No holiday for Kim & I is complete without a garden visit or two. This time we revisited one and discovered another. Both have strong roots in their communities and compliment each other with their histories, sound principles of design and dedicated husbandry that have gained them their respective outstanding reputations. The known plot is the ten acres that make up The Garden House at Buckland Monachorum tucked away on the south west edge of Dartmoor. Set in a sheltered wooded combe the 1920’s house now houses cafe and offices but was formerly the Vicar’s house. Its ruined predecessor sits in the garden below and is for me the site’s USP. Dating from 1305 the old priest’s house with its winding stair allows access from one terrace garden to another. A breathtaking view of the whole ten acres is had from the open top floor…The gardens giving way seamlessly, outdoor room to outdoor room, artfully linked, transformative and consistently enchanting. Best enjoyed on a quiet day, which we and our friends Paul & Monica were fortunate enough to do mid week in May. The garden was the brainchild of Lionel and Katherine Fortescue who sustained a living here as market gardeners and seed growers supplemented by a herd of Jersey mikers from the late 1940’s until 1961 when the gardens were given over to a charitable trust which continues to skillfully manage and astutely develop the place today.
The other garden we visited, on our journey back up country, was near the village of Blagdon in the Mendips, near Bristol and has a more fundamental link with cows (Friesans this time). Many people are familiar with Yeo Valley Dairy products as a leading organic brand of milk, yogurt and butter but much less well known is their 6.5 acre organic garden next door to the dairy and cow housing. The ornamental garden is the only fully certified organic one in the country. A rural success story, the business was started by local farming family The Meads with one small herd in 1961 and today a large pedigree herd of descendant milkers roam 1,000 acres + 400 acres given over to arable. (Outside supplies and markets are secured through organic co-operative alliances as part of Arla). The garden is Mrs Meads concept and design enterprise. Initially private gardens round the family home it is now open to the public on Thursdays and Fridays and also stages events and courses at other times. We enjoyed refreshment in the funky organic tea rooms before setting out on a discovery trail through all cultivated quarters. The showstopper at this time of year is the architectural avenue of tea crabs, liberally showering white blossom. At GH it was the wealth of Wisteria on the wooden bridge and old walls that held seasonal sway. At GH smart use has been made of bracken off neighbouring Dartmoor, which when cut, dried and chopped makes for an effective mulch. At YVOG we were awed by the series of big compost bins – the organic engine rooms – complete with draw blinds. I also liked the way the surrounding landscape is used in framing and referencing the world beyond. At GH it was done mainly through mature trees and the church tower as eyecatcher. At YVOG through a combination of ha-ha, field crops and recreational lake,
Yeo Valley’s prevailing spirit is playful, inventive and bold while the Garden House is imbued with the quiet and easy confidence of a long term loving relationship…As mere young in heart creative souls we left both gardens having been very happily entertained, informed and inspired.