Travel

Somerset in bloom: The Newt makes gardens cool again

A Somerset mansion has re-opened as The Newt, a beautifully restored country pile where the meticulous grounds are the star attraction.Friday, 4 October 2019

By Helen Warwick
Book a tour at The Newt to follow the scents of violets and roses in the Fragrance Garden, roam around the greenhouse of tropical plants and ferns, and walk through the Colour Gardens and the cascades — all designed to take visitors on a history lesson through British gardening.

The Newt has been garnering press from all the right people, but it’s the gardens — which have been four long years in the making — that steal the show. For centuries, the estate belonged to the Hobhouse family, many of whom were prominent Liberal politicians, and its hundreds of acres of grounds were painstakingly cultivated over the years. Much of the original landscaping has been nurtured by the team behind The Newt, led by South African billionaire Koos Bekker, his wife, former editor of the South African edition of Elle Decoration, Karen Roos, and French architect Patrice Taravella.

Book a tour to follow the scents of violets and roses in the Fragrance Garden, roam around the greenhouse of tropical plants and ferns, and walk through the Colour Gardens and the cascades — all designed to take visitors on a history lesson through British gardening. Don’t miss the walled Parabola, a mainstay of the project championing Somerset’s cider heritage featuring more than 400 apple trees that have been planted here in a spherical maze. Framing it all is a tangle of thick, ancient woodland, dotted with new orchards, where herds of red and fallow deer dart through the trees.

Meanwhile, over at the couple’s original hotel in South Africa, a spice garden has sprung up. Babylonstoren, a former 17th-century Dutch fruit and vineyard in the Cape Winelands, is a vineyard hotel with an RHS-partnered garden that’s modelled on the mythological Hanging Gardens of Babylon. All of the more than 300 varieties of plants in the garden are edible or have some medicinal value. Guests are free to pluck blood oranges, plums, olives and grapes, and, this season, enjoy the fruits of the fragrant greenhouse-cum-dining room serving spice-infused dishes, including cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger.  

Go now: three botanical beauties

Monaco: Jardin Exotique
This is the planet’s largest collection of succulents and cacti, imported from all over the world. Prickly pears, towering candelabra and blooming blue barrels dot the gardens that twist around walking trails, bridges and cliff-side stairs. The jaw-dropping views of Monaco, incidentally, are almost an afterthought.

Scotland: Garden of Cosmic Speculation
Architect Charles Jencks and his late wife Maggie Keswick devised this 30-acre garden near Dumfries, based around scientific formulas and phenomena. The result is a surreal-scape of spiralling landforms and installations to reflect black holes and parallel universes; only open one day annually (date announced 1 January 2020).

Mexico: Las Pozas
Tucked away in the lush rainforests north of Mexico City, Las Pozas (The Pools) is the vision of British poet, Edward James. He ploughed millions into the passion project from the 1940s — a patchwork of towering, orchid-inspired sculptures looming above narrow trails, gardens, bridges, waterfalls and ponds.

Published in the November 2019 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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