Coleton Fishacre

Coleton Fishacre is a south Devon house and garden in the care of the National Trust.  The house was built in the mid 1920s in the Arts and Crafts style (I love it), the architect was Oswald Milne, a student of Lutyens.  The owners, Rupert and Lady Dorothy D’Oyly Carte of Gilbert and Sullivan and Savoy Theatre fame, spotted the beautiful valley as they were sailing around the south Devon coast and promptly bought the land and built a home there.  Milne also laid out the terraced gardens near the house, the rest of the grounds being a wonderfully planted valley leading down to the sea at Pudcombe Bay.  Mr OG and I visited on a warm and sunny day in late May – it wasn’t terribly busy, plenty of space to see the gardens and wander around – and, as you can see  below,  it was delightful.

The house at Coleton Fishacre nestled into the hillside overlooking the valley.

The entrance to the garden past recently pruned cherry trees and some wonderful trees with a bright orangey-brown, dusty, peeling bark (which I later discovered are Chilean Myrtle or Luma apiculata) leads either down into a cobbled courtyard and the entrance to the house, or to the right into the Seemly Terrace.  Here the Hellebore were going over but Euphorbia still stood and scented Daphne and lilac filled the air.  The sight of a full-flowered wisteria set against the mass of a huge deep pink rhododendron made me catch my breath as we walked through to the Rill Garden.

IMG_0413 The Rill Garden with its trickling water and smooth, straight stream edged with flagstones, is a reminder that Milne was a student of Lutyens, it is so reminiscent of the larger gardens he designed with Gertrude Jekyll.  The Rill is punctuated half way by a pool in a smooth, stone-lined depression before it continues its way to fall over mossy stones into a larger more informal pool and then on down through the valley.  In the borders there was the promise of great clumps of Delphinium, spiky Crocosmia foliage and hardy Geranium just leafing up, as well as roses, tender perennials already in flower in shades of pink and white, and Nepeta with its soft blue spires and grey foliage.  A little later in the season and this will be a real sight.  The exit from the Rill garden was framed by a beautiful orange Azalea, planted alongside the informal stream below but lending a splash of sunshine to the formal garden above.

The Rill Garden
The bottom of the Rill Garden

IMG_0417Along the stream and down into the valley garden there are plantings of Azalea, swathes of yellow candelabra Primula, purple and yellow Iris as the stream becomes a large pool and then continues to tumble through denser planting of Bamboo, Magnolia, Camellia, Rhododendron (including wonderfully scented varieties the I couldn’t identify but that we buried our faces in), Gunnera just beginning to push out its fabulously large leaves, and a veritable forest of tree ferns.  Little bridges cross and recross the water and all around here there are frequent benches to sit and take it all in.  A magnificent tulip tree rises above it all.


After exploring the main garden we walked along a shady path that runs above the garden, below us a bank planted with really tender plants including huge echium, some magnificent specimens of agave and an impressive eucalyptus tree with its shimmering leaves and striated bark.  As this path becomes woodland it was carpeted with bluebells, forget-me-not and campion, and a break in the trees offers a view of the sea over a bank left as rough meadow sloping back down to the garden, a taste of the wonderful view to come.

At the edge of the trees a wooden gate leads out onto the cliff top and opens out into what the guide-book calls ‘a stunning view’.  It isn’t wrong, and it isn’t exaggerating.  As you come out of the shade onto a rough grass slope the rugged coast across to Blackstone Rocks opens up in front of you.  It really was breath-taking and a sight not to be missed if you visit.  There is a steeper climb up to this point from the garden below, and it is certainly worth the effort.

The Stunning View to Blackstone Rocks

This is a wonderful garden and it will take more of a plantsperson than I am to do justice to it.  Everywhere there is something beautiful and interesting, either in flower or about to come into flower.  Specimen trees, shrubs, hardy and tender perennials, the unusual and the astonishing.  If you are in this corner of Devon do try to visit – you will  not be disappointed.  Oh, and don’t forget to go inside the house – decorated in 1930s style – it is homely and familiar.  We could’ve moved straight in!

The Optimist Gardener

Buckfast Abbey, Devon

Being in the West Country for a few days we were able to make a visit to Buckfast Abbey, just on the edge of Dartmoor, not too far from Newton Abbott, going south. It’s a lovely, peaceful place – as you would expect from a functioning Benedictine community – and the gardens are worth a gentle wander around. The Abbey itself is also worth a visit whether you have faith or not – it was built by a tiny community of monks between 1907and 1938 using their own skills and strength, raising the stones by block and tackle in all weathers. Inside it is simple and light with some fine modern stained glass and a painted stucco ceiling. The monks are around, going about their daily business.

