The Garden House is the elegant former home of the vicars of Buckland Monachorum. The present building dates from the early 19th century and now accommodates the tearooms and conference centre. The history of this 8-acre garden is closely entwined with that of Buckland Abbey and the local church. In 1305 the Bishop instructed the Abbot to build a house for the parish priest and this site was chosen. At the dissolution of the monasteries, the abbot became the vicar of Buckland Monachorum and by the early 1700s, the vicarage consisted of a substantial 3-storey dwelling. The remains of this building, a tower with spiral staircase and a thatched barn, formerly the kitchen, are now the romantic ruins in the Walled Garden.
A modern vicarage was built in the 1920s and The Garden House was sold as a private dwelling. The house came onto the market again just after the Second World War and was purchased and given its present name by Lionel Fortescue, a retiring master at Eton, and his wife Katharine. Lionel was the son of a Newlyn school painter and had a good eye for colour as well as being an exacting plantsman. Lionel and Katharine immediately set about renovating and developing their garden whilst running a thriving market garden business, providing stock plants for growers in the Tamar Valley, and managing a herd of Jersey dairy cattle.
Over nearly 40 years, the Fortescues created a garden viewed as one of the finest in Britain. By 1961, they had established the Fortescue Garden Trust, an independent registered charity to which they bequeathed the house and garden to ensure the survival of this beautiful place for future generations. After their deaths in the early 1980s, ownership passed to the charity which to this day maintains the Fortescue’s lovely legacy.
The second phase of development took place under Keith Wiley who was appointed by Lionel and spent 25 years as Head Gardener. Keith took the 6 acres of paddocks to the far side of the road into cultivation from 1990, creating a series of gardens that take their inspiration from the natural world. Keith left in 2003 to concentrate on writing and creating his own nursery, Wildside Plants.
Matt Bishop was the Head Gardener from 2003 and he is particularly well-known for his expertise on snowdrops and bulbs. Matt left The Garden House in autumn 2012 to set up his own business ‘Matt Bishop Snowdrops’. Nick Haworth, previously Head Gardener at NT Greenway, took over in January 2013. Nick’s brief is to care for and respect the legacies of his predecessors whilst ensuring, just as they did, that The Garden House remains a crucible of new ideas and new plants, at the cutting edge of horticultural excellence and innovation. He has undertaken a major refurbishment of the original Fortescue garden as well as ongoing maintenance in other areas to ensure a long opening season of glorious colour and variety. This has been an excellent opportunity to introduce many new plants whilst continuing Lionel’s principle of using only the best forms and cultivars avaialble.
Nick has two horticultural students under training here and a small team of dedicated staff and volunteers who care for the garden.