Now is the time to see the spring flower display at Mottistone Manor Gardens, with daffodils, crocus, primroses and bluebells tumbling down the banks that border the valley behind this Elizabethan house.
You may also catch the pretty six pointed star-like flowers of the Chionodoxas, in blue, pink and white: a native of Turkey that thrives here. Then towards the end of April the North American Camassaias begin to flower.
“Because the garden is now open earlier in the year we have improved the spring bulb planting,” said Head Gardener Robert Moore who has worked with the evolving gardens for 25 years. John Seely bequeathed Mottistone Manor and the gardens to the National Trust in 1965.
Walk up to the top of the hill and you can rest on the semi circular stone bench, surrounded by low ground covering Pachysandra with its white flowers. Look down through the spring pretty flowering avenue of trees that lead towards the Rose Garden with the flowering grass banks to each side.
Enclosed by Yew hedge and bordered by box is the Rose Garden. Because the sandy soil here is not good for roses the whole beds were dug out and replaced with heavy loam. Following this Mycorrhizal fungi were introduced to the soil and all of the spraying is now done with organic products.
Next to the Rose Garden and also enclosed by Yew hedging is the double herbaceous beds that offer a stunning display of perennials, with interest from April till September.
“The plants are all perennials now and we try not to water anything. We have tried some tender perennials such as the African daisy Actosis or Vinidiums,” said Robert.
It is here that you will also find the organic vegetable plot and the plants for sale –if you like a plant you see here, you are likely to be able to purchase one for your own garden.
Perhaps the most spectacular gardens are those to the front of the house. The National Trust have selected Mottistone as an experiment to see which varieties of plants will grow in our changing climate and the result is quite astounding.
Mottistone is the Trust’s most southerly ‘dry’ garden with the Island having a warmer climate and a longer growing season than most other parts of the country.
“Mike Calnan, Head of National Trust Gardens, and Mike Buffin, Gardens Advisor for this area, came to see the gardens in 2004 and said we should be looking to exotic planting,” said Robert Moore.
“Their idea was to start using sub tropical plants and we started that three years ago with a certain amount of success.
“Since then we have found that some things do remarkably well, considering where they come from. The Musa Basjoo (Hardy Banana) gets to around 8ft tall although it would reach 40ft in its native country.
“We’ve also grown a variety of ginger lilies and ‘Dixter’ grows the best and has a lovely scent. Most people take them indoors in the winter but we leave them out.”
Walking around the large lawned garden to the front of the house, Robert pointed out the exotic plants that have been most successful.
“Grevilleas, a Protea from Australia, have red flowers all year round and the Cistus rock roses from Australia and New Zealand had already been successful here.
“Restios from Africa are here and the best ones are Elegia Carpensis and Calopsis Paniculata,” said Robert of the emerging stalks that will be shooting up shortly with their feathery leaves – like a large mares tail plant.
“We’ve been toying with Euphorbias,” said Robert pointing out many different varieties in greens, golds and even red, “and miniature Flaxes such as Dianella Tasmanica.
“Pond side plants Ligularia grow surprisingly well here on the dry soil. Libertias, Acanthus Spinosus, Tree Ferns – although they’d like it wetter – and Astelias get to a metre high. We have Polystichum polyblepharum and low growing holly ferns, Cyrtomium falcatum, Beschornerias from Mexico and Corokia from Australia.”
Two Hibiscus trees stand sentinel on each side of the gate as you step down into this lush sub tropical garden: ‘Blue Bird’ and ‘Snow Drift’.
And in the bed above, right in front of the house, are the enormous leaved Tetrapanax Papyrifer– the rice paper plant.
“The front is the new part of the garden and it is our window display to those driving past,” explained Robert. “Every year it gets better.”
The Gardens are open Sunday to Thursday from 11am till 5pm with late opening on June 22 till 9pm. The Manor house is only open on Bank Holiday Monday May
Mottistone Manor Garden also houses the old architects office, known as ‘The Shack’ that once stood on Freshwater Golf Course. A semi retreat for its designers and owners the architects Seely and Paget, the hard wood clad interior in its 1930s splendour is just as it would have been then. It is dressed to give the illusion that the two gentlemen have just stepped out with many artifacts donated by NT members. We will feature this in a forthcoming article on myisleofwight.com