The Gardens at Coton Manor – Caroline Tait

img796neweThe speaker at a very well attended meeting on 19th May was Caroline Tait, nursery manager at Coton manor. Caroline came to Coton Manor as a volunteer 22 years ago and was transformed by that experience into a professional horticulturalist. She now works as a garden consultant and designer  and runs a wedding flower business as well as running the nursery at Coton …

The garden at Coton, near Guilsborough, north of Northampton was developed from the 1920s by Commander and Haroldine Pasley-Tyler. The Commander was a fearsome disciplinarian and his wife was the gardener. The commander had a great interest in water birds and these still provide an unusual feature in the gardens; especially the three varieties of flamingo.  The garden was originally opened on a limited basis for two days a week but since it was inherited by the Commander’s son Ian and his wife Susie it has been greatly developed. It is now only closed for two days a week and it’s open season runs from February to September.

Responsibility for the work of running the garden is split into three: Susie Pasley-Tyler with her assistant Sue plans and maintains the borders, Caroline runs the nursery (which she developed from scratch) with three part-time staff, volunteers and students and Richard Green, the Head Gardener control everything else. This includes all the structural features of the gardens, the lawns, terraces, water features meadow and woods and trees. There is also a restaurant serving lunches and teas.

The nursery was originally very small in scale growing a few hundred plants but current production is 45,000 plants. This puts the nursery mid-way between fully commercial production and home propagation, although the techniques that Caroline uses are mainly those of the home gardener through plant division and taking cuttings. Caroline is proud of her new (18 year old) potting shed with five radiators and she also has a large new greenhouse. Stock is renewed every year by division or potting on into larger pots and plants are mostly grown outdoors so they have to be good to survive. (I can personally vouch for the quality and extensive range of plants sold in the nursery – Jeremy).

According to Caroline the closed season from October to January is when all the work gets done but there is still time for the staff to enjoy the beauty of the gardens in Autumn and winter when the light and the trees, sometimes with snow, are spectacular. The long open season means that interest needs to be maintained all the time. This is done partly through  major shifts in the area of interest and also by Sue’s skilful management of the borders both in plant selection and though good garden management. Caroline gave an example of this in the way that hardy geraniums are cut right to the ground after flowering so that they grow new attractive foliage and may even flower a second time ( this can also be done with plants such as astrantia and alchemilla mollis and it also has the advantage of stopping self-seeding. A feature of the garden is having its own water supply from a spring which removes the fear of a hose-pipe ban and provides interest in many water features.

The garden year starts in February with snow drops and hellebores. This is followed by spring flowers and the crowning glory of the five acre bluebell wood in late April and early May. A wild flower meadow gives two periods of interest, first white and yellow and then purple and blue. The formal gardens then become the main attraction with herbaceous borders, a drought-tolerant Mediterranean garden which replaced the rose garden, and a wide range of container planting. Throughout the year the strong structure of terrace walls, hedges and trees is always attractive and the number of seats and the water features make it a relaxing place to spend an afternoon.

There is also a garden school offering a wide range of courses run by Coton staff and visiting horticultural experts including some celebrities. Carol Klein has always been a strong supporter of the garden. The gardens have featured in many TV programmes  and the BBC introductory shot of children in a wildflower meadow was filmed at Coton.

Caroline’s talk was fully illustrated and an attractive and unusual feature was the slides showing the staff who work in the gardens.

[Please note: The gardens are open in late Feb for 2 weeks, the main season is April to September]

Our next meeting will be on 16th June when Roger Skipper will make a return visit to talk about “ Gardens worth visiting”.

Jeremy Arthern

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