I’m loath to write about Cothay Manor. I feel like I’d be giving away a secret, or revealing a gem in the horticultural magic circle. We heard about it in a hushed whisper by someone at Haddon Hall, since we’d be travelling to the area the next day and fancied catching some gardens. Only for a sat-nav, we’d have never have found it, such is its remoteness down extraordinarily narrow z roads.
After arrival, we found out it wasn’t even open that day, being a private garden it is only open on obscure days, when as few people as possible are around. However, the owner allowed us a once off entry after she heard of our travels. Entry is through a knackered wooden stable yard and a path leads you to the front of the Manor, a large, still duck pond, complete with ducks and a couple of dogs who sort of hang out there as a vague deterrent to invaders. A walled in courtyard sits in the front of the house, the door of which was ajar revealing topiary and a formal elegance to the door. The journey really begins when you walk behind the house, where you’re met by a unicorn.
There really is too much to this garden which would soon get tedious to explain. The garden is set over 12 acres, the ‘gardened’ areas of which are separated into many small rooms and are accessed via a yew hedged walkway and a more open front of house terrace running parallel. Each room has its own vibe, a cool and sophisticated one here, a tropical mad one there, a sparse mediterranean/esoteric bit over yonder,. The one thing that unites the entire garden is the inclusion of some beautiful planting and plants, lots of water (still, calm and reflective ponds as well as a lively brook) and an enormous sense of fun! This garden is a joy to dwell in and really taps into the innate childhood wonder that all of us grown up cynics still possess deep down.
A friend disappears through a gap in the hedge and turns up moments later behind you. Your senses are filled with the sound of bird-song and breezes through trees and buzzing, your scent is on full tilt with old varieties and actual ancient roses pumping out great plumes of perfume, as well as a myriad of other scented plants emitting olfactory beauty. I get the impression that the garden at Cothay is fully reflective of the owner’s soul. It is eccentric and irreverent and does things a little bit differently. Some parts could be naff in any other setting, but here they are executed in a very tongue in cheek way. Gnarly olive trees sit in a bed of gravel around a pond. Small humps of alpine have been arranged beneath them in circles, with a ring of stones, like a child has been idly playing make-believe fairy garden on a hot summer Sunday afternoon. The whole garden exudes this sense of playfulness. In fact, kids would have an absolute ball here! Alice In Wonderland would not look out of place wandering about here.
A large meadow flanks the outside of the gardened area, with many specimen trees, helping the whole place sit in what feels like an oasis of spontaneity in the stillness of the English countryside. I’m fast creating a list of top ten gardens and Cothay may well be at the top. The child in me still yearns to be there, watching bees and making rose water out of petals and galloping about between the hedges pretending to be riding a unicorn in unicorn land. *I didn’t do any of that on the day we visited, because it would have been weird… but in my head I was.