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The Endsleigh Gardener: The far reaches of the estate by Ben Ruscombe-King (April 2019)

Spring is well and truly underway here at Endsleigh and is fast approaching its brilliant best. The Rhododendrons and azaleas are beginning to produce their dazzling colours, the Magnolias, somewhat more sophisticated, are blooming as well as I’ve seen them, untroubled by late frost (touch wood), and a few camellias are hanging on to join the party. The banks along the drive are covered in daffodils and primroses. Bluebells, wild garlic and wood anemones are about to burst forth in the dell and the trees are suddenly enveloped by that intense spring green. The border is brimming with promise: tulips, scilla, ipheon and muscari are dotted through the mounds of perennials racing for summer dominance, the flower buds of the alliums, camassia and asphedoline are swelling, soon to take over, the paeonies are stirring and the Euphorbias echo the iridescent green of the surrounding trees.

This year as the garden slumbered through the winter, the garden team decamped to the further reaches of the estate, opening up paths and rides in the as yet unexplored areas. We became heroic adventurers scrambling our way through the Himalayan foothills, fighting our way through impenetrable jungle, discovering rare exotic plants, eventually emerging to breathtaking views across a Caledonian valley. What became apparent was that the garden was once a miniature tour of the new worlds opening up to the owners. Whilst our work is by no means complete, there are now many more walks for the more adventurous visitors and much to explore. A path on the far side of the valley leads up behind the rockface through a tangle of Rhododendrons offering romantic glimpses of the house, rockery and waterfall. The beech wood at the top of the valley should be a sight for sore eyes in a couple of weeks, carpeted as it is with bluebells and the transition as the Duke’s drive moves from woodland to open country at the top of the valley is truly breathtaking. The areas that we have cleared throw up little surprises, as long-forgotten clumps of daffodils and orchids awake after years hidden in the shadows of bramble and the ubiquitous rhododendron ponticum. We also imagined ourselves Victorian plant hunters as we came across Podocarpus, Fitzroya and Cunninghammia trees amongst the undergrowth and peeled back blankets of ivy from swamp cypress. We explored from Chile to China via the swamps of southern USA all without leaving this little corner of Devon.

The garden was created in the early 19th century as a pleasure ground for the Duke and Duchess of Bedford, where they could live out their fantasies. There is a picturesque dairy in the gardens where the Duchess used to play at being a dairy maid as well as a grotto and shell house. As you can see, it still inspires fantasy in the staff looking after it, but probably more so for those coming to stay as they can experience the magic of the garden whilst enjoying the luxurious hospitality and live out their own fantasies whether it be as dairy maid or peer of the realm.