By Stewart Henchie
The promised weekend started off at Torre Abbey Garden and glasshouse on a warm but overcast Friday afternoon. Fifteen of us were greeted and guided around the garden and glasshouse by the infectious and enthusiastic Head Gardener Ali Marshall.
Ali gave us the detailed history and background of the garden behind the main house on what was originally the canon’s cemetery in monastic times. She had started work there in 2008. The standard and care of the garden is high taking into account the amount of staff and volunteers she has at her disposal. She showed us a themed Agatha Christie the Queen of Crime garden of mainly potent plants arranged in an informative way many mentioned in Agatha’s books. The garden also has an extensive collection of tender plants housed in a large Hartley glasshouse –Palm House built in 1969. A Knot garden and apple orchard with old Devon varieties under planted with wild flowers has been planted. To provide further interest, a children’s Medieval Garden to provide activities for families and is divided by paths into four distinct sensory spaces of touch, taste, colour and smell. If all of this was not enough for us, we then able to visit the 800 Years Gallery in the main house with a mixture of interactive displays, historic objects, portraits, art work and information panels telling the history of the Abbey since 1196.
Saturday started off in a warm mist of Dartmoor meeting volunteer guide John Whiting at the lower car park for Haytor. We all set off enthusiastically embracing the surroundings of the wild, wet, muddy, cow and horse ‘pat’ strewn grassy areas! John our guide somehow managed to get us to avoid the obstacles and engage us all, and pointed out wild plants of note, birds, and how the landscape had been changed and used over its many years in existence. After our three and half hours guided walk we finished fully informed of the surrounding area, including Haytor itself at 457m above sea level.
Now, for the drive across Dartmoor to The Garden House at Buckland Monachorum, Yelverton.
As we drove over the wild Dartmoor National Park the sun finally burst through the mist and the surrounding landscape was hopefully something to remember. To make it a little more exciting and challenging, we took the route via Widecombe in the Moor, Dartmeet, Two Bridges, Princetown, avoiding the prison! Yelverton to Buckland Monachorum.
The Garden House is a different type of garden. We were met at the entrance by William Stanger a three -year trainee as a part of the Professional Gardeners Guild, who guided us at a good pace over part of the 10acre site An imaginatively planted two -acre terraced walled garden centred on the ruins of a 16th century vicarage was visited. This area was extensively planted with a wide range of tender, uncommon and exotic plants arranged in a pleasing way to show off their unique colour, texture and form. We were also shown the ’New Naturalism’ style of planting developed on six acres in the western part of the garden by a previous Head Gardener, Keith Wiley. Finally we were guided around the two-acre Jubilee Arboretum planted by Head Gardener Matt Bishop to commemorate 50 years of the Fortescue Trust, using 100 carefully selected trees of interest and note. Nick Haworth who unfortunately was not available to guide us now manages the garden. After all of this we were then all ready to demolish a ‘proper’ Devon Cream tea with lots jam and cream!
Later in the evening after a full day we all sat down to a meal at the Smugglers Inn, Dawlish.
Sunday dawned bright and sunny, with the morning adventure of steam train ride, ferry and river cruise.
Sixteen of us were due to meet at Paignton Station at 10.30am and we set off in our booked carriage called ‘Madeline’ to Kingswear; our president seemed to be a happy man at this stage of the proceedings! At Kingswear we promptly got off the train and embarked onto the ferry across to Dartmouth and immediately onto a circular river cruise on the Dart. The sun was now finally out, and in the glorious sunshine we cruised up and down the river Dart with the captain of the cruiser entertaining us with useful and some dubious information!
We then did the journey again in reverse to Paignton and made our way to the National Trust property, Coleton Fishacre.
We were met at the entrance by the Senior Gardener Martyn Pepper who took us around the garden. The site conditions are so mild and sheltered in some cases it resembles the plantings you would find inside the Temperate House at Kew! We did not visit the beautiful house on the site built of local stone in the 1920’s situated on the southern slope of the sheltered valley of the whole garden. Martyn gave us a great and interesting tour showing us lots of plants, which puzzled some of our members as to their identity. So much so that many said they would visit again to look at the house and gaze out at the amazing views from the valley to the sea.