The gardens at Iford Manor were laid out by Harold Peto, a trained architect and extraordinary garden designer who was highly influential in the development of landscape architecture as a discipline.
There has been a homestead on this site overlooking the River Frome since the Domesday Book. The estate itself passed through successive generations of successful and influential families including the Hungerford family of nearby Corsham Court. In 1899, famed Edwardian architect and garden designer Harold Peto acquired and moved to Iford Manor; Peto had been searching for a suitable country house for some time, which would give him the opportunity to design his ideal garden.
Peto had been an established architect going into partnership with Ernest George. Their partnership was successful and at one point hired the young Edwin Lutyens who would go on to build a highly successful and productive partnership of his own with Gertrude Jekyll. Due to poor health, in 1892 Peto dissolved their architectural partnership with the condition that Peto would not practice architecture in the UK for the next 15 years. During this time Peto travelled extensively around the world, most notably to Italy, France, America and Japan, and indulged in his interests of interior and garden design. Once Peto had bought the property at Iford he set out creating his garden and decorating it with antiquities including artefacts and sculptures collected during his numerous travels to the Mediterranean.
His passion for the Italian style is evident in the garden at Iford Manor where plants occupy a subordinate place among the structural design, with statues, pools, walks and cypress trees creating a Mediterranean feel, and the flowers merely used to accentuate the Italianate structures. Many of the architectural sculptures date to the Roman or medieval periods and were mostly salvaged from Italian churches. By 1907 the garden at Iford Manor was largely completed and was subsequently described in Country Life.
After Peto's death in 1933, Iford Manor stayed within the Peto family until it fell into a state of disrepair after the war and was sold to the Cartwright family. During the late 1960s and early 1970s Miss Elizabeth Cartwright restored the garden and introduced new plants with the help of landscape architect Lanning Roper.
Today, the gardens manage to blend the traditional Italianate style with the charm of an English garden; roses, wisteria, foxgloves and nepeta nestle seamlessly amongst the Roman columns and statuary, softening their hardened structure. While glorious views from the terraces across the Frome Valley draw the surrounding bucolic countryside into the garden enlarging the experience.
Iford Manor remains in private hands as a family home, actively cared for and lived in by three generations of the Cartwright-Hignett family. It is a superb garden, regularly regarded as one of the greatest gardens in England. And is certainly a favourite of ours at Violets and Tea.
Images credit: Eliza Ford