WHEN Susie Pasley-Tyler first moved to her husband’s family home, with its 10 acres of grounds at Coton Manor, in Northamptonshire, she confesses she did not know a great deal about gardening.
More than 20 years later, things have changed and since this baptism of fire, Susie has become one of the estate’s “full time gardeners” as well as mistress of the 17th century manor house itself.
Susie, who owns Coton Manor with her husband, Ian, said: “When you take something on you don’t know much about, ignorance is quite an advantage. It would have been much more daunting had I known more about gardening when I came here.
“I had a small garden in London and that was my entire experience. Now I know far more about gardening and can focus on it in terms of managing it. It took me two years to fathom what what was here and it was a steep learning curve. Now you can’t keep me out of the garden.
“It is a very forgiving pastime, if you don’t like something you can take it out. Each year is different and the weather will dictate the timings of things. Some things will come up that you hadn’t anticipated, it is full of surprises and delights.”
She added: “I have enhanced things, but I wouldn’t say we have changed the feeling or look of the garden from when my mother-in-law was here.” The family has owned the house and gardens for 90 years and today Susie and her small team of gardeners have their work cut out to maintain the grounds which attract between 30,000 and 35,000 visitors each year.
On a whistlestop tour of Coton’s environs, I saw some of the gardens highlights: beautiful, colourful borders, a striking water garden fed by the main pond, a quaint wildflower meadow (taken on from arable land in the 1990s) and smaller gardens, such as the rose garden, bog garden and Mediterranean Bank, full of sun-loving plants.
Of course, Coton is well known for its five-acre bluebell wood, although July is not the right time of year to glimpse this particular wonder.
Although Susie proclaims emphatically: ‘We don’t try to be a zoo,’ birds and animals do form a major highlight for visitors.
Proud pink flamingos stand tall on a main lawn, a pet macaw sits high in one tree shouting “hi” as we pass by, and we are treated to a sight of Gloria, the estate’s rare breed kune kune pig, who is now a busy mother to six very cute piglets.
Susie said: “We always wanted our birds to be free range and we have ducks and bantams. Most of the animals we have are farm animals and we have the birds, we don’t have any in cages any longer.” Other attractions include a cafe, garden shop and the availability of horticultural courses as part of Coton’s “Garden School.”
Susie said: “We have had 20 courses so far and have another 10 in September. They are usually a long morning and lunch. They go into aspects such as pruning and propagation.”
Sadly this year’s damp weather has hit this summer’s visitor numbers, but Susie said: “They come from miles around, partly because we are very well located and we do a very good lunch!”
Coton Manor is open Tuesdays to Saturdays (and bank holiday weekends) until September 29. Normal opening times are April and September as well as mid February, to enjoy the snowdrops. For details, visit www.cotonmanor.co.uk.
Entry is £6 adults, £5.50 concessions and £2 for children.