Spring Break / Escape to Endsleigh

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The Endsleigh Gardener: I am indeed a lucky man, to spend most of my days in such a beautiful place by Ben Ruscombe-King
May 2022

It is easy when one looks after a garden to concentrate on what’s wrong, rather than appreciate what’s right, this is often exacerbated in the spring when the weeds are growing so fast and one is running out of time to do all those things one meant to do in the quieter months. This morning as I walked the gardens looking for errors and omissions, I was shaken from my negativity. The sun was shining; the birds were singing; bluebells, campion, primroses and wild garlic carpeted the slopes; rhododendrons and azalea flared around every corner; the air was filled with the sweet scent of Rhododendron luteum and every now and then a waft of breeze brought blossom tumbling, confetti like, from the mountain snowbell tree. I was forced to accept that I was indeed a lucky man, to spend most of my days in such a beautiful place and that it was truly good to be alive. The rest of my walk was filled with wonder and awe, as I experienced the gardens as if for the first time and was struck by how much of this garden, despite my tendency to see the contrary, is absolutely right.

In The Dell, wild and exotic intermingle, candelabra primulas poke their tiered flowers through the feathery young leaves of shuttlecock ferns, nodding heads of bluebells jostle with hostas and the sword like leaves of flag iris offer an interesting contrast to the circular leaves of ligularia. We add and edit but try not overbear. The wild flowers are largely given free rein, though campion is removed before too much seed is set and wild garlic is removed in places to encourage other less thuggish plants to thrive. Some of the more exotic species can also run riot.  Gunnera manicata, from Brazil, has made itself at home along the bottom of the valley and is in the process of transforming The Dell from a genteel spring garden into a seething jungle. If it were not given boundaries, it would soon take over. Some might say it already has.

During the winter we have been working on a circular walk, creating a path through the bluebell woods from the Duke of Bedford’s carriage drive, back to The Dell. From the lookout at the top of the drive there are panoramic views across the valley and one can see the scale of the Duchess Georgiana’s ambition, not content with her hundred-acre pleasure garden, she set about turning this little corner of Devon into a reminder of her Scottish homeland. The woodlands that clothe the banks of the Tamar are transformed as far as the eye can see by the addition of half a million Scots Pines, grown in the nurseries at Endsleigh. As one follows the path down through gnarled and twisted rhododendron woods there are glimpses across the valley back to the hotel with Repton’s waterfall crashing over the rocks below. The path brings to mind mountain tracks in the Himalayas and suddenly my mind is filled with plans for Himalayan inspired planting up the side of the valley. I fear I must hold them in check for now: so many plans, so little time.

In the formal gardens the long border is now coming into its own, with Hesperis, Irises, Camassia and Asphedoline in full flower, the scene dotted with Alliums and Cirsium. Splashes of energising spring green are provided by Euphorbias and Cornus alba ‘Aurea’, Lupins and Delphinium offer a nod to tradition and white geraniums add a bit of froth. The gaps in the border disappear at such speed at this time of year, that the annuals grown to fill them, which always seem insufficient in April, will have to be shoehorned in by the beginning of June. The roses along the Rose Walk are just beginning to break bud and will hopefully be flowering just in time for Endsleigh’s Jubilee celebrations on June 5.