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The (Secret) Show Gardens of Trago Mills

Tucked behind the Garden Park, Trago Mills in Newton Abbot, has arguably, one of Devon’s best kept secrets. The gardens were opened in 2009 and were all designed by RHS Chelsea Flower Show medal winner, Paul Stone. Paul has over 40 years in the garden design business and has also won medals at Hampon Court and Tatton flower shows. Everyone who lives in Devon and Cornwall knows Trago; the shopping centre where you go for some DIY bits and come out with loo rolls, a set of golf clubs, scented candles, a new carpet, washing up liquid and a jasmine plant for your garden! Ask people if they’ve ever visited the show gardens though and they’ll say, ‘what show gardens?’.


The huge semi-circular wisteria laden pergola at the entrance to the gardens, overlooking the shopping centre

Heading up from the Garden Park, which was built in 2009 and is the south west’s biggest garden centre, steps lead up to the huge, semi-circular, wisteria covered pergola and fountain which is the entrance to the gardens. Paths meander to right and left. Right leads you to the Four Seasons, Railway Children’s, Canal Street, Italian White, Japanese, Alpine Ravine and Courtyard Gardens. The left paths lead to the Cornish Seaside, Devon Scene and Environmental Gardens. The site also includes numerous statues, sculptures, an old cider press and even boasts its own miniature thatched pub, complete with license to sell alcohol, although it's only open for specific events.


The gardens reflect owner, Bruce Robertson’s, sense of humour with the thatched pub in the Devon Scene garden, called the Dangling Dunce and another garden feature, a fountain and sculpture, reflecting his opinion of planners.


The gardens are looked after by Trago staff and cover several acres. The statues are all made by Haddenstone UK, specialists in cast stone garden statues and figures and these feature heavily in the gardens, many bespoke made for Trago.


Heading off to the right, the first garden you arrive at is the Four Seasons. A garden based around a walled town garden and complete with swimming pool, greenhouse and garden furniture and is replanted at each season.  Four crab apple trees, Malus Golden Hornet, stand at each corner of a small lawn at the front of the garden.


The Four Seasons Garden, complete with pool and greenhouse

Heading around the side of the Four Seasons, you come to the Railway Children themed design, featuring a steam train and carriage, named after Trago’s owner’s daughter, Ellie. This garden also features a humpback bridge and signal box. The garden was recreated from Paul Stones 1997 Hampton Court Gold Medal, Best in Show design.


Behind the Railway Children Garden is the Italian White Garden, featuring a stone pavilion, seat and with a formal pool and fountains in front of the pavilion. Formal evergreen hedges complete the design.


The fountain, pool and pavilion in the Italian White Garden

In between the Italian White Garden and Canal Street is an entrance to the Courtyard Garden, a four-sided, brick pavilion surrounding a pool with fountain and with a gnarled old olive tree in one corner. A variety of Hosta’s in pots and surrounding the olive tree compliment the statues that dot the pavilion.


Canal Street is next, complete with real barge and lock gates. Small front gardens, of terraced ‘cottages’ lead onto the street with the green barge in the lock, which is decorated with planters filled with flowers. The cottage gardens include different styles to offer ideas to the visiting gardener, cottage garden, parterre garden and a classic town garden. A beautiful space to sit on the conveniently placed bench, away from the hustle and commercial side of Trago Mills.


Canal Street
Canal Street, complete with barge and canal lock

The Canal Street leads into the Japanese Garden, with the last cottage garden having a Japanese style archway over the front. Beautiful acers arch over the pathway leading into this garden, with a view over a gully to a teahouse styled hut and a resting buddha statue beside it. Koi carp swim in the pond and the sounds of running water accompany you through the garden, emanating from the ‘cascades’ that run under the red, bamboo style arched bridge leading the pathway onwards and further into the gardens. Cherries, rhododendrons and magnolias also grace the Japanese Garden alongside other specimen trees.

The Japanese Garden


The path leads on and allows you to access the Courtyard Garden from another angle, crossing ponds by wooden walkways and with a nod to owner, Bruce’s, frustration with planner’s represented by a fountain and sculpture at the side of a pond. A large wooden gazebo with seating underneath is at the centre of where several walkways join. One walkway leads to the Courtyard Garden while in the opposite direction a path takes you up through the Alpine Ravine; a cool, deep path between rock walls, planted with ferns and other shade loving plants. Trees arch over the top, giving a green tinge to this cool, rocky haven.


The Ravine Garden
A large circular pavilion is a great place for a picnic

Leaving the Alpine Ravine behind, the path snakes behind the ornate pergola at the entrance to the gardens, passing an obelisk celebrating the opening of the Garden Park and on down to the old cider press in a large, open sided, timber-framed shelter. In front of this is the Devon Scene Garden. A small, thatched pub, with white seating sits in front of a clapper bridge and stream, with naturalised planting and a beech hedge. The pub is licensed to sell alcohol for special events and has a large lawned area adjacent to the pub, perfect for over-spill from an event in the gardens.


The Dangling Dunce pub, set in an English woodland with clapper bridge

Next to the Devon Scene is the Environmental Garden, featuring repurposed items such as a bathtub, bicycle and old lawn roller in the ‘front garden’ of a cottage. Various pots adorn this garden as well as it having a more naturalistic and wild feeling. Behind this, lies the final garden. The Cornish Seaside Garden has a boat hut, real wooden boat, a shingle beach with lobster pots and is planted up with tree ferns, hardy ferns, camellias, hydrangeas and a mass display of daffodils early in the year.

The Environmental Garden, complete with mini cottage garden


There are ideas for almost every type of garden here and not least, the gardens provide a quiet and peaceful place to sit and relax, wander or enjoy a picnic away from the hustle and bustle of the Trago Mills shop. You might even get joined by one of Trago’s resident peacocks and if you’re really lucky, one of the male peafowl might spread its feathers for you. They do this to intimidate predators, communicate vibrationally with other peafowl or to attract a mate during breeding season. So many reasons to visit these, almost secret, gardens. Spring is particularly gorgeous as the gardens are full of blossom, vibrant lime spring leaves and lots of spring colour.


A moon gate links two of the garden areas

The gardens are open for the same days and hours that Trago Mills is, and you access the gardens by walking through the store and out through the Garden Park. The gardens are free to enter, but be careful, you might leave with a new broom, shed, rug, bird food and a sofa!


© Vicki Gardner 2023 - article anad images available through Vicki or GAP Photo Library

Spring is a great time to visit the gardens, with blossom a-plenty


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