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The Endsleigh Gardener: The sun is lower in the sky, mists swirl around blocking out the outside world by Ben Ruscombe-King (November 2020)

Wandering through the garden at this time of year is an exercise in reflection, of reviewing and taking stock. Although the untrammelled hope and enthusiasm of spring have now been tempered by the unexpected or unplanned for realities, it is now that the germs begin to form in our heads, to be mulled over, through the dark winter months, ready to burst forth when the time is again ripe. 

The garden itself seems to encourage contemplation, the sun is lower in the sky, colours are more muted, plants withdraw into themselves and mists swirl around blocking out the outside world. The whole place is more intimate and secluded and encourages a certain introspection. There is however no lack of beauty to behold, not the obvious ‘in your face’ beauty of spring and summer but something to be sought out and altogether more evocative. Look upwards and the once impenetrable canopy, now diminished, lets through beams of low autumn light. The reds, oranges and yellows of the leaves light up, the native beech and oak combine with more exotic Japanese Acers, Gingkos and Halesia to create an almost stained glass effect. Look down at the intricate patterns of seed heads, or the fascinating shapes and rich colours of the fallen leaves. Breath deeply and take in the distinctive aroma of autumn: mellow earthiness and woodsmoke overlaid with a toffee apple sweetness from Katsura and Douglas firs. Listen to the sounds of the water and wildlife that echo around the valley, somehow more resonant now as the muffling, vegetation begins to disappear.

The borders are still full of colour with anemone, sedums and asters jostling for supremacy, whilst persicarias, kalimeris, ceratostigma, salvias, knautia, verbena and perovskia (recently renamed and now just another sage) will keep on flowering until the first frosts. The colour is now more muted than high summer but none the worse for it. The cornus, cotinus and fothergilla add autumn tints to the mix and the backdrop of the trees in their resplendent autumn wardrobe creates a picture as inspiring as anything the summer has to offer. Add to this the mists that snake along the Tamar valley as the sun rises and you have the timeless atmosphere that so encapsulates Endsleigh.

The Dell to me is the most atmospheric part of the garden, but that atmosphere is somehow distilled in the autumn, it has a rarified magical quality quite unlike anywhere else. The ghosts of the past are palpable, yet not overbearing, it is of the past but in the present and has somehow taken on a life of its very own. We try to manage the garden with this magic in mind, trying to hold the garden in that stasis between nurture and abandonment, though this is not the easy option it might at first sound. I was approached by a visitor a few weeks ago who commented that the garden seemed untouched, I think he meant it in a positive way though I’m not entirely sure. My response was that it takes a great deal of work, to make a garden look this uncared for. A rock covered in moss and ferns would be covered in nettles and brambles if left to its own devices. Similarly the wildflower filled banks would become knotweed or hogweed thickets without intervention. I love the idea of the garden feeling light of touch but effortless it is not.

Endsleigh has much to offer at this time of year, from the terrace in front of the hotel one can sit and contemplate the colour filled long border with views across the mist enveloped Tamar and surrounding autumn hued woodland. Whilst for the more intrepid visitor there are hours of adventures to be had crunching through autumn leaves, along hidden paths and up secret stairways, through dak tunnels and shell filled grottoes, over rustic bridges and crashing waterfalls, with miles of walks through the woods and along the river. With one’s appetite for exploration sated, the perfect end to a perfect adventure is to sit in front of a roaring fire in the drawing room, perhaps with one of Endsleigh’s legendary cream teas or maybe something a little stronger.