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The Endsleigh Gardener: Water takes centre stage by Ben Ruscombe-King (November 2019)

The onset of autumn is now undeniable here at Endsleigh, the nights are drawing in, the temperature is dropping and the aroma of woodsmoke and gentle decay hang heavy in the air. 

All is not lost however, for whilst autumn does not boast the exuberance of summer, it holds subtler, more reflective, charms. Autumn has a much more elemental feel to it as the trees and shrubs take on the hues of the very earth from which they hail. The yellow ochre, burnt sienna and cadmium red in the tree canopy bring the landscape to the fore, the whole, rather than the detail becomes the object of attention and consequently one’s place within it becomes apparent, no longer the master of one’s surroundings but merely a player within them. This is important for any gardener but especially here at Endsleigh, for it is easy to lose oneself in the charms of individual plants and the trials of growing them and forget about the picture as a whole and here the genius loci has always been the driving force behind the gardens. Even at the garden’s inception in the early 19th century, Humphry Repton doubted his ability to do justice to the naturally occurring beauty and described the site as “the most picturesque subject upon which I have been professionally consulted”. It is this natural beauty which dictates everything we do at Endsleigh and whilst we can try to enhance and embellish we can never hope to dominate it.

At this time of year there is still much to admire in the long borders, which will continue flowering until we get our first taste of frost. Sedum, Perscaria and Cotinus echo the autumnal tints of the valley beyond and the asters, ceratostigma, perovskia and kalimeris add the blues so prevalent in late season borders. Roses valiantly continue to flower, though perhaps not as elegantly as at their peak and plants that deport themselves well through their decline are allowed to remain to augment the autumnal scene. In the rockery the show is even better now than at any other time of year, the Enkianthus stands sentinel in his flame red uniform whilst the surrounding azaleas, flowering schizostylis, gently fading ferns and black fruited hypericum add yellows, purples and reds to the scene. Down below in the Dell the fairytale dairy pokes its thatched roof out of the mist that swirls around the valley. Endsleigh is perhaps at its most magical at this time of year as the mists bridge the gap between past and present creating an atmosphere that is almost palpable.

In the Dell the water begins to take centre stage under the artful direction of Humphry Repton. His streams, cascades and waterfalls that through the summer have taken a back seat, gently meandering down the valley to the Tamar, now begin to demand attention as they hurl themselves over outcrops and crash over rocks in their haste to reach the Tamar and the sea beyond. The rock faces and crags also reappear from their verdant camouflage and one begins to make sense of the garden layout and what Repton intended.

Perhaps the most perfect thing about autumn at Endsleigh is that orange glow in the windows of the house that guides you home and the warmth of the log fires that greet you as you wearily push your way over the threshold after your great adventure.