Somerset Gardens Trust

The AGM was held at Halswell House, Goathurst

The AGM was held at Halswell House, Goathurst - Credit: Roy Bolton

Somerset is rich in fine historic gardens and SARAH FORD meets an organisation dedicated to supporting this impressive heritage

Muddy boots at Nynehead Forest School - gardening happens in all weathers!

Muddy boots at Nynehead Forest School - gardening happens in all weathers! - Credit: David Rabson

Beautiful gardens can swiftly decline if not maintained. They can also be vulnerable to the threat of inappropriate development so the need for important gardens to be surveyed and recorded is clear.

In 1990 a number of Somerset people who owned historic gardens and landscapes gathered together with some professional experts to discuss the idea of forming a trust.

The scheme was spearheaded by Lady Gass, the owner of historic Fairfield house, Steven Pugsley, who had helped to set up the Devon Gardens Trust and Ken Brown, a Somerset County Council planning officer.

A steering group was formed, chaired by the late David Tudway Quilter, owner of the well-known garden at Milton Lodge in Wells. This led to the start of the Somerset Gardens Trust which is still going strong more than 25 years later.

Raised beds at Meare School - the trust supports schools in the county.

Raised beds at Meare School - the trust supports schools in the county. - Credit: David Rabson

There are several aims of the trust:

• To survey and record historic and interesting gardens and landscapes in Somerset

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• To comment upon any planning applications which are inappropriate to these gardens

• To support their conservation and repair through grants where appropriate

The garden at Croydon Hall

The garden at Croydon Hall - Credit: Stuart Senior

• To encourage the love of gardening in school children and promote careers in horticulture

• To promote horticulture, historic gardens and landscapes to the public

• To arrange visits to privately owned gardens in the UK and overseas which will help members understand the many styles of garden history and garden designs

There are currently 326 members of the trust which has three committees: survey and planning, education & schools and events.

The trust can help teachers and parents get children hooked on gardening for life

The trust can help teachers and parents get children hooked on gardening for life - Credit: David Rabson

County gardens trusts like this one can be found in most counties in England; they are independent but receive central services from their national umbrella The Gardens Trust.

The importance of the Somerset Gardens Trust is that it fills an important gap, explains chairman of the SGT Camilla Carter: “Gardens rise and fall and can only be restored by a new owner with surveys of the garden and landscape in their glory, think Halswell House and Park being restored by its current owner and Hestercombe by Philip White and Hestercombe Trust.

“Developers often ignore history in making their plans. Who is to protect them? The council may want to do so but without clear evidence of what will be lost, find it difficult to refuse applications.

“The gardens trust is a statutory consultee for planning applications in the county. Recently the trust objected to the erection of four 80m wind turbines at Torr Works - permission refused - and to the building of a ‘Chinese Style’ classroom at Hazlegrove - permitted subject to a full landscape plan being submitted. A rich garden heritage is at risk. We hope that this county’s historic and worthy gardens will be all surveyed during the next few years so that we can respond quickly and successfully to planning applications in order to protect our important landscapes.”

Camilla Carter, Chairman of the SGT with Brian Bradley

Camilla Carter, Chairman of the SGT with Brian Bradley - Credit: Archant

The trust has been involved in a wide range of surveys over the past 25 years; 45 of these are on the public register at the Somerset Records Office.

The very first survey was of Weacombe House, West Quantoxhead in 1990 says Chairman of Survey Group, Helen Senior.

“From this humble beginning many gardens have been surveyed including both well known gardens such as Lytes Cary and East Lambrook, and less well known - but potentially more vulnerable ones - such as Pylle Manor, Wayford Manor, Nettlecombe Court, etc.”

The trust also contributed most of the cost of repairing the fountain of the unique Lutyens Rotunda at Hestercombe.

And it has also recorded important features at Barwick Park, Orchardleigh and Marsden, where the ornamental water gardens were designed by Stephen Switzer, an early 1700s international designer who brought the style of Versailles to England.

The trust has recently completed surveys at at Ammerdown House and Barwick Park and surveys are currently taking place at Mells Manor, Yarlington House, Simonsbath (a potentially lost Richard Payne Knight garden), Cloford Manor near Frome and Burton Pynsent, with its Capability Brown-designed tower. Infact, next year will be the 300th anniversary of the birth of this influential English landscape architect and the trust plans to celebrate at the Somerset monument.

The trust publishes a magazine three times a year and this is edited by Christoper and Lindsay Bond.

New members are welcome to join the SGT and although there are a range of skills that would be a bonus to the organisation – such as some knowledge of surveying or a background in education – the prime requirements are: enthusiasm, a love of gardening or gardening design and time.

To join visit or email

Small green fingers

Raised beds full of vegetables, pond dipping, living willow features and den building are just some of the exciting projects discovered in Somerset schools by the trust’s education committee.

Since the county council publicised the availability of support and grants from the trust, there have been many applications and each one is considered before a site visit is made to the school, which might receive funding up to £350 towards its endeavors.

“Often we will be shown around by members of the garden club or the eco-warriors,” says Shelia Rabson who is Chairman of the SGT Education Group.

“Forest schools have started to come to the fore. All children can participate in this and learn to build dens, climb trees, light fires, experience the outdoors in all weathers, etc.”

Mill Wood restoration

To celebrate its 25th anniversary, the SGT held a party at Halswell Park in Goathurst where members saw plans for the restoration of the Mill Wood pleasure gardens. Sold off in the 1950s as the estate was broken up, the house has now been reunited with the gardens after 65 years.

Following the planting of 150 trees and saplings, the next step is to restore the lakes their structures and cascades, says Halswell Park owner Edward Strachan.

“There are six different lakes or large ponds, either cascading, gushing or flowing into a lower, until finally culminating in a final cascade visible from the Goathurst Road, and continuing in a stream towards Bridgwater.”

An archaeological study has been ‘fascinating’, including the discovery of the remains of the historic Druids Hut and evidence of Paleolithic life.