The Garden House, Devon

I knew there must be an upside  to my son studying at Plymouth University, a 3 hour  drive from us, though I was a little slow to pick up on what it was.  My glee when I realised that The Garden House was only 30 mins drive from his student house cannot be described.  I have wanted to visit this garden for a couple of years now having seen it mention in various publications and having recently reviewed Keith Wiley’s On the Wild Side.  Whilst Keith Wiley has moved on to make a new garden The Garden House has continued to be developed by the new Head Gardener, Matt Bishop, who seems to be an extraordinary plantsman.

This weekend I had to collect my son for the Easter break and so a visit was in order. The top view is the one you see time and again on publicity about the garden.  This is The Cottage Garden although obviously not at the best time of year to see it.  The flowering trees you can see are Magnolias.  I have never seen so many Magnolias flowering so floriferously as at The Garden House – they were stunning and made the garden worth a visit on their own. The view above is up the Long Walk to the house. I have no idea why it is on an angle but there are quite a few that have come out this way and I know I was tired so I assume I was holding the camera wonky!

Of course its far too early for the South Africa garden to be in bloom and I suspect that I will never see it on my University trips as I cannot convince my son that he should wait until July to be collected!  Whilst a lot of the garden is dependent on annual  and later flowering perennials which haven’t appeared yet the grasses through the garden still provided movement and I particularly liked the composition at the entrance to the garden (above).

The main reason I enjoyed our visit so much was due to the spring flowers.  I adore small dainty spring flowers particularly Erythronium, Epimediums and Primulas – all of which were in plentiful supply.  Along with wonderful plantings of Fritillaria, Bluebells and other spring delights.  I wasn’t surprised to learn that The Garden House is building up National Plant Collections of Erythronium and Epimediums nor that there were a couple of irresistible Epimediums  that found their way home with me.

Interestingly whilst it was the area around the Long Walk that I thought I would really enjoy I was really taken with the Walled Garden which is the original garden dating back from the 1940s when it was developed by  the Fortescues.  I have been beguiled in recent years by meadow and prairie planting and I have disliked the formality of hedges and clipped box but I have noticed that recently whilst I like the wilder look I am becoming more and more drawn back to the Arts and Crafts style.  Even more interestingly is that this last week I have been looking at the work of Gertrude Jekyll on my garden history course.  Whilst The Garden House is later in date there is a definite Jekyll/Arts and Crafts influence on the Walled Garden. However, ducking round a corner we came across The Oval Garden, a newer creation, designed by Keith Wiley in 1992 as a way of linking the terraces.  It is such a clever design and my design student son took far too many photographs of the way the walls curve and merge.

We  caught a sneaky peak of the new Gold Jubilee Arboretum which is being developed. The arboretum covers 2 acres and will contain over 100 new trees “many of them recent introductions from the temperate zones of the world“.  If the rest of the garden is anything to go  by it will be worth visiting.

Having admired the structures and Magnolias etc my gaze was drawn suddenly downwards when we went across The Front Lawns.  My son’s cake was delayed whilst I was busy peering at the Primula collection and taking photos.  I hadn’t realised that there were so many old varieties but I think I will save those for another blog.

I am completely smitten by this garden and am already planning another visit at the end of May (son needs collecting at the end of the academic year) and September (oh son needs dropping off at start of academic year) and probably doing the same in the following 2 years.  Much to my son’s amusement on the way to the garden I was saying that we would have to find somewhere else to visit in May and then when we left the garden I said I would be back in May.  This is only the second garden I have come across which I want to visit time and time again – the other being Bryans Ground – and interestingly they have some similarities of style.  So having been exposed to countless styles of garden design and learnt through my course how landscapes have developed it seems my overriding passion is still for the Arts and Crafts period.

Author: Helen Johnstone

I live in Malvern, Worcestershire and am a very keen gardener. I started the Patient Gardener Blog in January 2008 as a way of recording what was happening in my garden and connecting with other like-minded people. I started a second blog PatientGardener 365 January 2013 in order to try and post a photo a day to capture what is growing in my garden or places I have visited

17 thoughts on “The Garden House, Devon”

  1. I loved that walled garden, and the spring blooms look lovely. I loved seeing the long view of the garden, even if it was a bit wonky. I look forward to seeing what this garden looks like in May!

  2. You’re so lucky to be able to visit magnificent gardens like this one. Maybe one day I’ll get back to England and see some that I missed, like this one, but I’ll never see more than a tiny fraction. The Oval Garden is amazing. As I get older, I am appreciating a more formal style of garden design and my own gardens are becoming a bit less “cottagey”. The Arts and Crafts style is a good balance, I think.

  3. I visited the The Garden House a couple of years ago, it was late May just before a visit to Chelsea. I too enjoyed it very much; thank you for reminding me of a very pleasant visit. Christina

    1. I’m not sure if its the same Matt Bishop but I will pop over to John Grimshaw’s blog and ask him. I wouldnt be surprised.

      On the primrose front I have found a nursery that stocks the old fashioned varities but I am now too scared to look properly as it could get very expensive

    2. Hi Carolyn

      John says it is the same Matt Bishop – if you ever come to the UK I think the Garden House would be a garden you would have to visit

  4. We visited last year, a gorgeous garden and the Ovals are a quirky sight to behold. It’s a shame that their collection of Kniphofias have severely reduced by previous harsher winters but looking forward to seeing how this garden develops with its new plantings.

  5. I hear Matt Bishop is about to make some very big changes at The Garden House, so you’ll be perfectly poised to see what happens!

    I went there in early June and the Africa beds were flowering well then, so you may be rewarded when you visit in May

  6. Have stood in the same spot as you with that beautiful church in the background. We have visited the Garden House some three times now and I would gladly return again and again. Sadly we have not managed a spring visit but it looks glorious in late summer. You will have to fit in Wildside too on your trips to and from Plymouth. Did you come across any Exmoor ponies on your way to the garden?

  7. It is a lovely garden, I visited many years ago when Keith Wiley was in charge and there was a section covered in bright orange daisies and some of the wild flower meadows were spectacular. Would love to visit again when I next get down to Devon. You are lucky to have some excuse to visit at different times of year. I stayed in an amazing B&B at Buckland Abbey called the cider house, with great gardens itself. Not sure whether that is still going.

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