Coton Manor: The Nation’s Favourite Garden – Guest Blog By Susie Pasley-Tyler

Coton Manor Garden is one of the UK’s most treasured private estates.  Nestled in the idyllic Northamptonshire countryside, this beautiful ten acre garden was the very worthy winner of last year’s prestigious Nation’s Favourite Garden competition, as voted for by the readers of The English Garden magazine and members of the National Garden Scheme.

Forged in the 1920s, Coton Manor Garden has flourished since its early beginnings.  Now featuring lovingly landscaped borders, orchards and water gardens, visitors can view the garden’s own flamboyance of flamingoes, as well as many other wildfowl and geese.  Its spectacular annual bluebell wood, snowdrop and hellebore displays are a thing of beauty, attracting hundreds of garden enthusiasts from around the country every year.

In an exclusive guest blog for Haddonstone, Coton Manor’s owner Susie Pasley-Tyler describes the history and perfection of these very special gardens.

The garden at Coton Manor was created in the 1920s when Harold and Elizabeth Bryant, my husband’s maternal grandparents, bought what had been a farmhouse since 1662 (see below) and restored it to being a Manor House (recorded in the Domesday Book), which it had been before its destruction the night before the Battle of Naseby nearby in 1645.

They laid out the garden in what had been fields around and below the house , creating terraces, borders, a rose garden, an intricate water garden harnessing water from the spring-fed pond, and planted two orchards, with an ornate rill running between them. It was their vision in the 1920s which laid the foundations for the way the garden has evolved today in the 2020s under the aegis of the two subsequent generations.

In the 1950s, my mother-in-law inherited the house and garden and in the subsequent decades she and my father-in-law extended the garden considerably by including part of a large field below the garden. Apart from planting some interesting specimen and fruit trees in this new area, they started a collection of wildfowl, including ducks, bantams, geese and flamingos. This also prompted the introduction of canals, streams and pools for the water fowl, making use of the springs running through the garden.

They started a woodland garden with many interesting plants sourced from the Nursery of Sir David and Lady Scott (Valerie Finnis) at the Dower House, Boughton House and a Rose Bank was established.

The garden was opened to the public two afternoons a week in 1969 during the spring and summer months to defray the costs of two full-time gardeners, following my father-in-law’s retirement. One of these gardeners, Richard Green, is still with us and in 2019 we celebrated his fortieth anniversary year of working at Coton Manor. His predecessor, Dennis Patrick, who worked for my parents-in-law for 25 years during the ’50s, ‘60s and ‘70s, went on to work for Mr and Mrs Bob Barrow at Haddonstone for many years afterwards. Living a mile away at Ravensthorpe, he still visits the garden regularly to ‘make sure we are keeping it up to scratch’!

During the time they were living at Coton my parents in law acquired one or two pieces for the garden from Haddonstone.

These included a pair of Baskets of Fruit (left) and a pair of Elizabethan Jardinieres outside the front door, both of which still adorn the garden many years later.

Probably the biggest visitor attraction at Coton is something we don’t garden – the bluebell wood, which is adjacent to the wildflower meadow and which flowers in late April and early May

In 1991 our family moved into Coton following the death of my mother-in-law and at the time of writing we are just commencing our 30th season of gardening here. Initially, for me it proved to be a very steep learning curve. It took me several years to discover the names of trees, shrubs and plants in the garden. I was hugely helped by John Kimbell from Great Brington who taught me the value of improving the soil and the importance of placing plants in conditions in which they would flourish. It has been many years of trial and error since then to arrive where we are today, but it has given me years of pleasure in planning different planting schemes for the many different areas of the garden and each winter we continue to implement some alterations and changes.

A garden is a growing organism and doesn’t remain stationary, so there is always something that needs removing, adding, reducing, improving etc.

In the 30 years we have been here, we have introduced a herb garden, a wildflower meadow, a bog garden, a gravel garden, a new rill; we have increased the number of borders, the size of the woodland garden, and particularly the size of the plant nursery; we have gone from doing teas two afternoons a week to lunches and teas five days a week and created a small shop.

In 1994 when our Head Gardener, Richard Green, had designed and planted the new herb garden, we acquired a sundial as a centrepiece from Haddonstone. This is surrounded with chamomile, the idea being that when visitors step on the chamomile to enable them to read the sundial this will release its scent from underfoot.

I have described the garden from my vantage point as the person who probably gardens in it six or seven days a week round the year, but I couldn’t possibly enjoy the luxury of gardening if my husband wasn’t taking care of meeting and greeting visitors and the business side of opening which has become increasingly demanding. Fortunately we have a wonderful team of supporters in the garden, the nursery and the cafe without whose help it would be impossible to open the garden on the scale it is today.





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