The only thing I really knew about Mottistone Gardens before I visited was that Benedict Cumberbatch and Sophie Hunter were married at the small Mottistone church in 2015 and held their reception in the grounds of Mottistone Manor. I am slightly embarrassed that I know this, although my excuse is that it had something to do with the National Trust so it was bound to slip onto my radar!
Mottistone is clearly a popular wedding venue and is consequently closed to the public on Fridays and Saturdays so we had to save it for the tail end of our weekend’s touring. Fortunately, we had another lovely day to walk around the relatively compact gardens surrounding the pretty Mottistone Manor (which is only open to the public on two days each year) and had timed our visit well for a good display in the rose garden and a purple lavender extravaganza in the double herbaceous borders.
The Mottistone estate was bequeathed to the National Trust by Sir John Seely, the 2nd Lord Mottistone, in 1963. The gardens only really came into their own after this, when Seely’s stepbrother Sir John Nicholson and his wife Vivien took on a tenancy of the manor and embarked on renewing the landscape around the house. The current layout of the 6-acre garden is largely their doing, although it continues to evolve under NT management.
The fact that Mottistone is not an historic garden works very much in its favour as planting is not restricted to species that were relevant to a certain era. As a result, it has a fairly unusual collection of plants, particularly in the Monocot Border and in the Lower Garden where plants have been chosen primarily for the novelty and diversity of their foliage. Another issue that affects the choice of plants is the fact that Mottistone is a ‘dry’ garden, with the only watering taking place in the rose garden and the kitchen garden. All the other plants are simply left to sink or swim (perhaps not the best choice of idiom in this instance!) and as a result, the gardeners tend to choose a lot of subtropical Mediterranean and southern hemisphere plants. I imagine Mottistone would be a fairly popular posting for the Trust’s more adventurous gardeners as experimentation and change seem to be very much part of the job.
For anyone with children (or anyone older with a sense of fun), Mottistone has a great collection of flowerpot men dotted around the grounds. They each have novelty names with the likes of Nanny McPea likely to appeal to kids, while we were particularly tickled to come across Captain Jack Marrow and Benedict Cucumberpatch.
There is a small tea garden at Mottistone, complete with some sheltered tables for more inclement days, and I would recommend passing through even if you don’t want any refreshment as The Shack located there gives some insights into Sir John Seely’s former career. The Shack was once used as the summer office and country retreat of Seely & Paget architects, a partnership between John Seely and Paul Paget. Together, they restored and extended Mottistone Manor for Seely’s father, the 1st Lord Mottistone, but were perhaps best known for creating the art deco building that now stands at Eltham Palace in south east London.
Before leaving Mottistone, we popped into the Church of St Peter & St Paul, which is just across the road from the gardens. Thankfully, the Cucumberpatch wedding does not warrant any lasting attention here; instead, there is an interesting display about Jack Seely, the 1st Lord Mottistone, and his horse Warrior, who together survived the First World War when so many of their human and equine companions perished. Jack Seely wrote a book entitled simply ‘My Horse Warrior’, which was published with illustrations by Sir Alfred Munnings so I may try to track that down as it sounds like their experiences would make for a very moving story.
Highlights: The Lower Garden with its unusual subtropical plants
Purchase(s): Guidebook; ‘The Light Behind the Window’ by Lucinda Riley (from secondhand book stall)
Companion(s): The Dusty Jackets