ABC Wednesday 5/ Garden Visit: K is for...

... Kilver Court

A couple of weekends ago, my SUP friend S and I visited Kilver Court: this was in the same trip as last week's ABC Wednesday Jaunt which led us past the lovely prairie-style planting in Radstock.

This garden's been on my must-see list for a couple of reasons: it was opened to the public last year after an extensive restoration and also because it features a rather prominent viaduct - a relic from when the Somerset & Dorset railway ran through the town of Shepton Mallet. This is a listed building and so is set to stay. I was intrigued how the garden's design would utilise this 'feature', especially as Chippenham has a similar - and equally historic - viaduct slap bang in the centre of town. I was looking for inspiration and ideas for a possible public planting transformation.

The gardens were initially developed by the local factory owner for his workers in the 1800s. In the 1960s, the Showerings family (of Babycham fame: it was brewed just over the road - might still be - and we were followed all afternoon by the delicious smell of cider making apples) took over ownership and asked George Whitelegg to recreate his Gold medal winning Chelsea Flower Show rockery garden. Now the founder of Mulberry - it used to be their headquarters - owns the garden and has restored it to that seen today. I don't know how much of the rockery garden in the first photograph reflects the original design, but I'm sure the principles of it are there.

The garden has a number of distinct areas: the rockery garden seen in the first photo and the above view shows the formal parterre by the entrance. This area is backed by one of the former factory buildings, now a dance studio. As it was a warm day when we visited, the presence of this was a distinct disadvantage as a class was in progress. At various intervals during the afternoon extremely loud music boomed out through the open doors over the tranquil scene, which reverberated off the viaduct. Hardly conducive to a pleasant visit and luckily for us only served in relatively short bursts in the latter half. It may have contributed to the relative lack of visitors whilst we were there and it's probably best to check what classes are on if you decide to visit.

Herbaceous beds formed some of the transition areas between other parts of the garden. These were being 'planted' with stained glass suncatchers whilst we were there. This particular bed and formal hedge area led through to...

... the millpond and boating lake. I suspect this previously provided the water supply to the factory and it may still supply the cider making over the road?

The pond and lake area had a Japanese feel to it, especially as autumn leaf colour was beginning to show it's hand. The water weed in the pond at this time of the year also accentuated this mood as it was reminiscent of moss.

The far side of the millpond was shady, so ferns featured strongly as did this dovecote. I liked the texture of the paint on the door which also echoed some of the leaf colour clothing the building - see also Sign of the Times today for a closer, more textural photograph (and last Friday for another view of the parterre; this coming Friday will feature the bench where S and I had our picnic). Judging by the interior, this building is available for weddings.

The back of the viaduct was less dramatic than the rockery at its front, consisting mainly of very well kept lawns and some tough as old boots shrubs and herbaceous plants at the foot of each archway.

Across the lawn at the garden's boundary we found this prairie-style planting. I was rather surprised to find it and whilst I liked it as a stand alone border, I felt it didn't really fit with the more traditional, Victorian/1960s feel to the rest of the garden.

Back in the rockery area, I liked these Persicaria edgings to the pathway. A nice change from the usual heathers found with this style of planting. I thought the use of grasses could have been a bit bolder though, especially as strong shapes featured throughout this area of the garden. Quite a lot of the lawn looked rather fiddly to maintain too and some of the alpines had seen better days. However, I did like the mix of Acers and conifers in this area. Despite conifers and rockeries being deeply unfashionable as gardening styles at the moment, they did echo the strong verticals and stones of the viaduct and so I thought they were an appropriate use in this context. The Acers provided good contrast in both form and leaf colour. There were nice touches streamside too, particularly the Primulas in the water.

Having enjoyed our visit on the whole - despite the dance class - S and I retired to the adjacent farm shop and cafe (part of the same complex, owned by the same people, but probably run as a separate business) for well-earned refreshments. A pot of tea, a mug of coffee and two slices of cake came to an eye-watering £9.30*. This made for a very grumpy end to our afternoon, especially as one of the slices of cake was nowhere near the same size as the generously proportioned one given to another customer. If you visit - which on the whole I do recommend - I suggest you visit nearby Dobbies Garden Centre afterwards for much more reasonable fayre, plus a gander at their bedding, chickens and porcelain loos.
* I regret not taking the option to pay up front because we would have definitely taken my advice and gone elsewhere. The problem was that the beverages menu was clearly displayed on a blackboard and relatively reasonably priced, whilst the cakes menu was on a separate piece of paper in italicised, much smaller print and extortionate. The local garden centre may not have organic offerings, but it's still delicious, cheaper and the staff are much more cheerful. We did also remark about the noise at the time of our visit, but of course there was really very little that the friendly lady at reception could do about it, particularly as she was in the worst position of all - right next door! I'll be sending a link to this piece to the garden owners for comment.

For more posts bought to you by the letter K, do visit the ABC Wednesday blog.

