On my countryside travels a few weeks ago I went to the new Hauser & Wirth art gallery in Somerset, which is an outpost of the internationally successful (read hugely profitable) Swiss gallery. The art was exceptional, obvs, as you would expect from a gallery of this standard. The current exhibition, Softer Targets by Jenny Holzer, is a moving and sometimes hard to look at reflection on war and its effect on those who become bound up with it.
But what made me skip about with joy were the food and the gardens.
The gallery opened last year, having beautifully renovated the Grade II listed farm buildings of Durslade Farm on the edge of Bruton. Piet Oudolf, the award winning and deeply fashionable, prairie-planting gardener-du-jour has landscaped the 1.5 acre space and it is joyous. The garden space behind the gallery buildings, called Oudolf Field, is an undulating swath of colour and texture, punctuated with sculptures. Last year’s Serpentine gallery design, by Smiljan Radica sits at one end currently, a typical country cottage garden it is NOT.
I’m sure you’ll all of heard of Piet, but this is the first time I’ve seen one of his gardens IRL, outside the pages of a magazine. It has made me want to come home and rip out my wee plot and start again. I cornered the resident gardener and asked him how hard it was to do this at home? Not too hard at all, he said, you just need free draining soil -they have created gritty mounds of earth, sand and stones here to sit above the Somerset clay, which would be too claggy. Plants need to be in groups of 3, 5 or 10 and should be ‘grown hard’ ie not over watered or pampered, that way they will grow stronger and tougher in order to support themselves without stakes. It works just as well in small gardens as big ones.
The plants used are slightly more interesting versions of everything you might already grow, such as echinacea purpurea (Fatal Attraction here), Achillea (Hella GLasoff here) and Sedums (the lovely red Matrona is used here). The secret is bold clumping. And although it’s not low maintence, the gardener said it’s no harder to maintain than any other perenial border, possibly a bit easier as you are doing less weeding. Everything stays in place, there’s no seasonal moving of plants, and holes are easily filled in should you get a bit of dying.
And did you see the old zinc water-tanks-used-as-comtainers above? How much more cool is this than yer average terracotta pot eh? Admittedly we’re not talking small, but still…
There is a lovely illustrated guide to all the planting which lists everything in the garden, available for £5.00. For anyone who doesn’t like gardening but likes the idea of a lovely garden, you can always buy the highly covetable silk cashmere scarf featuring images of the planting at its best, from the gallery shop. It’s £195.00, which is not far off what you might spend on new plants if you garden….Phone the gallery if you are interested as they don’t have a shopping site yet.
Those in the know have been raving about the Dursdale Farmhouse, which you can rent for weekends, should you have the budget. It looks the type of place I shouldn’t visit evs, as I might embarrass myself by demanding to stay forever. Take a look at the inside here and you’ll see what I mean
Then there’s the Roth bar and grill. You will notice there is not one photo of the delicious meal we had there, no image of the light-as-air blueberry muffin I had at the start of the day, no image of the extraordinary, locally made sour dough bread, the roasted vegetables, the divine fish, the rosemary potatoes….that is because I was too busy scoffing it down. It is a restaurant worth driving a long way for. That’s all I’m saying. The restaurant looks as below, an image I’ve nicked off the website. Book before you go.
So if you fancy a plant orientated autumnal day out with good grub (and a bit of art), I can’t recommend the place highly enough, the next art exhibition, which starts in November will be photographer Don McCullin.
Bruton is lovely too, with many small food artisans and art studios opening up on the back of H&W’s new space. It’s almost worth moving to the country for.
Hauser & Wirth Somerset website here