuated with specimen trees and then there's Mary-Anne Robb's own cosseted addition - the Bog Garden - which straddles the River Tone and provides a shady plant haven on a hot summer's day. What is clear is that work here at the Manor never stops, particularly since the house was featured on Channel 4's "Country House Rescue", when the owners bared their souls to presenter Ruth Watson about the agony of running a house of this age!
|The gardens at Cothay change throughout the seasons - there are a series of rooms concealed behind the hedges|
Part of the charm of this garden is wandering through the various topiary entrances that give access to the garden rooms which have names like the Green Knight Garden, the Bishop's Room and Emily's Room (although I must confess that I don't know which is which because I haven't visited yet this year). Approach from different angles and find yourself in an area that looks completely different each time!
The gardens are open to the public four days a week - Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday, plus Bank Holidays from 11.00-16.30 - until the end of September. Entry is £7.80 for adults unless you're an HHA member, in which case it's free. Definitely a garden to make a detour for if you're anywhere in the area and easy to combine with Lytes Cary.