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Discover Devon's Garden Delights (National Garden Scheme)

If you haven’t already picked up a guide (the Yellow Book) and visited any gardens, then this is why you should…


The dictionary definition of a garden is ‘a plot of ground, usually near a house, where flowers, shrubs, vegetables, fruits or herbs are cultivated’. How under-whelming is this statement? Let’s try some other garden quotes; ‘garden as though you will live forever’ William Kent, ‘A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they will never sit in’ Chinese proverb, ‘The glory of gardening; hands in the dirt, head in the sun, heart with nature. To nurture a garden is to feed not just the body, but the soul.’ Alfred Austin, ‘My garden is my most beautiful masterpiece’ Claude Monet, ‘All gardening is landscape painting’, William Kent, ‘Look deep into nature and then you will understand everything better’ Albert Einstein, ‘where flowers bloom, so does hope’ Lady Bird Johnson.

Red roses grow around metal arches
Red roses grow around metal arches at an NGS garden


Landscapes, masterpieces, glory, nurture, soul, heart, nature, bloom – these are words more aptly associated with gardens than the dour dictionary definition. Gardens in the Devon NGS scheme are exuberant, colourful, wildly different to each other, welcoming, formal, informal, large, small and everything in between.

A bee on a pink dahlia flower
Bee on dahlia at Regency House

For the last few years, I have been visiting National Garden Scheme gardens in Devon, taking photos that I offer to the garden owners and the NGS Devon organiser for using, which I then supply to specialist photo libraries. And I’ve only scratched the surface of what’s on offer in our beautiful county. But, not only are the gardens beautiful places to visit but they can inspire and often introduce planting schemes and garden design ideas. My own garden now has an arch, pergola, urns and planting combinations that I've seen in other gardens.

Purple and white alliums flowering together
Purple and white alliums at Lewis Cottage

This is a little introduction to some of the gardens I’ve visited, and they have all been stunningly beautiful in their own unique ways. If you haven’t come across the NGS, then the scheme raises money through private gardens opening their gates, on scheduled days, for a nominal entry fee and often with refreshments available, raising funds for various charities including health, gardening, mental health, and other charities. Last year alone, nationwide, the National Garden Scheme raised nearly £3.5 million. So not only do you get to relax and enjoy some awesome gardens, but you get to raise money for great charities too.

A mauve lupin with foliage
Lupins flower at Lewis Cottage

A taste of what’s on offer in Devon then…


Locally to me is a selection of Teignmouth gardens, open in early June including the beautiful Lower Coombe Cottage Garden, a true cottage style garden packed full of exuberant colour and planting, utilising every space possible. For £6 per person, you can visit Lower Coombe and three other gardens on the same weekend under the same ticket. If you visit Lower Coombe, do ask about the canon ball they found in the garden, thought to have been fired from ships invading the Teign estuary!


A brightly painted shed with bunting a clematis climbing up the side
A cheerful shed at Coombe Cottage Garden

Near Exeter are two gardens that open together at Westclyst Barnyard. 7 Westclyst is a haven to nature, with wildflower meadow, cottage garden, fruit and vegetable growing, pond and bog garden. Again, these two gardens open in early June and offer a sanctuary of peace and tranquillity close to the bustling city.

Pink roses and purple nepeta line some rustic steps
The cottage garden at Westlyst Barn

Another garden, a million miles away from the ‘norm’ is a garden in north Devon. Harbour Lights is owned by Brian and Faith Butler and Brian is the inimitable driving force behind this unique half an acre garden that has views of distant Lundy Island. Packed full of installations, many made of recycled materials, puzzles, puns and sculptures, this is a garden that will delight all ages. There’s even a volcano, yes, honestly, and it smokes! Not content with just providing fun around every corner and in every nook and cranny, Brian and Faith are great at planting too. There’s the beautiful sun circle, a riot of yellows and oranges, a lovely ornamental grasses area, vegetable garden and plenty of water features too. Harbour Lights is open Saturday 22nd June and Sunday 23rd June at £5 per person, children free and refreshments available. Private visits for groups are possible by arrangement.

An ornamental grasses, gravel and bottles garden
The Bottle Garden at Harbour Lights

Thyme grows under a clock face with old kettles and teapots as decorations around the clock face
Time (Thyme) for Tea at harbour Lights

A sunken patio area with barbecue surrounded by a profusion of yellow and orange flowers
The Sun Circle at Harbour Lights

Another beautiful garden to visit in Teignbridge is Whitstone Farm at Bovey Tracey. Owned by the lovely Katie and Alan Bunn, this garden is just under 4 acres of Dartmoor edge hillside, with views to Haytor. There are over 200 trees from all around the world including acers, birch, magnolia, camellia, eucalypts, rhododendrons and much more. Bluebells abound in spring, snowdrops in winter and there is always colour, textures, sculptures and ornaments to be discovered in this beautiful garden. The garden is open at £6 per person with children free, on Sunday 21st and Sunday 28th April; a perfect time for bluebells, and Sunday 28th July; perfect for a summer stroll. Group visits are also available at other times by arrangement. Refreshments are available on open days.

