In the post-war years, when the owners of many stately homes gifted their houses and gardens to the National Trust, no longer able to afford the upkeep, a new breed of garden-makers emerged. Among them, Walter and Margery Fish at East Lambrook Manor Gardens and Lionel and Katharine Fortescue at The Garden House.
Yesterday, I broke my return journey from Cornwall to see for myself this little corner of heaven. The Garden House is located near the village of Buckland Monachorum, to the west of Dartmoor ‘in a small valley running west down to the Tavy’*. Known as ‘the Lion’, Lionel Fortescue bought the former vicarage and 10 acres of land in 1945. He retired as head of languages at Eton and proceeded to create what has become ‘one of the finest gardens in Britain’, according to the garden’s website. A bold claim but a fair one: I was bowled over by the place.
The garden is made up of three distinct sections: walled garden, arboretum and, in the western and largest section, six acres planted in the ‘New Naturalism’ style. I confess to having been ignorant of the importance of this garden until now, but reading the very informative The Garden House Story’ booklet has introduced me to the work of Keith Wiley**, Head Gardener at The Garden House from 1978 to 2003. He helped pioneer the New Naturalism where trees, shrubs, perennials and seeds are blended to make it appear they have developed together naturally.
I’m going to let my photographs speak for themselves, starting with a map of the gardens. As a guide, my route was to walk down into the Walled Garden via the Bowling Green and Lower Terraces, enjoyed the view from the tower (!), meandered through the Arboretum, then along to the unique raised beds of The Ovals. From there I entered the Bulb Meadow and was delighted to find a Wisteria Bridge which is going to be laden with flowers in a week or so, given some warmer temperatures. I followed the Jungle Path towards the Cottage Garden and Wildflower Meadow, returning to the excellent plant sales area via the Quarry and Summer Gardens.
I’d vowed not to buy any plants on this holiday, but I succumbed to an almost black and very reasonably priced (£3) Auricula, and a small vintage terracotta pot which I was told came from a store of pots used at the property! Perhaps handled by the Lion himself?
The Arboretum. Opened in 2013, it contains over 100 new trees.
Return to The Walled Garden
Kew Gardens, 30 April 2023
** Keith Wiley published ‘On the Wild Side, Experiments in New Naturalism’ in 2004.