Somerset in September

27 September 2016

There is something unmistakable about the arrival of Autumn, as smells change and the evening light slowly slides away.  It makes most of us in the studio yearn for the countryside, where the more subtle of seasonal changes can be seen and smelt without competition.  Somerset in September is the perfect place to experience these first Autumnal moments and so the whole studio decamped to the West Country early this month.

Our first stop was Stourhead, a grand landscape with no grand name attached. Although it might feel like the work of Brown, Kent or Repton it was in fact the members of the Hoare family – the owners of Stourhead – who shaped the land to their liking in the 18th century.  The Hoares took inspiration from time spent on the Grand Tour, the Old Masters and contemporary estates; they created a sweeping landscape replete with follies, grottos, grand vistas and waterways.  Whilst the context feels far behind us, this landscape can nonetheless spark inspiration for the gardens of today.  As much as the changing leaf colour on the ancient trees was a fresh as can be.

A garden at the other end of the spectrum is ‘Oudolf Field’ at Hauser & Wirth Somerset, our second site visit. Here, wide blocks of perennials swathe together to create a colourful momentum towards a monumental structure at the top of the field.  The space seems in everything contemporary, ephemeral.  The planting, so bold and bright in summer, has started to fade by September, with Phlomis seed heads and drying grasses providing the key feature points.  A guide in how to work with the riot of summer, and then allow Autumn to cut the party short, or at least turn the music down.

Butterflies provided the most beautiful bookend to our trip. A visit to Clive Farrell at his extraordinary butterfly farm and garden near Sherborne was eye opening for us all. In hot, humid glasshouses we saw butterflies from almost every continent float between tropical shrubs and climbers. Outside in the wildflower meadows is where the native species are encouraged; the Marsh Fritillary Butterfly, for example, will only feed on the Devil’s Bit Scabious (Succisa pratensis). Particular plants for particular butterflies. The overriding theme of Clive’s garden was that everything should be planted with wildlife in mind - the butterfly is king – creating a vital resource for the many declining species in our countryside. A landscape with such a clear focus will never feel out of date.

- Elizabeth Tyler