Cottesbrooke Hall and Gardens are open on Wednesdays and Thursdays which is not much good if one works full time! Luckily the gardens are also open under the National Gardens Scheme once a year and we were lucky enough to be in the area at the right time this year.
The Queen Anne house sits squarely amidst the surrounding parkland and is approached via a sweeping drive which takes you over a Grade II listed stone bridge (attributed to Robert Mitchell) towards the main house. Once parked, visitors are invited to walk the short distance through the meadow towards the house and gardens where a gravel path leads towards the treats in store.
The handsome brick mansion overlooking sweeping parkland and lakes was punctuated by flowering magnolia trees at the time of our visit. We contemplated whether the parkland was the hand of Capability Brown or Repton but according to Head Gardener, Craig, it is unattributed.
Onwards towards the gardens, we were drawn first to The Statue Walk which takes the form of a grassed corridor sheltered to the left by a great yew hedge studded with statuary and to the right, a warm brick wall spilling with white wisteria beneath which wide beds are primed for an abundant pink and lilac summer. Replanted by Arne Maynard, one only has to look at photographs of the summer splendour to long for the warmer months.
The 13 acres of garden continue through formal areas laid out as individually planted garden rooms. Although Geoffrey Jellicoe originally advised on the layout of the gardens, a plethora of garden designers have been utilised to build on the original design and to add their own element. A black pool reflects branches stretching above and a walled Pool Garden, designed in the 1950s by Dame Sylvia Crowe has been brought up to date with sensitive planting by Arne Maynard.
Nearby, ‘Pine Court’ reveals a central pine tree (no surprises there) surrounded by a cloistered area draped with clematis. Head Gardener Craig revealed that this might be the next area for a revamp – we shall have to wait and see! 197 foot long parallel borders lead back towards the house, interspersed with yew buttresses and punctuated by flames of yew marking steps leading to another part of the garden. The double borders, redesigned by James Alexander Sinclair were studded with purple alliums preparing to burst into flower and we could see the promise of peonies and the greenery of summer flowering gorgeousness lying in wait.
For me, the most exciting part of our spring garden visit was the Wild Garden, approached across the parkland. We were greeted by a sea of blue Camassias surrounding a gingerbread cottage and as we walked on, new vistas were revealed as we discovered a stream, richly planted with Giant Gunnera, Skunk Cabbage and ferns. The winding path led to a grassy area where we came across a dog’s grave, enchantingly inscribed “This is my humble prayer, Nor may I pray in vain. God make me good enough to meet my dog again”. How could any dog owner fail to be moved by such simple words? Nearby, a stunning horse head statue led me to muse that it looked remarkably like ‘Horse at Water’ by Nic Fiddian Green – when we drew closer I noticed the initials on the statue ‘NFG 98’ meaning that this must be one of his earlier works.
The walk back to the house allows the visitor to take in the full spectacle of the handsome mansion and magnificent Cedar of Lebanon tree. The visit finished with the obligatory tea and cake in the Old Laundry area beside the charming Dutch Garden, designed by Angel Collins. This small but perfect formal garden beside the house consists of four symmetrical beds bursting with jewel bright tulips surrounding a central sundial. I am pleased to report that the teas were delicious and we very much enjoyed chatting to the jolly volunteer ladies who were serving the teas.