'Romantic' Cothay Manor's garden delights
Cothay Manor, a 15th century medieval manor house near Wellington, is surrounded by 12 acres of "magically romantic gardens". Garden fanatic Jess Wynne was so impressed that she sent in her review.
Cothay Manor is a stunning sight, considered by many to be the most perfect of small, classic, medieval buildings in England today. In fact, it rates four stars in Simon Jenkins’ ‘England’s Thousand Best Houses’.
Built in 1485, virtually untouched and in remarkably good condition, it is amazing to think that places like this exist and still stranger that they are considered home to those who live in them. It seems bizarre in today’s society to imagine unloading your supermarket shopping in a residence that must surely have a princess or two imprisoned in a tower somewhere.
The gardens at Cothay were laid out in the 1920s by Colonel Reginald Cooper (the oldest friend of Harold Nicholson, who created the garden at Sissinghurst with his wife Vita Sackville-West).
It is easy to assume that the inspiration for Cothay — now often described as ‘the Sissinghurst of the West’ arose from the more famous garden. However, as Cothay’s owner Alastair Robb notes, "it was actually the other way round" as Sissinghurst was laid out later, with work beginning in the 1930s.
Nevertheless, the association between the two gardens is obvious; Cothay is similarly made up of many garden ‘rooms’, each leading off from a central structure of a 200-yard yew walk.
'Passion for fashion'
Over the past 10 years, the gardens, within the original structures of the yew hedges, have been completely re-designed and planted by Alastair and his wife Mary-Anne. The couple have a wealth of knowledge to draw upon as they are both from horticultural backgrounds.
Alastair’s great-grandmother (another Mary-Anne) was a plant hunter — the spurge Euphorbia amygdaloides ‘var. robbiae’ is named after her (nicknamed Mrs Robb’s Bonnet because she had to hide it in her hat to smuggle it through customs!).
The present Mary-Anne Robb has always had a passion for flowers, and her mother was a keen, very knowledgeable gardener.
Alastair Robb concentrates on the structure and proportions whilst Mary-Anne is a skilled plantswoman and is responsible for the dreamy, ethereal ambience of the garden.
The beautiful rose of Cothay
"Lots of gardeners go for a melange of colour, but she goes for a graduation of tone, very subtle colours, nothing over-bright," said Alastair.
This is a fantastic time to visit Cothay. One highlight is the Meadow, a beautifully naturalistic area.
It is carpeted by an explosion of flowers in spring and early summer – look out for wild tulips and the distinctive, bizarre drooping heads of the aptly named Snake's head fritillary.
The Walk of the Unicorn, one of Cothay’s garden ‘rooms’ with a unicorn statue as a centrepiece, has been cleverly planted up so as to be of interest at different times of the year.
A beautiful, dreamy effect is created in this garden by the use of subtle colours. An avenue of Robinia umbraculifera, with its attractive jade green foliage, is planted with thousands of White Triumphator tulips which show in early spring, followed in the summer by a sea of tiny lilac flowered Nepeta ‘Six Hills Giant’. The effect is breathtaking!
Roses are a popular feature of English gardens in the summer and Cothay is no exception. If you had to choose one word to describe Cothay, it would be ‘romantic’. This, in part, can be ascribed to the ancient atmosphere that still pervades the house and gardens.
Cothay Manor's garden
The rose, a flower which in England has more romantic connotations than any other, has played a colourful role in Cothay’s history.
The rent for the land surrounding the manor in the medieval era was a pair of silver spurs and a rose — a pleasingly eccentric payment. Legend tells us that to celebrate the end of the War of the Roses, a red rose and a white rose were planted on the terrace by Richard Bluett, who was the lord of the manor at the time.
The Robbs keep the memory of this legend alive — you can still see the red rose of Lancaster and the white rose of York flowering at Cothay today.
Cothay Manor has been described as remaining ‘hidden for centuries’. Wryly, the directions on the garden’s website note that the mile from the main road to Cothay will ‘feel like ten’!
But don’t let that put you off, there is a real tranquility to be found in these gardens – let them be your next discovery.
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last updated: 04/08/2008 at 15:34