Spring Break / Escape to Endsleigh

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Summer is well and truly underway at Endsleigh

Ben Ruscombe-King
The Endsleigh Gardener

It is that neverending, timeless, fabled summer of childhood: hay meadows rippling in the gentle breeze, picnics by the river, dam building in streams, jungle adventures, pooh sticks, croquet and cucumber sandwiches. It is that genteel English summer, fondly remembered, oft recorded and probably somewhat mythical.

Endsleigh was conceived as a fishing lodge and fantasy playground for the Duke of Bedford. Set in a sequestered valley at the end of a mile long drive, it is a place to leave the outside world far behind and enter an ephemeral, yet constant, world where time has little meaning. The ample grounds are dotted with shell grottoes, secret tunnels, ruins, fountains, streams, cascades and waterfalls. It is a garden intended to awaken the imagination and to transport one. At this time of year the valley walks are transformed into seething jungle with tunnels formed by the huge primordial leaves of Gunnera manicata, perfect for a Boy’s Own adventure. Fallen tree trunks become crocodiles looming in the undergrowth, conjuring up visions of the great, grey-green, greasy Limpopo river, all set about with fever trees or maybe just the River Tamar below. Adventures beckon at every fork in the path, tales of derring-do accompany elevenses and ripping yarns of swashbuckling deeds are recounted before bed.

For the more circumspect, the formal and perhaps more civilised gardens offer gentler pleasures. One can take tea amongst the roses and snapdragons in the parterre and let the sound of the splashing fountain and burbling lions’ heads take the heat from the summer’s day, or recline beneath the long border with a book from the library and perhaps a refreshing lemonade, with nothing to disturb one, bar the busy buzzing of insects in the air or the gentle tip-tap of a game of croquet on the lawn. The border is now in full swing, filled with flower and will keep on improving until its peak in late summer. Sturdy blue agapanthus, white iris and pale yellow kniphofia jostle for space with the more delicate white orlaya, blue centaurea and pink cosmos. Delphiniums and lupins are still going strong and the buds of the later flowerers such as helenium, rudbeckia and persicaria are beginning to swell. The rose walk creates a backdrop to this profusion and is now in full flower offering that extra dimension of scent, heady on a warm summer’s day. The Parrotia arbour at the the end of the rose walk provides some shade and the yew walk offers respite from the heat of the sun – here Cornus ‘Miss Satomi’ is currently in flower, though it is her bracts which impress, moving from white through pink to a lovely deep red, soon to be echoed by Hydrangea ‘Soeur Therese’ whose paper white mopheads gently redden through the summer and autumn, an exemplar of restraint and sophistication.

Endsleigh has much to offer the intrepid explorer, wildlife hunter or horticulturist as well as those who just want to escape the clamour of the outside world. I often meet guests who intended to explore Dartmoor during their visit but instead never left the grounds, finding all they needed in this picturesque arcadia just beyond reality.