Design Rules at Somerset's Milton Lodge

Garden designers Lesley Hegarty and Robert Webber take a tour of the glorious gardens at Milton Lodge, created in the early 1900s by Charles Clement Tudway and still impressive today

In the field of landscape design, the ‘genius loci ‘ or ‘spirit of the place’ is, as Alexander Pope established, what it is all about. Any design which does not respect its situation is doomed to failure. It therefore follows that if you select a wonderful site you have a head start in creating a great garden! At Milton Lodge, the home of the Tudway Quilter family for several generations, their four-acre garden is set on the south-facing edge of the Mendips above the cathedral City of Wells, down to which gracious, well-treed parkland descends as though flowing off the hills. Sites don’t get any better.

In the early 1900s, Charles Clement Tudway took the bold decision to remove his family from their ancestral home close to the cathedral up into the airy heights, giving them fresher airs and wider views. He enlarged an existing Georgian property and worked with Arts and Crafts designers Parsons and Partridge to create the structure of much of the existing garden. It is not surprising to learn that he went into partnership with them, because he certainly had a great eye for design. Of course the situation, which plays a significant part in the success of the garden, also, to some extent, controls its format. John Rea held that ‘for a garden, the most graceful ground is an entire level’. Well, it is certainly the best and happiest to walk on! So what logically developed was a series of terraces, neither too grand nor too small, which contain ‘rooms’ of different sizes and characters from intimate through to substantial. These are linked by flights of steps, variously gracious and secretive, which allow for an easy flow of movement around the garden and new discoveries to make around every corner.

Of course the situation, which plays a significant part in the success of the garden, also, to some extent, controls its format

The strong ‘bones’ of these terraces, retaining walls and yew hedges are softened, in the best tradition of English garden design, by ebullient planting ranging from herbaceous plants through shrubs to trees. The planting and the hedges also have the effect of hiding and then dramatically revealing the views down to the cathedral and over the Vale of Avalon to Glastonbury Tor. The warm, south-facing situation, where frost drains away, also makes for excellent plant growth. So, terrain, aspect, layout and planting have a symbiotic relationship which is truly ‘genius’.

The plant collection is diverse, with the kind of year-round emphasis on colour and interest that one expects from an established and successful garden. Early on in the year, the wild meadow is massed with bulbs, roses are a summer glory and even in the early autumn the borders are studded with colourful perennials, while fuchsias drape the walls of the main house. Pots of tender plants are a speciality and the garden tour is punctuated with them, be it sizzling pelargoniums or icy-blue plumbago.  For its planting, the garden owes no small gratitude to David Tudway Quilter. He died three years ago, but his feel is evident in the combination of the humble and the exotic carelessly placed side by side. He clearly saw the merits of the ever-popular lady’s mantle, but also the subtlety of Zauschneria californica and other ‘Mediterranean’ plants that could flourish in the garden’s microclimate. A banker by trade, he may have described himself as an amateur gardener, but plantsman he clearly was. And in gardening circles that is as good as it gets!

Across the Old Bristol Road from the main garden lies the eight-acre Combe, landscaped in the early 19th century as an extension of the Tudways’ original home close to the Cathedral

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However, his achievement was significantly greater, since he could also be said to have saved the garden from extinction. Inheriting a post Second World War garden that was frankly languishing and vastly overgrown, he set about reinvigorating it, with advice from the great American landscape architect Lanning Roper. He simplified its form and installed a swimming pool on the lower terrace, which is very successfully juxtaposed with the Arts and Crafts summerhouse. He also established an arboretum at the far end of the garden where there was once an old orchard. All the best gardens move forward!Across the Old Bristol Road from the main garden lies the eight-acre Combe, landscaped in the early 19th century as an extension of the Tudways’ original home close to the Cathedral. It has many similar characteristics to Milton Lodge: the land slopes, there are fine trees and glimpses of beautiful views, but the atmosphere and pace are completely different. More of a woodland glade, its paths take you up the bottom of a ravine and also along its shoulders. Once again there are secretive flights of steps between. A seasonally rushing stream takes water directly off the Mendips and must look amazing in full spate. The Combe is generously open to the citizens of Wells as well as to garden visitors when the main garden is open. These days David Tudway Quilter’s widow, Elizabeth, and son, Simon, are the guardians of Milton Lodge, and the garden is in the care of David Milnes. A good standard of maintenance is always important in gardens open to the public, since it impacts on the visitor experience, the feel and also the health of the garden. At Milton Lodge the standard is not just good, but impressive.For us as garden designers, Milton Lodge Gardens combines magnificent location, design expertise, an interesting family history, a beneficial climate and cultural knowledge – the garden designer’s dream garden! The garden is open from Good Friday until the end of October between 2pm and 5pm every Tuesday, Wednesday, Sunday and Bank Holiday, as well as for three days annually under the National Gardens Scheme.For more information on garden design contact Lesley Hegarty and Robert Webber, w:; 01934 853273

Get the LookOne of the most satisfying aspects of visiting a garden such as this is being able to take some good ideas away with you. Some things we could all learn from Milton Lodge Gardens:•    Be aware of the ‘genius loci’ –  whether it be expansive views, as here, or total seclusion•    Make use of focal points outside the garden•    Divide space up into areas you find useful, each with its own identity•    Highlight any change of levels using retaining walls and steps, which add to the interest and drama•    A winning design often combines strong shapes and soft planting •    Ensure you plant for every seasonSend your gardening queries to and we will try to answer them in a future issue of Somerset Life.

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