A dreamy secret garden in Somerset

This peaceful space is a must in the pretty village of Mells

The Rectory Garden’s space is almost entirely herbaceous, with a range of flowers and herbs growing alongside olive, apple, fig and bay trees
The Rectory Garden’s space is almost entirely herbaceous, with a range of flowers and herbs growing alongside olive, apple, fig and bay trees

It was the medieval St Andrew’s Church that first drew me to the charming Somerset village of Mells. Several years ago I visited this impressive Grade I-listed building – complete with a stained-glass window by William Nicholson and an equestrian statue by Alfred Munnings – and at the same time I discovered one of the loveliest villages in south-west England. Today Mells sits in the centre of a decidedly fashionable area: Glastonbury, Frome and Bruton – home of the Hauser & Wirth gallery – are all within easy reach; Babington House is just a five-minute drive away, and the village tavern, The Talbot Inn, is a stylishly cool gastropub with excellent food and rooms attached. I can also heartily recommend the Coach House Grill Room for delicious food (from £6) – fresh Cornish sea bass, marinated leg of lamb, venison steaks – all cooked over an open wood and charcoal fire

The garden’s charming café sells an array of teas and homemade cakes
The garden’s charming café sells an array of teas and homemade cakes

What is less well known, however, is that behind a door in the grey stone wall on Selwood Street, directly across from the church and The Talbot Inn, is a small but beautiful walled garden that feels a lot like the one in the famous Edwardian children’s novel The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. This peaceful enclave, which dates back to the dissolution of the monasteries in the 16th century and was once attached to the rectory on the Mells Estate, has been presided over since 2009 by ecologist, gardener and florist Jo Illsley and her husband Jon Price, along with florist Jodie Bowman, who joined them in 2010. The space is almost entirely herbaceous, with cut flowers like sweet peas and dahlias, hardy annuals like cornflowers and dill, and perennials like sage and marjoram complementing the olive, apple, fig and bay trees.

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I’m no horticultural expert (unlike my wife), but what I really love about the garden is the soft, dreamy atmosphere with no sense of ostentation or show. It’s a place where, especially on a sleepy summer afternoon, you can let your imagination wander. There’s also a selection of herbs (from £2.50) and Italian-made pots (from £90) and local ironwork (from £50) for sale, as well as a charming café selling tea and homemade cakes (from £2.25). 

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Sadly, the future of this most delightful café is currently under question due to planning issues, which will go before the local council in August. But visit in July and the pizza oven will be fired up.

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