A wooden bridge and sculpture leads the eye towards a terraced arboretum area
View towards the arboretum at Whitstone Farm

Two low growing acers with formal urns on a wall mark the entrance to the woodland garden at Whitstone Farm
Acers at Whitstone Farm

Bluebells in the foreground with narcissus in the background at the base of a tree trunk
Bluebells and narcissus at Whitstone Farm

Closer to mid Devon is the sublime Lewis Cottage garden, owned by Mr and Mrs Pell and Richard Norton who manage the garden and,  a website dedicated to selling the plants that are the mainstay of the garden. Lewis Cottage is hidden deep in the beautiful countryside of mid Devon and is a 16thcentury cottage surrounded by four acres of gardens; a mix of formal borders and wilder woodland and lakeside gardens. The gardens have year-round interest and include an outdoor poetry reading room, vegetable garden, camassia patch and so much more. Lewis Cottage is open to group visits from 18th May to 8th September by arrangement only.

A red metal bench amongst irises and alliums
Glorious colour at Lewis Cottage

A wooden bridge crosses the end of a lake underneath a willow tree
By the lake at Lewis Cottage

Two slates with gardening quotes on, set at the base of a circular hedge
The outdoor poetry room at Lewis Cottage

Yellow roses ramble along a fence in front of a wooden arbour
Sublime garden design at Lewis Cottage

Regency House near Hemyock in east Devon is a gorgeous five acre garden with a walled vegetable and fruit garden, lawns, lake and bog garden with plenty of colour all year. I visited in autumn and there was so much autumn colour; dahlias, acers, squash, apples, liquidambar, to name but a few and with plenty of space for children to run or to picnic. Regency House is owned by the very friendly Jenny Parsons and is open on various dates in the summer and on October 19th & 20th if you want to visit for the autumnal shades. If it’s sunny, go and sit under the liquidambar - I lost myself there for a long while watching the play of light and colours on the leaves. It’s £6 per person, with children free and on open days there’s usually homemade teas available.

Steps lead into a walled garden with various shrubs and trees in autumnal colours around
Regency House with autumn colour

Round clipped shrubs line either side of steps leading onto a large flat lawned area with an acer in full autumn colour in the background
Formal lawn with clipped shrubs at Regency House

Steps lead to a gravelled parking area with autumn colours all around
Regency House in autumn glory

Liquidambar leaves glow in the last afternoon autumn sun
Light on liquidambar leaves

Marwood Hill Gardens, near Barnstaple are open for the NGS on Friday 16th August and has a delightful tearoom for refreshments. Entry is £9.50 per person, with children £5. The gardens are home to four National Collections and cover over 20 acres including lakes, sculptures, rare trees, Champion Trees, shrubs and they also have a tempting plant nursery to seduce plant lovers. The various paths around the garden interweave between the valley, lakes and rolling valley sides, meandering between benches and plenty of viewpoints.

Water tumbles over a manmade waterfall amongst spring growth
A waterfall at Marwood Hill Gardens

White blossom in the foreground with a bridge over the end of a lake in the background
Blossom by the lake at Marwood Hill Gardens

A tree overhangs a lake with an island with a sculpture of girl playing with a small child
Marwood Hill Gardens; relaxing and beautiful

Red and orange tulips grow amongst a colourful border with a white wooden bench in the background
A riot of spring colour at Marwood Hill Gardens

Abbotskerwell have a group opening for the NGS, and for £7 you can explore 10 gardens in this lovely south Devon village. One of the gardens, Briar Cottage, owned by Peggy and David Munden features a cottage style garden, with terracing, quirky planting ideas, sculptures, ornaments, succulent pots, pond and more with refreshments, picnic spots and plants sales all available in the village too. You can visit on the last weekend in May.

Pots with succulents beside a brick path
Briar Cottage Gardens

A wooden bench through a stone arch covered in a flowering clematis
A perfect place to relax at Briar Cottage

Colourful pots and sculptures line a set of steps with a wooden bench at the top
Briar Cottage is packed with interesting features

Alion statue sits at the base of terracing with a snake mosaic on one section of terrace
Mosaic terracing at Briar Cottage

Easter island type statues with ornamental grasses as hair
Grass heads at Briar Cottage

There are over 90 gardens open for the National Garden Scheme this year in Devon, with opening dates from February through to October. which is readily available, for free, in many outlets across the county. I picked this year’s copy up in a post office in Teignmouth. There are woodlands, meadows, formal, informal, cottage, lakes, water features, sculptures, puzzles, monsters and so many gorgeous places to sit and contemplate nature and our great British love of gardening. So, get out there, grab a copy of the Yellow Book (available for free in many outlets; shops, libraries, post offices etc) and get exploring some of Devon’s amazing gardens and help raise money for great causes too.


©Vicki Gardner

Images available through GAP Plant and Garden photo library.


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