When I bought my season ticket for The Newt in Somerset late in January, I had intended to go every month or so to see how things changed through the seasons. The month of May should have brought me to my third or fourth visit. However, in present circumstances, I had just assumed that it was not open now. But a few days ago, something prompted me to look at their website. To my delight, I found that the gardens were open, but not the house. (Given that the house is a luxury hotel, charging at least £450 a night, this would be no great hardship to me.) No other buildings, including the gardening museum, were open either, except the farm shop. And the website informed me that they were limiting numbers of visitors.
Imagining, with a lessening of lockdown in the air, that shortly the place would become very popular, especially as they were not charging for entrance, and that I might have to queue unless I arrived early, I decided to be at the gate at opening time the very next morning. And so I did, after a bit of a drive, (permitted under the police guidance given a week or so previously that any driving for a walk must be less than the time taken walking). At 10 a.m. there were just 5 other cars in the car park and I had the vast place almost to myself for a while.
The meeter-and-greeter explained that they were (able to?) open because of the farm shop, so I felt obliged to patronise it (no hardship, wonderful stuff). Because she had said there was a one-way system, I bought things at the beginning of my walk, which put me under some pressure for the rest of my time there because I had bought some soft cheese. Having suffered food-poisoning a long time ago through something not being adequately refrigerated, I have been acutely concerned ever since not to repeat that experience. As a result, I did not spend as much time in the gardens as I would like, anxious to get my cheese home and into the fridge! (In the event it was still nicely chilled when it found its chilly refuge.)
Having shopped, I took a peek into the cactus house whose outsize plants had inspired me at the beginning of the year to compose – with the help of the expert who sold its elements to me and planted them – my own little windowsill cactus garden. (I knew that old unused casserole would come in useful sometime.)
As I stepped through the gap in the hedge into the Victorian Fragrance Garden – and I know these are emotional times – my eyes welled up at the sight before them. Hitherto, the supermarket had been the furthest I had ventured from home.
Seeing a socially distanced staff meeting going on brought amusement and dried my eyes. The woman is holding a laptop and apparently explaining things.
I next entered the vast Parabola, devoted to the apple, which alone contains 240 varieties, and there are more elsewhere.
It was another French gardener, Patrice Taravella, who designed these gardens on behalf of the South African billionaire who bought Hapsden House (the hotel) and its grounds in 2013. Here is an informative 2019 article from the Financial Times.
I left the Parabola (named for the shape of the walled apple garden) and found myself back near the entrance. But I did not want to leave before 11.00.
There is much, much more to see at The Newt. The parkland has yet to be opened at all, scheduled for ‘the summer’ but who knows now. There are other parts of the gardens and woodland I have not yet seen, and I hope that it will not be too long before the History of Gardening museum is re-opened, though it may be a while before, whatever the regulations at the time, I feel confident enough to go into any building unnecessarily. Perhaps that’s a pleasure for next year.
They had set up a temporary alternative exit to maintain the one-way system, which seemed to involve walking down the tradesmen’s drive. I diverted to take a peek at just a little woodland first.
That permitted walk really did my soul good! Back in a month or so’s time, all being well, and perhaps then I’ll buy some Newt cyder (sic) – but at the end of my walk.