The Garden House, a garden description
This page is a narrative of a walk around the garden, including plants and a potted history about some of the garden areas. For information about the history of the garden and the head gardeners, view here.
The Acer Glade
The Acer Glade slopes away to the North towards the arched bridge, and contains an excellent collection of different forms of Japanese Maple, Acer palmatum. These range from filigree-leaved ‘Kinshii’ to the lower mounding ‘Inaba-shidare’. All assume dazzling shades from gold through to orange and crimson in October – colourful once more as the leaves emerge in spring. The turf beneath the acers plays host to countless Crocus tommasinianus followed by carpets of blue and double-flowered Wood Anemone.
Towards the bottom of the Acer Glade a path veers around to the right following a gentle incline up the rhododendron walk, flanked on both sides by many species and hybrids from this amazing genus, at their best in April and May.
Towering above this section of the garden is an avenue of enormous Lime Trees providing a link to the last vicar of Buckland Monachorum, Amos Crymes who lived in the original vicarage in the walled garden. Over 21 years from 1751 his wife Elizabeth, bore 15 children and a lime is said to have been planted for each of them who survived infancy. Seven magnificent limes are still with us today.
Beneath the limes a path curves its way in the same general direction as the rhododendron walk, through grass densely populated with bluebells and erythroniums and varied plantings of startling blue Hydrangea, flowering from July onwards.
The Bulb Meadow
From the Rhododendron Walk, cross the wisteria bridge, festooned in May with cultivars including the pink W. floribunda ‘Honibeni’ and bizarre double-flowered W. floribunda ‘Violacea Plena’, to The Bulb Meadow.
From late January to mid April, the ground in this area heaves with countless numbers of bulbs beginning with the first snowdrops, cyclamen and iris, and moving on through dwarf daffodils such as the frightened looking Narcissus cyclamineus with its swept back petals. April sees one of the finest colonies in the country of Erythronium revolutum, carpeting the ground under the boughs of a large Magnolia x loebneri.
Below is the dovecote built as a memorial to William and Helena Heath at the request of a great benefactor to The Garden House, Mrs Dorothy Harris. In her will Mrs Harris established the William and Helena Heath Scholarship in the name of her parents. This fund provides for the employment and annual placement of a horticultural student at The Garden House.
The Cottage Garden
The Cottage Garden surrounds a seemingly ancient ruin, built just over 25 years ago to look like the walls of a tumbledown cottage.
Visitors often say it is their favourite part of the garden. It combines great swathes of colour with generous planting. In the height of summer it would be hard to find a single space to place another seed.
Creating a garden that looks as though it has been carelessly put together and designed by nature is really quite tricky. The staging of this part of the garden requires more time than is spent on any other section of the garden.
The long flowering season of the cottage garden from April to October is due to a diverse range of planted material as well as taking advantage of what arrives by itself – we allow certain British natives to seed around for early colour, some such as forget-me-nots and campions in profusion, only to be ruthlessly removed when the space is wanted for something else.
The season for this area starts with forms of geum and aquilegia. By the middle of May the first poppies are in flower, joined shortly by foxgloves and the first astrantias and Centaurea montana. Camassias and a pale lemon flowered form of field buttercup, Ranunculus acris, link the cottage to the meadow beyond.
By mid summer the mixture in the cottage garden is richer still with Athemis tinctoria in shades of rich yellow to almost white. Other perennials include Knautia macedonica, various potentillas, forms of Salvia nemorosa, Lychnis coronaria, Oenothera and Nepeta. Colour comes also from skeletal tracery of Verbena bonariensis and annuals sown and planted into gaps. Most striking of these are the corn marigolds, blue flax and deceptively delicate Gilia tricolor.
The colourful wands of dierama in July hover above the lower plantings whilst slender stems of the pale starry-flowered Bidens heterophylla combines with asters for colour later on.
Front lawn and borders
When the Fortescues lived here, apart from planting a few trees in an adjoining field that would later become the Long Walk, the garden was essentially bounded by the ancient walls of the walled garden and the drive way. The front garden, overlooked by the house is dominated by an enormous Rhododendron arboreum with pink flowers. Surrounding the finely manicured front lawns which sweep towards the house are beds which contain a vast range of unusual woody plants including Magnolia, Hoheria, Euchryphia, Kalmia and hydrangeas for a long season of colour. To the left on the driveside is a magnificent Cornus controversa ‘Variegata’, known aptly as the wedding cake tree due to its distinctly tiered branches. This tree is a champion tree of Devon. we hope it will be measured again soon and found to be the champion tree of England!
