'Gardens that get to your heart are hard to pin down'

Clare Foster is an author and gardening editor, but of all the fabulous gardens she visits, mediaeval Cothay Manor near her parents’ home in Somerset is dearest to her heart.

Clare Foster is an author and gardening editor, but of all the fabulous gardens she visits, mediaeval Cothay Manor near her parents’ home in Somerset is dearest to her heart.

Gardening writer and editor Clare Foster adoresthe magical Cothay Manor in Somerset. Clare’s new book The Flower Garden: How to grow flowers from seed is published by Laurence King.

I first went with my parents about 20 years ago, but I’ve returned several times since. As you arrive you come through a field of cows to a small lake; the manor is on the other side and it is reflected in the water, it’s all very romantic.

The place has an air of faded splendour about it and a sense of mystery. The house has that patina of age and the garden unfolds behind it, made up of lots of different compartments. You don’t see it beforehand so there is a real element of surprise.

I love the fact that it’s not very formal. There is good structure with lots of clipped evergreens but, within this, the planting is loose and flowing, which adds to the romanticism. All the different plants are the sort of things that I would use, soft and naturalistic, and it is comfortable because it is so relaxed.

There are lots of ancient crumbling steps, with erigeron daisies spilling out over the stones.  Areas of gravel are softened with self-seeded plants and in one place Dierama has been left to self-seed among the pebbles, it is absolutely beautiful.

You get there along tiny, winding country lanes. It feels like the middle of nowhere which is quite rare now. There is nobody on the gate; it is very much a private garden that the public are allowed to visit.

You stop thinking about everything else that is going on in the world and just relax into it. Many gardens are accomplished, but they don’t speak to you. Those that get to your heart are hard to pin down, they just have an air of intrigue about them.

What sticks in my memory is a simple avenue of clipped Robinia pseudoacia 'Umbraculifera' underplanted with nepeta. The way the nepeta catches the dappled light from the trees is wonderful, you just don’t need anything else. All the different areas are full of planting detail and contrasts; I can wander around for hours and not get bored.

Cothay Manor, Greenham, Wellington TA21 0JR;
Tel: 01823 672283
www.cothaymanor.co.uk