When it comes to patience, servitude and kindness, coupled with a tendency to forget to do nice things for herself, my mother gives the holy saints of Heaven a decent run for their money. Therefore, to celebrate the occasion of her 70th birthday, my sister and I came up with the idea of taking my mother away for a tiny holiday, just for herself, doing only things that she likes to do. We thought she might like to see some beautiful gardens and eat in some tasty restaurants, and have a lie in, and not do any cooking for anybody. Some negotiations followed. (‘Well, I don’t mind where we go. Where would you and Lou like to go?’, was her typical response, not quite getting the point.) Ideas included a tour of Sussex gardens such as Sissinghurst, Great Dixter and Perch Hill, or else a trip to East Anglia to take in Beth Chatto’s garden. But the most popular suggestion was a trip to the Cotswolds on a pilgrimage to Hidcote, and so the date was set, the Airbnb was booked (a charming mill cottage overlooking a tumbling stream) and the route decided.
Casting round for a smaller garden to timetable for the afternoon of our arrival, we came across Snowshill Manor in the North West of the Cotswolds, about a 30 minute drive from our lodgings and crucially open on a Monday. Snowshill Manor is a sixteenth-century house set in gardens and orchards overlooking a valley of sheep fields. Nestled by its side is the charming village of Snowshill (pronounced locally as Snozzle).
The front aspect of the house is built of smooth, North Cotswold honey-coloured limestone, and at first glance is perfectly symmetrical, but look closely and you can see from the mullioned windows of the right half that it dates much earlier than the left. Behind this compact facade is a rambling house in mottled stone, filled with the curiosities of its early-twentieth-century owner, Charles Paget Wade, who collected everything from bicycles to Samurai warriors and used the house to display his eccentric hoard while living in a tiny cottage (‘The Priest’s House’) beside the Manor. The interior of the house is worth a visit in its own right, but the surrounding garden is no less filled with delights, treasures and humorous oddities.
Our tour began with a pleasant ten-minute ramble from the parking area, away from the promising tea-rooms and dangerous plant centre, along a winding path bordered by tall hedgerows through which could be glimpsed the sheep pastures of a green valley, and on past an orchard filled with large, untamed apple trees heavy with rust-coloured apples, through a pair of stone pillars and onto the formal front lawn.
At our feet, the tiny pink and white origami hearts of Cyclamen hederifolium were dispersed between trees and sheltering under lichen-mottled walls. Asters, roses, catmint, helenium, red-berried honeysuckle and several varieties of clematis filled the colourful but simple borders, and blush-coloured Japanese anemones, elegant in their eager simplicity, popped up all over the grounds.
Water appears regularly throughout the gardens at Snowshill Manor, in a large copper, dripping into a rough stone trough draped with harts-tongue ferns and unusual vines, trickling from gargoyles, and calm and still in a small formal square pool.
But most notably and delightfully is the water in the large pool that forms the centre of the lower terraces of the garden, a foil and prop for Wade’s pièce de résistance, his model Cornish fishing village, Wolf’s Cove, recently restored to its former charm and boasting houses, huts, a railway, bridges, harbour, ladders, a stone hovel, upturned dinghies and two pubs.
Elsewhere not to be missed were the dovecot and the neat kitchen garden, bordered with dahlias. I can relate that the tea-rooms did not disappoint (I can recommend the flapjacks), and several little treasures from the plant centre including two Heucheras and an Osmunda regalis ‘Purpurascens’ found their way back to my car. And I’m pleased to say that my mother was not abstemious in either the flapjack or the plant-purchasing department.
Snowshill Manor is owned and managed by the National Trust, and details of opening times, admission prices, and how to get there can be found on their website.
And of course, coming shortly to these pages will be Part 2: Hidcote Gardens.