Of particular note are some superb examples of the mealy-leaved yakushimanum Rhododendron the parent of so many excellent hybrids and R. campanulatum subsp. aeruginosum whose spring foliage captivates visitors with its turquoise hues. Woody material in the front garden is combined or under-planted with a large array of perennials, notably hostas, rodgersia, brunnera, aconitums and asters.
At the lowest level are huge numbers of unusual bulbs, the season for which begins with the first colchicums in September through a six month season from the snowdrop collection and on through daffodils, erythroniums to the last ornithogalums in June.
Wander into the arboretum from the lower terrace or follow the driveway behind the house. It has a quarter mile of wheelchair-friendly paths, that curve gently up the wide slope. Look out from any vantage point and enjoy views of a lake, bridges and cascades, as well as rolling Devon hills.
The trees are maturing, and this spring we enjoyed a show of blossom from some of the spring flowering varieties. In the autumn the foliage colours are varied and in years to come we expect the arboretum to rival our famous Acer Glade. The gardeners have begun to mow the arboretum with wide paths through the long grass. This has opened up new vantage points and helped make the area a welcoming place to enjoy long views and while away time with a good book. Children take note, it's a very good place to roll down a grassy bank!
The Long Walk
n 1993, the field known as ‘Ten Trees’ stretching westwards from the house was developed into an extension of the original garden. It was planted with trees, shrubs, perennials and bulbs in an unfamiliar style which was evolved at The Garden House. This style became known as ‘New Naturalism.’ The former field was named The Long Walk, which is three principal vistas merging into one.
The first is towards the circle of granite standing stones at the garden’s western-most boundary. The iconic view towards St Andrew's church in Buckland Monachorum is the second of the three views. It appears about half way along the Long Walk at the Cottage Garden when the Cornish hills come into view and the church is nestled in a green backdrop. In 2016 we opened up the original view of the church, by extending the main path to the left, up to the turkey oaks in an area known as the dell. The final vista is across the bulb meadow, and is best seen from the top summer house.
Enjoy the garden and stay a while on one of the many benches in the long walk. Often the only sound you will hear is birdsong – or just possibly the hum of a mower!
The Quarry Garden
Immediately above the cottage garden, the steep banks of the quarry garden come into view. Much of the stone used at The Garden House originated from this area which was sculpted with a digger into steep well-drained banks of shaley, fertile soil. Taking full advantage of the frost drainage they provide, the planting includes a colony of the tender spreader, Euphorbia stygiana. Elsewhere, Salvia, Phlomis, Cistus and Perovskia intermingle with Alchemilla mollis and Potentilla recta.
The area also features a deep cleft with a series of pools and tumbling cascades. Here the populations of tadpoles and water boatmen are a delight to children (especially!). To the right the path winds towards an oak-framed summer house that offers shelter during periods of inclement weather as well as panoramic views.
Pass by the bank where the planting has taken its cue from wild alpine turf. Here the rare native pulsatillas begin the season with silky clumps of nodding violet bells. They are followed by a summer carpet dominated by of Phlox, Thyme and Helianthemum, all viciously cut back after flowering. Broadening the season of interest, the planting also features colonies of Roscoea humeana, Dierama pauciflorum and Greek Chamerion dodonaei.
On entering the long walk, the first garden area you will see is designed to give a sense of rhythm, with repeated form and colour over a long flowering period. The Summer Garden, designed by Head Gardener, Nick Haworth, gives maximum ‘flower power’ from herbaceous plants with a repeated structural foil provided by grasses. Staff at the plant centre say they often hear the "wows" as visitors see it for the first time. Although designed for the summer, this garden holds well into Autumn. We have the luxury of space to develop a repeated pattern, but there are plenty of ideas here to take home and try out on a smaller scale.
Planting includes low drifts of Geranium, Potentilla, Astrantia, Persicaria, Geum and Echinacea interspersed with Stipa and Calamagrostis grasses. Medium height drifts of Eryngium, Astilbe, Sanguisorba and Rogersia merge with these and the taller plantings of Lythrum, Eupatorium, Actaea and Helenium. All are interspersed with the imposing, high-impact grasses of Miscanthus and Molinia.
The Walled Garden is the two acre core of the garden created by the Fortescues.
Within the walls there are a number of garden areas.
The iconic medieval tower is all that remains of a three-storied building. Stone built with a slate roof, it had a oak-panelled parlour on the ground floor, a hall, buttery, beer-house and cellar. On the first floor were four bedrooms and a study; above were three more bedrooms and another room. Today the tower acts as the flight of stairs connecting the Lower Terrace and Tennis Court Terrace. It is also a wonderful viewing platform.
