Somerset’s secret garden

Photo: Maxine Morland

Photo: Maxine Morland - Credit: sub

WORDS: Maxine Morland

There is a hidden garden in Bruton.

The Hauser & Wirth gallery at Durslade hides a surprise and that is precisely what the Dutch landscape designer, Piet Oudolf, wanted it to do.

The main garden only reveals itself almost at the end of the gallery’s exhibition spaces. A simple, unassuming sign directs you into Piet’s world.

The gardens opened in September 2014, and, while the planting was young, it all blended beautifully, more like an impressionist painting than an English garden.

Indeed Piet told me that he did not create a garden for Somerset, but a garden for the gallery. That artistic inspiration is apparent, it is stuffed full of interesting and unusual plants.

He is famous for using only perennial plants to combine forms and structure, as well as colour. The perennials in this garden divide roughly by shape; daisy-shaped flowers, such as asters and echinaceas; umbels, achilleas and sedums; spires, cimifugas and persicarias; buttons and globes, sanguisorbas and alliums; and plumes, filipendulas and persicarias, and then grasses. Unusually, here Piet has arranged some plants into clumps (the block-planted beds), rather than his usual drifts.

Most Read

A light touch with bulbs

Head gardener Mark Dumbleton planted 30,000 bulbs last year. Thanks to Mark, I can give you a preview of what to expect, and when.

Similar to the perennial design, the bulbs vary in different parts of the garden. The wet bed is full of blue anemones, white corydalis, snakeskin fritellaria, white leucojum, and the exotic, deep maroon, single flowers of Trillium sessile.

The block-planted beds will come alive in April with a carpet of red tulips. A purple camassia ties this group of beds together, appearing in April. Then in May, the alliums will start to bloom; drifts of purple Allium atropurpureum, which will be followed by a white allium, A. tuberosum.

In June, the eremurus will flower. A total of 300 have gone in, and standing at three metres high, this dusky-pink type, E. Romance, will be breathtaking.

The sporobolus meadow beds have a different feel. The first flowers will be muscari, aquamarine ones, which bloom in March. The only daffodil can also be found here, ‘Pipit’ (7). The connecting bulb here is a white allium, and this theme continues, with drifts of lilac Allium caesium and A. cristophii, flowering together.

In the corner beds, where the planting is taller, Oudolf has chosen Nectaroscordum siculum. Growing to 1.2 metres high, it looks like an allium, albeit cream and pink, but when it has finished flowering in June, the seed heads point skyward.


If you haven’t seen one of Piet’s gardens, this is a great place to start. Visit in spring and you will be one of the first people to see the bulbs.

No one, not even Mark, really knows what will come up. He too gardens on our heavy, Somerset, clay soil, but if even half of them bloom, it will be spectacular. Visit later in summer and you will discover the ‘prairie planting’ style.

The garden is open to the public every day, and is free.