Spring Break / Escape to Endsleigh

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The first signs of spring

By Ben Ruscombe-King, The Endsleigh Gardener

Endsleigh was conceived of as a fishing lodge and secret hideaway by the 6th Duke of Bedford and the Duchess Georgina, it was an idealised vision of the Duchess’ childhood in Scotland, though set on the banks of the Tamar in Devon. The picturesque gardens are filled with romantic whimsy: a shell grotto, a Swiss cottage, a marble clad dairy, secret tunnels, waterfalls, cascades and a hundred metre rose arch adorn the sequestered valley. The house and gardens served as a fantasy playground for the Duke and Duchess and their favoured guests, a sanctuary where the world outside could be left far behind.

Two hundred years on and little has changed, pass the thatched entrance lodge, descend the mile-long rhododendron lined drive, the 21st century disappears in the distance and one becomes a player in the duchess’ fantasy. Not content with creating a hundred-acre pleasure ground, the Duke and Duchess set about the remodelling of the whole river valley, planting some half a million Scots pines on the opposite bank of the Tamar, furthering the Caledonian illusion and adding to the secluded nature of the landscape.

Some half a million Scots pines on the opposite bank of the Tamar

Humphry Repton, who designed the garden, was inspired by the nature around him but certainly did not want his art to be mistaken for nature and in many ways this is how we maintain Endsleigh today. We encourage wild flowers and ferns and adopt a fairly laissez-faire attitude but exotic plants are added to the mix to create an uneasy combination of familiar and unfamiliar, a contrast between nurture and nature, which I think preserves the magic and mystery of the garden.

Springtime is arguably the best time to witness this as the garden bursts into bloom. The stalwarts of an English springtime: daffodils, wood anemone, crocus, primroses, campion, wild garlic, bluebells and periwinkle cover the banks, jostling with more exotic Primula dentata, whilst overhead Camellias, Azaleas and Rhododendron light up the scene with their vibrant colour, backed by the more refined but no less exotic whites and creams of Magnolia. The young foliage of the Japanese acers pushes forth in pinks, purples, oranges and greens, ferns unfurl their primeval croziers and gunnera begins to break bud along the streams and cascades. The intense verdure brings an energy to the scene that is palpable and sweet scent fills the air. Wildlife too makes its presence known, the drumming of woodpeckers echoes around the valley and the chorus of birdsong is at its glorious peak.

The hotel florist Simon Nickell

Near the hotel, the long border is beginning its inexorable march towards summer, the black compost ruptures as shoots burst forth and battle for position in the swiftly filling beds. Scilla, iris, leucojum, ipheon and muscari offer flecks of blue and white whilst asphedoline, camassia and alliums add yellow and purple to the scene later. Euphorbia chariacas and griffithii bring a spring green and orange backdrop and pink, purple and dark red tulips fill the gaps. In the parterre two and half thousand deep red wallflowers (Erysimum cheiri ‘Vulcan’) are interplanted with a thousand parrot tulips (Tulipa ‘Rococo’) in the geometric beds, surrounding a fountain and creating an invigorating combination of colour and sound.

Endsleigh always provides a tranquil sanctuary from the outside world, in the springtime the sheer energy of the landscape also offers a revitalising fillip to fully awaken one from winter’s hibernation.

Garden map

Previous blog

Great British hotels for a spring getaway
Hotel Endsleigh

Blooming grounds ★★★★★
Seasonal produce ★★★★★
Walks from the doorstep ★★★★★
Al fresco living ★★★★★

The Repton-designed Grade I-listed gardens of this Regency hunting and fishing lodge in the Tamar Valley burst with colour and scent in spring. Think camellias, magnolias, cherry blossoms, acers and riverside dells carpeted in bluebells and primroses. Soak up the sunshine and glorious river and garden views in the tulip-filled parterre, or on the wisteria-framed terrace as house martins, swifts and swallows build nests in the hotel’s eaves. English asparagus, spring greens and Cornish-landed fish and shellfish are on the menu, along with Dartmoor lamb infused with just-picked wild garlic and herbs. Outdoor entertainment options include croquet, bowls, table tennis and giant Jenga.

The Daily Telegraph

Spring Break

Special offer

Witness the garden at Endsleigh as it bursts into bloom. Book a two night dinner, bed and breakfast stay (Sunday-Thursday) and receive a complimentary glass of Champagne on arrival, a cream tea for two and tickets to The Garden House, one of the finest spring gardens in Britain. Valid from 2 April until 9 May.