Sunday 22 April 2012

Vision and views at The Garden House

Rhododendron schlippenbachii and bluebells under the row of old Tilia platyphyllos known as Ten Limes.

It seems incredible that in the almost two-and-a half years that I've been writing this diary I have not had the chance to visit The Garden House in Buckland Monachorum, Devon, widely regarded as one of the most beautiful and inspirational gardens in the country. It's all the more extraordinary given that Matt Bishop, the Head Gardener there, is one of my closest friends and colleagues, but we made up the deficit with a delightful visit over the weekend.

The Garden House garden was started by Lionel and Katharine Fortescue in the 1940s,  and quickly became renowned as a site of horticultural pilgrimage. Their plantings seem to have been confined to the area around the house (the former vicarage) and the walled garden with its medieval buildings and walls below it, but they established the tradition of fine plantsmanship and strong design that defines the Garden House to this day. To secure the future of the garden they established the Fortescue Garden Trust in 1961, vesting ownership in a body of trustees. The Fortescues appointed Keith Wiley as Head Gardener in 1978, a position he occupied until 2003, when he left to establish his own Wildside garden and nursery a little lower down the valley, and was succeeded by Matt Bishop.

The garden is full of good plants and was looking beautiful because of them, but the real strength of The Garden House is in its wealth of design features, and the vistas that open up as one moves around the garden: judicious thining in recent years has clarified or re-opened some of these, and their impact was particularly apparent on this visit. This post celebrates some of these vistas, created and developed by three great gardeners.

A view onto the Tennis Court Terrace, at the heart of Lionel Fortescue's Walled Garden.
A 'moongate' cut into a high Camellia hedge gives a view to the old buildings in the Walled Garden.

The famous view from the Long Walk to Buckland Monachorum church, where a lively peal was rung this morning.

Betula ermannii 'Grayswood Hill' and Acer palmatum at the end of the Long Walk.

Keith Wiley's Ovals Garden is a design classic, greatly strengthened by Matt Bishop's simplification of the planting scheme.
The double borders on the Bottom Terrace, reworked by Matt, with crisp hedges of Phillyrea angustifolia woven along their lengths.

A first view of the Golden Jubilee Arboretum: Matt Bishop's great new addition to the Garden House, celebrating the Trust's fiftieth anniversary. This bold scheme replaces an area of run-down nursery and junk and has been created to this stage since January: it will be opened to the public when the grass has established.


  1. hello John,
    i am lucky to came across your blog. i found your photographic technique absolutely amazing. your photos are really inviting, charming effect.
    i am going to explore more of your there post.
    just wonder which part of the world you live.
    thanks for sharing your beautiful world.

  2. Hi, thank you so much for this visit to the garden house. I would love to visit it myself one day...seems to be the most beautiful garden. Loved your first photo with the Rhododendron and the bluebells!
    Best regards.


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