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Travels with the Trug

East Lambrook Manor Gardens, South Petherton

We live in a brilliant part of the world for garden inspiration. The South West is packed with great gardens from the RHS, National Trust and more, with planting ideas just waiting for us to steal!

So looking for inspiration, we took a traipse around East Lambrook Manor Gardens in South Petherton the other day – a grade I listed cottage garden created by celebrated writer and plants woman, Margery Fish between 1938 and 1969 – and lauded to be the home of English cottage gardening.

Firstly let’s talk contrast – there was loads of it to see.

The May bank holiday sun was a stark contrast to the grey drizzly days we’ve suffered for most of the month. And “contrast” was for us the word of the day. At first glance, the garden appeared very natural – almost effortless – which is perhaps the charm of these gardens that people often describe as “quintessentially English”. But, looking more closely at the planting, there were some real surprises.

So specifically we saw the contrast between colour and form.

For some people, colour blending is key. The pink garden. Oranges and yellows. Blues and mauves. But not so for Margery – here it was colour that made the biggest statement. The baby blue of a forget-me-not against the yellow of a poppy. The silver leaves of the cineraria silverdust, mugwort and curry plant against the fresh green of young fresh leaves of iris and hardy geranium. The maroon billows of foliage from the purple smoke tree against light floating swathes of meadow flowers – twiggy, aquilegia, zesty vinca alba and fresh beech. Robust hostas and plain euphorbia, dressed with tall lupins and leggy corncockle.

Colour and form were used to surprising effect. Who would have expected a spiky cordaline in a grade I listed garden – and planted against a soft cloud of lace fern? Or a hulking palm tree in front of a sculptural cherry?

Then we had the contrast of location.

Like a lot of smaller gardens, the space leant itself to different areas or “rooms”. There were clusters of trees, creating oases of shade for flowers less partial to direct sunlight. There was a stream with plants that liked boggier conditions and more arid areas packed with sun-worshipping plants. Despite having these differences, there was a pleasant cohesion to the planting and the feel of the garden.

So what did we take away?

The one thing we took from East Lambrook Manor Gardens was that much of it could be achieved on a smaller patch in Frome. The colour schemes, the playing with leaf shapes, the sizes of shrubs, siting of bulbs and sweep of annuals. It’s all achievable on a lesser scale if you put your mind to it. Anyone can gravel a path through a small space to create corners, areas of contrast, new “rooms” or seating spaces arched by fragrant climbers. You don’t need a large acreage to dress the space with sculptures, troughs or galvanised watering cans – you just need vision.


Get out there and look! Not just at official gardens or ornamental affairs, but have a nose over fences and take a good look at your neighbours’ patches as you wander around. If it looks good and grows well in their garden, chances are it will do the same in yours. Look out for pretty, peculiar and practical. Veg garden instead of a front lawn? Bed in a bed? It’s time to look at your garden and be inspired!


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