Devon LivingIssue #02
A Devon country garden
We embrace nature at its best with an amble through some of Devon’s most beautiful gardens, great and small.
Well, it’s probably fair to say that spring took its time to turn up this year. When we would normally be welcoming in the first signs of blossom, packing away the hats and scarves, we instead found ourselves wrapping up warm and building snowmen.
But good things come to those who wait, and a Devon garden in springtime is certainly one of those things. Nothing beats the sound of birdsong and scent of blossom, fresh air filling your lungs as you take in the surrounding countryside.
“Camellias have been associated with Greenway since, at least, the 1830s and every new owner has added to the collection over the generations.”
What really impresses in Devon is the sheer variety of gardens to visit, from lush subtropical coastal paradises, to traditional walled gardens tucked away in the heart of the countryside; formal, beautifully manicured gardens to wild woodland walks. Devon really does have it all. Oh, and you’ll probably enjoy a good cream tea for measure too!
Of course, gardens are fantastic locations for family days out, with everything you could need to enjoy yourselves all in one place, usually catering well for young families, and often with various activities and events organised throughout the year.
So, we provide just a small taster of the vast offering that awaits your arrival.
Broomhill Sculpture Gardens
There’s a growing trend for combining natural and manmade materials in outdoor spaces to dramatic effect in the form of sculpture gardens, often including large-scale metallic and angular sculptures that provide a stark counterpoint to the more fluid and irregular foliage. One example that has mastered this art is the Broomhill Sculpture Gardens in Muddiford, just inland from the north coast beaches at Croyde and Saunton Sands.
The Broomhill team tell us: “Where art and culture meet in magical surroundings… discover the largest private collection of sculpture in the south west at Broomhill. We have over 300 fascinating sculptures, including the National Sculpture Prize competition, on display, set in 12 acres of beautiful woodland gardens bound by Bradiford river. Visitors can also enjoy a bite to eat: whether you fancy a cream tea or cake, tapas or a three-course lunch or dinner – we have plenty to choose from.”
If you really want to see a garden that offers a truly unique experience, then make sure you put a visit to Broomhill on your to-do list.
Bicton Park Botanical Gardens
As far as gardens go, Bicton Park Botanical Gardens are particularly impressive. Set across over 60 acres, this horticultural gem in the Otter Valley near Exeter, in the East Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, offers some of “the most beautiful of Britain’s world–renowned historic gardens.”
Here, according to the Bicton Park team, you can expect “soft sweeping lawns, elegant water features, fragrant English borders and formal gardens. Take a tranquil walk and meander through the arboretum among some of the
most majestic trees in the country including
18 designated champions of their kind in the British Isles.”
Bicton’s crowning glory is the resplendent Palm House, a grand, futuristic bubble-shaped Victorian greenhouse filled with lush exotic plants, predating the Eden Project by nearly two centuries. Built in 1825, and featuring around 18,000 individual panes of glass, it precedes the Palm House at Kew’s Royal Botanic Gardens by around 20 years.
There’s plenty more to discover, from the temperate and tropical houses and the little house of shells, to the romantic Hermitage, the secret garden, the lake, streams and woodlands, and the Countryside Museum. Children will love the nature trail, exploring the miniature village, traversing the large climbing camp, having a go at mini golf, or letting off steam in the indoor play centre. Complete the day with a bite to eat in the Orangery Restaurant, soaking up the views of the Italian Garden.
RHS Garden Rosemoor
The Royal Horticultural Society has some lofty ambitions: “We want to enrich everyone’s life through plants and make the UK a greener, more beautiful place.” It’s a heart-warming sentiment, and you can witness its effects in action at RHS Garden Rosemoor, the only one of RHS’s four gardens of the UK found in the south west.
Richard Mulford tells us more about this garden for all seasons. “Rosemoor is an enchanting garden nestled in the beautiful Torridge Valley located between Dartmoor and Exmoor National Parks. Surrounded by woodland, it’s rich in variety throughout every season and features inspiring planting displays enhanced by the natural beauty of north Devon. These include the largest rose gardens in the south west, the stunning Hot Garden, a Devon Cottage Garden, lake and stream, fruit and vegetable garden, natural flower meadows and bluebell-carpeted woodlands.”
Rosemoor is particularly family friendly, with trails, play areas, garden themed art and craft workshops, and even opportunities to exercise your green fingers by sowing and growing along with the gardening team. Richard tells us: “The garden is an inspirational backdrop for sculpture exhibitions, craft and antique fairs and a programme of diverse leisure learning courses in gardening, photography, craft and art.” See Rosemoor’s online events calendar for upcoming highlights.
Get your foodie fix at the award-winning Garden Kitchen restaurant, which serves tempting seasonal menus, full of quality garden and local produce along with freshly baked scones and cakes. “You can also choose from a great range of top quality plants in the Plant Centre, which offers a five-year hardy plant guarantee. Find a wide selection of gifts, books, stationery and garden accessories in the shop.”
The Garden House
You’ll find The Garden House in Buckland Monachorum, just outside Yelverton. This delightful sanctuary, maintained and developed by The Fortescue Garden Trust, has caught the eye of many a gardener, including BBC presenter Toby Buckland, who has commented: “It’s a plantsman’s paradise – I love it!”
