We discover the charm of Triscombe Nurseries in Somerset, set within a lovingly maintained Victorian walled garden.
Many of England’s old walled gardens have been lost through decades of neglect. However, on a recent visit to a Victorian walled garden in Somerset, Chris Allen discovered that magic and charm, plus some great plants, can still be found.
The glorious countryside of the Quantock Hills around Crowcombe and West Bagborough near Taunton in Somerset provide an ideal setting for a walled garden. The Victorian builders were highly skilled at not only building the walls around such gardens but also in positioning them to create the optimum year round growing conditions. Built on a south-east slope, it would have originally supplied the kitchens of the large house which adjoins the garden. At five hundred feet above sea level it could be considered a chilly place, but even in winter the early morning sun warms the garden. In one unheated glasshouse the taps have never frozen even during the prolonged cold of recent winters.
Owners past and present
Past owners of Triscombe Nurseries include the famous author Mabel Lucy Atwell and her daughter Jean Atwell. They lived in the old head gardener’s house next to the walled garden and started the nursery in the 1950’s.
The current owners, Mary and Stuart Parkman, moved onto the site in 1956 and increased the range of plants to include many fruit varieties, seasonal bedding, flowers and vegetable crops. A speciality that has increased from those early days are rock and alpine plants, originally grown in clay pots and plunged into long beds in one of the Dutch light glasshouses. The numbers and range of alpines has increased into an extensive list that can now be purchased by customers, alas the clay pots have given way to lighter plastic pots as a concession to the large numbers dispatched by mail order.
The full range and diversity of plants grown at the nursery is impressive. Ornamental and native tree species are grown in the open ground and available in the autumn and spring while the many container grown specimens can be purchased all year round. The number of different fruit trees grown is extended greatly with the additional varieties that have been grafted. This being carried out on site by Jonathan whose skill in the techniques of grafting and growing the plants on into high quality saleable plants must be applauded.
Plants of all shapes and sizes fill every available space throughout the walled garden site with batches of unusual varieties popping up beside every path, requiring visitors to look closely so as not to miss an exciting new find for their own garden collection.
Running along one wall is an impressive border of herbaceous perennials planted out as stock beds and giving a wonderful display for visitors to enjoy. The propagation material obtained from these plants produce some of the many container grown plants that are available for sale, the recent catalogue listing over 220 different varieties.
Maintaining their use
As Stuart Parkman says, ‘We create a customer experience, they can soak up the atmosphere of the plants and the surroundings. Our customers like the stability and continuity of the place. Some people come back bringing their children and grandchildren because they were bought here as children themselves’.
It is the history and continuity of being used for producing plants that is so important with any walled garden. Those that have been neglected, or abandoned and then demolished are quite literally gone forever. Places such as Triscombe Nurseries have been spared that fate through the sheer hard work and determination of their owners. Importantly, Mary and Stuart Parkman have retained much of the spirit of those early days and continue to share their knowledge and enthusiasm with all their visitors and customers.
This is a nursery with serious atmosphere, a must-go-to destination for any plants person who loves a sense of exploration.