The Endsleigh Gardener Summer 2024

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The Endsleigh Gardener: Oh to be at Endsleigh in the summertime! by Ben Ruscombe-King (July 2019)

As the heat of the summer takes hold and seemingly everyone heads down to the south west to join the throng on the beaches or the herds trooping through the various picturesque fishing villages, there is one corner of Devon that offers blissful respite from the hordes. Set on the banks of the Tamar, Endsleigh is an oasis of calm, where one can while away the long hot summer days in timeless fashion, lunch on the terrace, a game of croquet, a walk through the picturesque Repton designed gardens or perhaps a siesta beneath the long border, disturbed only by the bewitching scent wafting down from the rose walk. 
Endsleigh was built by the 6th Duke of Bedford and Duchess Georgina and was conceived as a fantasy escape for them, their large family and a few select friends. They would decamp here several times a year, to escape the outside world and enjoy the simpler things in life, albeit with plenty of fine food and wine. The Duchess played at being a dairymaid in her thatched dairy in the dell and the Duke surveyed his domain from his Swiss Cottage high on the hill. The landscape was played upon by their imagination with shell grottoes and souterrains, waterfalls and cascades creating a romantic playground. The gardens are largely unchanged from the original design and through the passage of time and the influence of mother nature, are perhaps even more romantic than at their inception.

A wander through the bottom of the dell in the height of summer can both soothe and stimulate in equal measure. Walk past Repton’s waterfall, below the rockery and one can imagine oneself in a player in a Claude Lorraine landscape painting, then a change of mood as one is dwarfed by a verdant tunnel of huge, primeval, Gunnera manicata emerging at the other side to a gentle primula lined cascade tumbling down the slope. All the while the Edgecumbe stream provides a soundtrack to one’s adventure, one minute gushing through a narrow aperture in the rocks, the next gently burbling its way over the flat stones towards the Tamar.

The planting along the cascade in the dell is developing well, candelabra primulas are still flowering alongside Primula viallii and the beautifully scented Primula florindiae. Astilbe japonica is now pushing forth its feathery pink plumes, Iris ensata is in full flower and the Hostas have largely escaped the predation of slugs and snails. The success of this area has encouraged us to develop it further and hopefully the area will improve year on year, adding more colour to the dell in the summer.

The long border is looking glorious at the moment backed as it is by the 100 metre long rose walk in full flower. Last year I gave the Delphiniums and Lupins a final warning and told them if they didn’t perform this year they were coming out, it’s worked a dream, they both started flowering early and are still going strong, giving the best show ever. The border is reaching its mid-summer crescendo at the moment, in shades of blue (Catanache caerula, Salvia ‘Carradonna’, Geranium ‘Rozanne’), pink (Persicaria, Digitalis, Dierama, Geranium X thurstonianum) and deep red (Cirsium rivulare, Knautia macedonica) with occasional yellow spires of Verbascum and Kniphofia, it is looking almost tasteful at the moment. This however will not last long, we added bright magenta flowered Lychnis coronaria a couple of years ago, to add a little energy, this has self seeded a bit too close to the orange Helenium ‘Moorheim Beauty’ which is just coming into flower, a colour clash is inevitable.

A colour clash in the border however is the only thing likely to upset the peace and tranquillity in this bucolic idyll, so if battling the crowds at the beach is not your idea of a relaxing break why not head for Endsleigh and truly get away from it all.