The big walled garden lies on a steep south-facing slope behind the house. At the bottom end are two long box-edged beds, planted with a mass of tulips and other flowers for cutting. More tulips are crammed into pots that line the paths on either side.

The 24 best tulips from Belcombe Court

At Belcombe Court classical parkland combines with a contemporary walled garden that in spring is alive with the bright colour of tulips. Words Anna Pavord, photography Jason Ingram.

The Weilands have been at Belcombe Court for nearly 30 years. The elegant house and the outbuildings standing around it, form a rambling cluster of mellow Bath stone. Beyond the ha-ha enclosing the garden, parkland rises quite steeply to woodlands beyond. What with grottoes and temples, ponds and waterfalls, as well as an acre and a half of walled kitchen garden, owner Paul Weiland has never had to worry that the projects will run out.

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The garden in brief

What Small, landscape park of the 18th century, with areas of modern planting. Where Wiltshire. Size Garden area of about four acres adjoining parkland and wood of more than 50 acres. Soil Stony brash. Climate temperate, Hardiness zone USDA 9a.

The big walled garden lies on a steep south-facing slope behind the house. At the bottom end are two long box-edged beds, planted with a mass of tulips and other flowers for cutting. More tulips are crammed into pots that line the paths on either side.
The big walled garden lies on a steep south-facing slope behind the house. At the bottom end are two long box-edged beds, planted with a mass of tulips and other flowers for cutting. More tulips are crammed into pots that line the paths on either side.

The drive comes in beside a handsome barn with a view through a stone arch to a courtyard, cobbled with ragstone in an intricate pattern. Magnolia grandiflora is trained out on the south-facing wall and a cloud-pruned hornbeam (Carpinus betulus) fills the centre. On the far side of the yew hedge that billows alongside the drive stands an old cedar, underplanted with a mass of snowdrops, crocuses and small daffodils. From here the lawn slopes down to the southern boundary of the garden. The grandest face of the house is round the corner, a formal façade, added in 1734, by John Wood, the architect who built the Royal Crescent in Bath.

The challenges

The handsome south front of Belcombe Court, added by the architect John Wood in 1734, looks out over lawn studded with spring bulbs growing under an ancient cedar. Beyond, to the left, lie the domed rotunda and the little cottage orne, made in the Gothic style.
The handsome south front of Belcombe Court, added by the architect John Wood in 1734, looks out over lawn studded with spring bulbs growing under an ancient cedar. Beyond, to the left, lie the domed rotunda and the little cottage orne, made in the Gothic style.

“Our challenge was how to make the garden more contemporary, without upsetting the magic that drew us in in the first place,” says Paul. Some fine yew topiary spirals were introduced in the border under Wood’s formal front and swelling sweeps of box now disguise difficult slopes. A 1950s rose garden was removed and herbaceous borders on the west side of the house widened to provide a fine summer display of dark-leaved cow parsley (Anthriscus sylvestris ‘Ravenswing’), peonies, delphiniums, Jacob’s ladder (Polemonium caeruleum), iris and alliums. Wisterias are trained out either side of the wide door that leads out on to a central terrace between the flower borders.

Looking west from the house towards the park, the full drama of the Regency grotto comes into view. Made of tufa, it overlooks the lake, fed by a natural waterfall, cascading down on the left of the grotto entrance. Inside, a curving, dark passage is furnished with a stone seat.
Looking west from the house towards the park, the full drama of the Regency grotto comes into view. Made of tufa, it overlooks the lake, fed by a natural waterfall, cascading down on the left of the grotto entrance. Inside, a curving, dark passage is furnished with a stone seat.

A little lake curls round the bottom of a hillock topped by another arresting feature, a round-topped temple, which seems to have been part of the early improvements carried out by the clothier Henry Yerbury. He was the man who in 1734, commissioned Wood’s façade, paid for with the proceeds of a patent for a fine woollen cloth ‘for the summer season at home and warmer climates abroad’. Beyond that, close to the southern boundary, is a beech-hedged enclosure, laid out by garden designer Rupert Golby with borders of standard wisterias and hydrangeas leading to a pretty little octagonal summerhouse.