Across from the tower is a thatched barn which, in medieval times served as kitchen to the main house – separated due to the risk of fire. The thatch was replaced in the spring of 2017.
This part of the garden is another 'show-stopper' coming into its own from June right through to mid autumn (depending on frosts for dahlias). On either side of the grass path is a narrow serpentine hedge of Phillyrea angustifolia, which cleverly divides border areas, leads the eye along and provides a backdrop to colourful planting. The scheme features deep purple foliage of Actaea simplex ‘Black Negligee’, architectural Angelica gigas, and bronze fennel. These dark colours contrast with bright dahlia, phlox, potentillas and astilbes. High summer sees the arching spires of Lilium henryi, its chocolate spots echoed in Dahlia ‘Dark Desire’. The warmth of the scheme is tempered by long-blooming Nepeta grandiflora ‘Bramdean’ and Geranium ‘Rosanne’.
The small sunken garden beyond the barn is reached by a curving path around a nineteenth century granite turn-table base for the horse-drawn railway in the former local mining industry. This is the hottest section within the walls, previously the site for a peach house. The choice of plants for this suntrap includes fuchsia, crocosmia and dark Agapanthus inapertus ‘Graskop’ contrasting with exotic eryngiums and melianthus.
Tennis Court Terrace
There is an incredible range of shades on offer from our shrubs, all the way from the gold of the rare Quercus robur ‘Concordia’ to the contrasting red and green of Photinia x fraserii ‘Red robin’ and deep purple of Cotinus ‘Grace’. A fine display of hostas (the variegated ‘Frances Williams’ notable among them) interplanted with a splendid Euphorbia griffithii ‘Fireglow’. Over-hanging this bed is the bee-attracting Hoheria ‘Glory of Amlwch’.
Look for signs of the medieval vicarage; including the staircase with its newel post and the terrace stonework where horizontal remains give way to vertical stonework.
Bowling Green Terrace
The summer house overlooking the Ovals Garden is on The Bowling Green Terrace. We have letters from Sir Francis Drakes’ sister when she lived in the original vicarage so we like to think that Drake (who lived at the nearby Buckland Abbey – well worth a visit) may have had a practice for his game on Plymouth Hoe before he took on the Spanish Armada.
The terrace is home to a number of rhododendron hybrids, several of Fortescue’s raising, their parentage variously involving, R. ‘Hawk’, R. wardii and R. campylocarpum. There are also fine specimens of the scarlet ‘Tally-Ho’ and perfectly formed butter yellow R. ’Hotei’.
On the other side of the path stands a magnificent Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Nana Gracilis’, an example of careful pruning to enhance its aged appearance – like a large bonsai.
At the far end are blue R. augustinii, one of Fortescue’s great favourites and collected by him in its variable shades. The Prospect steps are known as Tom’s Steps after Tom Hooper who worked in the garden for over 50 years!
On this terrace are two unusual evergreens, Pseudowintera colorata, with striking pink leaf undersides, and behind, Lomatia ferruginea.
An informal camellia hedge runs almost the length of this terrace to a large ‘moon-gate’ which offers a fine view to the tennis court terrace and tower.
The timber annexe was built at the end of the 19th century and was once the Sunday school, hence the ecclesiastical windows. It is now accommodation for one of our horticultural students. At the far end of the terrace are fine examples of Magnolia x loebneri ‘Leonard Messel’ and, above it, an unusual upright form of M. salicifolia, both a spectacle in Spring.
A gently curving mown grass path cuts its way through a large belt of grass beneath the birch wood. Perfect for ambling on a summer day, watching the butterflies and enjoying the connection with nature. Barefoot is fine with us.
The meadow is only mown between the second week of September and late October, a regime timed to the seeding of a population of the June flowering Southern Marsh Orchid, Dactylorhiza praetermissa. To reduce the soil fertility and the vigour of grass species present all mowings are removed. In addition we have added Yellow Rattle, Rhinathus minor which is a semi-parasite on grass species and also helps reduce its growth.
Our aim with the meadow is to encourage diversity in the species that will tolerate these conditions, the most obvious of which are the bulbs. There is a strain of Camassia leichtlinii which ranges in shades from cream to old rose, through every shade of blue and even purple with blends and bicolors to boot! These flower with the gorgeous grey green Ornithogalum nutans and Fritillaria meleagris (Snakes Head Fritillary) which define the curve of the grass path as they flower in April.Camellia Walk
Each year we also add new non-bulbous species. Recently these have included, Geranium pratense, Catananche and Thalictrum as well as an exquisite pale lemon-flowered form of the Field Buttercup, Ranunculus acris and a double-flowered form of this species.