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Quirkiest Devon Garden. A National Garden Scheme Garden.

A Puzzle Garden of Delight and Humour


There are so many different types of gardens out there; formal; informal; cottage; contemporary; bog; container: flower; kitchen; sculpture garden amongst many others, but rarely, if ever, do you come across a Puzzle Garden.


Brian and Faith Butler’s garden, Harbour Lights, near Bideford in north Devon is just that, with Brian being the brains behind the puzzles and installations that are found around every corner and in every nook and cranny. Brian and Faith open the garden under the National Garden Scheme, once a year, for a weekend in June but also open by arrangement for groups of 10 or more and are able to offer flexible options for refreshments from cream teas through to three course meals, with admission money, plant and food sales supporting various charities.


Brian and Faith moved into Harbour Lights over 35 years ago with an acre of garden which was initially turned to vegetable growing while they had a young family. As children tend to do, they grew up and eventually left home which meant the garden could evolve with more flowers and shrubs being added. After Brian retired, he really turned his hand (and his head) to the garden and every year more creations are added. Word associations challenge throughout the garden, from a sink and plug holes to a fork in the path. Brian uses repurposed materials wherever possible, and his creations have used an old washing machine drum, sink, bed frame, toilet pans, Christmas baubles, old mannequins and much more.


The garden first started evolving into what it is today when Brian was given a large carboy by someone and was told, ‘you could make a bottle garden with that’. In true Brian fashion, he did, but not your normal terrarium style bottle garden. Brian played with grass, glass and granite to form his bottle garden, using the bottles as decoration, border edging and to create features like a stream, there is even a glasshopper. The Bottle Garden is rather photogenic and on a windy day the grasses take on a life of their own.


Wandering around the rest of the garden reveals a French Garden, with references to Toulouse, Pyrenees, Cannes & coq au vin amongst other delights. In the same area is the Flower Bed, quite literally, and the Polly Tunnel, a poly tunnel with parrots in. The Well garden is located here too, with ferns, water feature, bonsai garden and topiary hedge.


My favourite part of the garden was Thyme for Tea, a very Alice in Wonderland design involving thyme and a lot of tea

pots, that also leads you on towards the barbeque pit, or the end of the journey from the labyrinth to the sun; a deep, circular pit, with paving and seating amidst a profusion of orange and yellow planting including a riot of marigolds and poppies. The labyrinth, a spiral path that leads you through flower beds, awash with colour and more quirky installations, to the sun, the sunken, circular courtyard with built in barbecue. Brian says it’s cosy and totally out of the wind in this seating area, making it perfect for entertaining.


Despite professing to not being a ‘proper gardener’, there is some very imaginative planting and Brian has in depth knowledge of what suits this north facing garden, that suffers from waterlogged soils, lots of wind and an army of slugs, although you wouldn’t guess this from a summer visit to the garden.  


Elsewhere, Brian has more word association installations; a weight rose trolley, a sawhorse, manhole, head stone, bottle brush and cod piece to name but a few, and other quirky sculptures and pieces include a Tai Chi sculpture, volcano, Green Monster (who loves children), flying witch, an old geezer and if you hunt really hard, high and low, you’ll find a toadstool, toads tool, toad on a stool or even, a toads stool.


This is a garden for everyone, children, plantsman, garden lovers, art lovers, puzzle lovers. It’s impossible to visit this garden and not interact with it. There’s bubbles, smoke and water features; recycled art; planting ideas and design ideas. It’s a garden that doesn’t take itself seriously yet has an awful lot to offer.


For more information on the garden or to arrange a visit, visit


© Vicki Gardner

Article and images available from GAP Plant and Garden photo library



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