The old walled garden

Gravel paths lead down the sloping walled garden to the lowest level. These long lower terraces, edged by low box hedging and espaliered fruit trees – a hallmark of Arne Maynard’s designs – are used for growing cutting flowers for the house, while more tender bulbs for house displays are nurtured in the new glasshouse.
Gravel paths lead down the sloping walled garden to the lowest level. These long lower terraces, edged by low box hedging and espaliered fruit trees – a hallmark of Arne Maynard’s designs – are used for growing cutting flowers for the house, while more tender bulbs for house displays are nurtured in the new glasshouse.

Behind the house, on a steep south-facing slope, is the old walled kitchen garden. This gave the Weilands the ideal opportunity to make a contemporary garden, contained and set apart from Belcombe’s remarkable 18th-century landscape. They started with a Mediterranean theme: a long, red-tiled loggia against the wall at the top of the garden, with a swimming pool in front. Groves of olive trees were planted to reinforce the Mediterranean theme. But the olives didn’t like it and the slope remained very steep.

At this stage the Weilands called in Arne Maynard to reconfigure the space. He boxed and coaxed the slope into wide grassy terraces, which fall in parallel lines down the centre. Either side, gravelled paths wind down between sets of stone steps to a pair of long, box-edged beds at the bottom, which the Weilands’ head gardener, Sue Cranch, uses as cutting gardens, filled in spring with thousands of tulips. Grassy borders of Stipa tenuissima follow the steps down the sides of the kitchen garden with masses of rosemary and a lovely crab apple at the top, its crown filled with a clump of mistletoe.

The walled garden, designed by Arne Maynard, is dominated by huge mounds of clipped box and yew. A crab apple brings early bloom alongside one of the gravelled paths that run down each side of the garden. Borders here are planted with masses of rosemary and iris with a sprinkle of tulips for spring.
The walled garden, designed by Arne Maynard, is dominated by huge mounds of clipped box and yew. A crab apple brings early bloom alongside one of the gravelled paths that run down each side of the garden. Borders here are planted with  rosemary and iris with a sprinkle of tulips for spring.

The final delight, in a garden of overwhelming pleasure is the new greenhouse that you enter by way of the walled garden. The old glasshouses inside the kitchen garden were demolished and this long new one built as a lean-to on the outside, facing south. It is packed with potted hippeastrums and hyacinths for the house, alongside trays of seedlings just emerging to fatten up the herbaceous borders.

The walled courtyard garden

Facing page, From the enclosed, cobbled courtyard behind the house, stone steps curve gently to the path that leads to the greenhouse. Domes of clipped box and yew sit between exuberant clumps of spurge (Euphorbia characias subsp. wulfenii.), with multi-stemmed amelanchiers and a magnolia behind.
From the enclosed, cobbled courtyard behind the house, stone steps curve gently to the path that leads to the greenhouse. Domes of clipped box and yew sit between exuberant clumps of spurge (Euphorbia characias subsp. wulfenii.), with multi-stemmed amelanchiers and a magnolia behind.

Steep steps lead from the greenhouse down to a series of courtyards on the north side of the house. Ground level still seems quite a long way down, but the slopes in between are filled with enthusiastic great clumps of spurge (Euphorbia characias subsp. wulfenii), the oak-leaved hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia) and amelanchier. Against the wall is Paul’s much Instagrammed plant stand, filled with alpines in clay pots.

It was a lucky day that brought the Weilands to Belcombe Court. Paul has brought in many wonderful trees – parrotias, holm oaks, acers. He’s made the Belcombe Brook run again, gurgling fast on its grassy course from woodland to grotto and, while respecting the old, given the garden another layer to add to its history. “Yes,” he says. “We’ve given a lot to the place, but it has given even more to us.”

24 Key Tulips from Belcombe Court

*Holds an Award of Garden Merit from the Royal Horticultural Society. †Hardiness ratings given where available.

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Useful information

Address Belcombe Court, Belcombe Road, Bradford On Avon, Wiltshire BA15 1LZ. Web belcombe.com Open Open occasionally for charity, see website for details. Belcombe Court will also host this summer’s Iford Arts Festival, 21-30 August. Visit ifordarts.org.uk for more information.