Jo Shinner, one of the team, tells us about more about the garden’s lasting appeal. “This inspiring garden on the western edge of Dartmoor covers ten acres and showcases gardening at its best. Colour and scent fill the garden and throughout the seasons there is always ‘show-stopping’ design to enjoy. Since the 1940s it has been synonymous with colour, unusual plants and excellent standards of horticulture.”
The garden is divided into several distinct zones, providing visitors the chance to stop and linger, taking in the surroundings. These include the Summer Garden, planted in a ‘naturalistic style’ and the Cottage Garden, bursting with wild flowers. “This flower-filled garden is world famous,” says Jo, “and the view to St Andrew’s Church in Buckland Monachorum is iconic.”
The Acer Glade is another highlight, which morphs and changes colour with the seasons. Of the historic Walled Garden and Terraces, Jo tells us: “A medieval tower connects the lower and mid terraces and is the perfect backdrop for climbing plants.” The old barn was recently re-thatched, providing the perfect ‘English country garden’ backdrop. Completed by the Quarry Garden, Jubilee Arboretum – planted to commemorate the Golden Jubilee in 2011 – and lake, plenty to keep everyone enthralled, whether avid garden enthusiast or simply those who enjoy the great outdoors.
As you enter the walled garden of Knightshayes, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’ve breached the inner walls of a great Gothic fortress. High, thick and imposing stone walls are adjoined by large, theatrical turrets, echoing the Victorian grandeur of the main house itself. But thankfully, rather than hostile medieval soldiers yielding weaponry, you’re met with legions of colourful plants and vegetables at every turn – and perhaps the odd gardener with a trowel.
Completed in 1876, like so many walled gardens, it fell into gradual disrepair with the two world wars and ensuing years, even at one point becoming an overflow car park. But following a large-scale restoration project, it has been largely returned to its former glory, with plans afoot to reinstate one of the Victorian glasshouses. With today’s emphasis on reducing food miles and embracing more organic farming methods, it is once again taking its rightful spotlight, and is as fine an example of a Victorian walled garden as you’re likely to find.
Overbeck’s on the Salcombe estuary is one of the jewels of south Devon’s crown, a lush subtropical paradise with rich, verdant greenery overlooking the snaking estuary. Overbeck’s makes the most of its sheltered south coast microclimate to stock a range of exotic and rare plants from distant lands, as far and wide as Australia and New Zealand.
Overbeck’s takes its name from previous owner Otto Overbeck, who bought the house in 1928 and continued to enhance the existing gardens with additional exotic plants from around the world. Otto himself was as fascinating as the gardens he helped to create, an accomplished scientist and inventor. Among his many achievements are a claim to the invention of Marmite (recognising the value of a waste by-product of the brewing process), and the creation of the ‘electrical rejuvenator’ an interesting device, which purported to be able to reverse the aging process using electrical probes. Whilst trying out this strange looking contraption firsthand doesn’t seem too appealing to us, there’s a simpler way of winding back the clocks – simply by taking a tour of the stunning gardens and admiring the panoramic estuary views. Overbeck’s really is a little slice of heaven.
Author Agatha Christie knew a thing about drama and there’s plenty to witness at Greenway, her home in the country, perched on the eastern bank of river Dart, just upriver from Dartmouth and not far from Brixham. Those who cherish Christie’s literary output will find much of interest among the displays and memorabilia inside the house. But the grounds are equally enthralling for the horticultural enthusiast too.
Greenway is particularly known for its important Camellia collection, as highlighted by its recent ‘Garden of Excellence’ accreditation awarded by the International Camellia Society, placing Greenway among just six other gardens with this prestigious status in the UK.
Colin Clark, Senior Gardener at Greenway, says: “Being recognised pays tribute to the garden’s history and opens up access to specialists in the field which will help us to continue building the collection and developing the garden.”
Colin continues: “Camellias have been associated with Greenway since, at least, the 1830s and every new owner has added to the collection over the generations. Some of those, such as the Bolitho and Williams families, were highly respected plantsmen of their day. JC Williams lived at Greenway from 1919 to 1937, before Agatha Christie and her husband Max Mallowan bought the property to use as their holiday
home, and the Camellia x williamsii cultivar
was named after him.”
We’ve highlighted just a handful of Devon’s array of gardens, but there are many more, great and small, that you should really take the time to seek out this summer – see our selection of other highlights for more ideas. Who knows, it may inspire you to create a mini countryside haven all of your own.
A la Ronde: a delightful spot, surrounding a quirky building, with a lovely bee garden.
Arlington Court and the National Trust Carriage Museum: diverse gardens, including a Victorian garden and kitchen garden
Buckland Abbey and Gardens: ‘an ancient gem in the Tavy Valley landscape’
Clovelly Court Gardens: charming walled gardens at the top of the iconic and historic north coast village
Coleton Fishacre: a ‘1920s country retreat complete with luxuriant garden by the sea’
Compton Castle: a fortified manor house, with a lovely rose garden open on selected days
Hartland Abbey and Gardens: A stunning house and estate, often used as a film location
GIVE IT A GO
Why not book a stay at Moorland Garden Hotel? Not only is it the perfect base for exploring the many beautiful gardens of Devon, it also boasts a stunning garden itself. So you don’t even need to leave the comfort of the grounds to immerse yourself in fine Devon countryside!
For more information visit: www.moorlandgardenhotel.co.uk
"Camellias have been associated with Greenway since, at least, the 1830s and every new owner has added to the collection over the generations."