Update 7/10: Kilver Court's marketing manager replied yesterday (see comments for a full transcript) - they'll have a word with the Dance Studio manager to see if the noise can be kept to a reasonable level and I've been offered a free re-visit :)


  1. Nice post and photos!
    This is the sort of place that I enjoy visiting but the music, and price of the refreshments, would almost certainly mean that I'd choose to go elsewhere! xx

  2. Hi VP, I visited Kilver last September for a newspaper and met owner Roger Saul - he told me that he races his 1950s Mercedes Gullwing along the top of the viaduct. You can read the piece here - it says written by Chris Beardshaw, but it wasn't - the sub editors put his name on the piece by mistake.

  3. It looks like a beautiful and peaceful garden. Great K!

  4. Hi Martyn - thanks for that. I like the more overhead views you have in your article. Schizostylis is the dramatic plant this year in the herbaceous borders.

    I also forgot to mention that it looks like a start's been made on the vegetable garden. If you look over the wall from the car park at the Mulberry factory shop, raised beds are currently being built. No sign of the lawn behind the viaduc being dug up - yet.

    In August they ran a steam train over the vaiduct for the first time since the S&D line was closed. Not the real thing, just a miniature one!

    For anyone interested in seeing Martyn's article, here's the link he kindly provided in his comment.

  5. Flighty - looks like Martyn's experience was a quieter one, so it is possible to have a peaceful visit to this garden :)

    Mara - thanks.

  6. Thanks VP an interesting garden.

  7. Joanne - glad you liked your visit albeit a virtual one!

    NB I forgot to mention - if you take the link to Martyn's article, the entrance fee is now £4, which I thought was a reasonable price.

  8. Thanks for the virtual tour. The viaduct makes a great backdrop to the rockery, and the rest of the garden looks great. (Fashion be damned, I like conifer gardens!) Too bad about the overpriced cake. As Tom Waits says, "The large print giveth, and the small print taken away."

  9. Interesting. I always think the viaducts in Chippenham are incredibly badly served - they are fantastic pieces of archtecture and importnat to th etown's heritage. It's shameful that they have been built over/ around / under - we could and should do better with them.

  10. How beautemous! I'd love to spend some time wandering in that green and sunny spot with all the beauty!

  11. Looks like a lovely garden to visit--thanks for giving us the tour, VP! It seems strange to me, though, to see a prairie garden next to centuries-old stone buildings. If I ever go, I'll remember not to order any cake:)

  12. What a beautiful place! The millpond and dovecot are my favourite areas, though the rockery does look interesting.

    OUCH on the cake prices, though. Shame on them.

  13. MMD - I love the quote and I'm glad you enjoyed the tour!

    Mark - the viaduct's considered to be part of 'Chippenham's gateway' and is lit at night. If it's that important, why isn't more done with it? I suspect there are some constraints re access for maintenance, budget etc. however I firmly believe more could and should be done with the setting. Kilver Court shows what is possible and achievable.

    Roger and Tumblewords - glad you enjoyed it!

    Rose - I do like prairie gardens, but you're right they need to be in the right context. Bearing that in mind, I've been looking at the native plant postcode database recently to see what the possibilities are for that kind of style but using our native plants instead. There's some interesting possibilities.

    Jay - we enjoyed the walk round the pond, taking in the dovecote on the way! Much of it was shady with interesting choices of trees and shrubs. There was a particularly good spindle tree. Unfortunately my close up of the dramatic fruits was just a touch out of focus so unsuitable to show you, though of course it looked OK at the time on my camera's screen :(

  14. This is the response I had from Kilver Court when I sent them the link:

    Dear VP,

    I apologies for the delayed response we have been extremely busy with our most recent event, Feastival. I am sorry to learn that your visit to Kilver Court was marred by they popular dance studio classes that was being held on the Sunday of your visit.

    Kilver Court regularly hosts itself to a variety of different activities, a dance studio being one of them as well as weddings, corporate events and much more. I would like to offer you the opportunity to visit Kilver court again in the future including complimentary afternoon tea. Please let myself know when is convenient for you to visit us.

    In the mean time we have bought it to the attention of the dance studio organizer that the volume of the music should be managed accordingly.

    Once again, sincere apologies and I do look forward to welcoming you back to Kilver Court where you will endure the tranquility of the gardens and its beautiful surroundings.

    Look forward to hearing from you.

    Kind Regards

    Sapphire Giles
    Events and Marketing Assistant

    I received that yesterday and I hope it helps everyone to have a much more peaceful visit!


Your essential reads

Wildflower Wednesday: Alpengarten

Garden Bloggers' Blooms Day: 'Just Add Cream'

A Muse for National Poetry Day

Garden Bloggers' Muse Day: The Best of Summer

Unusual Front Gardens #31: Halloween II

The Great Green Wall Hunt: Paris

Postcard from the 'Top of Europe'

Festive and Green

Puzzle Corner: Connections

Pea super