In the expansive lawned grounds there are four garden spaces, all on level ground, all easy to walk around and accessible to wheelchairs. The Physic Garden is enclosed by high yew hedges, clipped beautifully and with niches for benches on each side. It’s divided into four by arched iron pergolas up which grow trained fruit trees – apple, pear, plum, of course, and also quince and medlar, and a very healthy looking vine. Two quadrants have culinary herbs – the usual suspects, but also some interesting plants that I am going to look out for – alexanders, tansy, more types of mint than I have ever seen; a third quadrant has the medicinal herbs and the fourth an oblong pool with poisonous plants in a central bed, including a huge clump of aconite or monk’s hood.

Just across the lawn is a second yew enclosed garden – the Sensory Garden. One step inside and we were caught straight away by the heady, sweet fragrance of scented lilac and choisya ternata, grown together at each corner of the garden. Beds of lily of the valley added it’s soft perfume. Clematis and honeysuckle were just beginning to climb their supports and although we were too soon for the roses, they were full of bud and the promise of their own perfume. This little garden is a delight, with benches at each corner which invite a moment (or longer) for contemplation, the yew hedges contain the perfume beautifully and we spent ages just sitting and taking in the scented air.

There is a lavender garden planted on an open gravel space with every type of lavender clipped and waiting for the summer. Bordered by a low lavender hedge, we were too early to see and smell it at it’s best. Later in the year this should be a wonderful sight.

Next to the Sensory Garden a new garden was being prepared for opening. If you were at Malvern Show last year (2017) you will remember the garden designed by Maia Hall, sponsored by Buckfast Abbey to commemorate their millennium. I remember walking round the garden and chatting with the monk who was there, patiently responding to people asking if he was a ‘real monk’. The garden acted as a window to a tranquil scene and looking through the middle oak frame ‘window’, visitors could see a stag sculpture that recreates the Buckfast Abbey logo. That show garden of woodland borders and dappled shade has been scaled up and installed into the Abbey’s grounds in time for the millennium celebrations in 2018. It was still being prepared when we there (May 2018), but I think it will be open from June 2018. It will be perfect in its new space in this tranquil place.

All around the Abbey grounds there are beds and borders full of interesting shrubs and perennials coming into their own after the late (and cold) spring season. If you’re in this part of the world, this is a lovely way to spend a few hours. It’s free to enter, free parking and there is a good restaurant with indoor and outdoor seating. If you can’t cope without retail there is a good bookshop – religious and secular titles – a little gift shop of items from religious communities around the world, and the Abbey’s own shop where we availed ourselves of some home produced honey, a bottle of their famous tonic wine and a framed print of several species of bee.

The Optimistic Gardener

6 – -on – Saturday 19/5/18

Here is this week’s 6-on-Saturday.  Six things in my garden today.  If you want to join in and share 6 things from your garden then here is to how to participate It’s fun, you see interesting things in other people’s gardens and lovely 6ers chat and comment on your pics.

IMG_0403This morning’s view from the summer-house.  It’s my antidote to Royal Wedding fever.  The Whitebeam treee you can see has been in five years (I think) and is doing well at screening our neighbours.  So well that we had to have the top taken off this year and the crown thinned a bit.  Just to the left of it is an old Elaeagnus that I’m trying to train into a sort of pillar.  Just this way up the border you can see that the runner beans are in.  Started in toilet roll centres they grew magnificently and are already twining their way widdershins around the poles.  It’s a pity I forgot to move the weed tub and the tub of Blood Fish and Bone by the shed before I took the photograph.  And I really should paint my toenails.

IMG_0400Here’s a little alpine trough that MrOG planted up this week.  It has Saxifraga ‘Pixie Rose’  ‘Buttercream’ and ‘White Pixie’,  small fern Leptinella ‘Platt’s Black’, a Phlox ‘Zwergenteppich’, Muscari ‘Blue Spike (gone over now), Tulipa ‘Honky Tonk’ (also gone over) and that lovely blue is Lithodora, which sounds like somebody out of Harry Potter. It’s doing well in full sun.  I am slowly coming round to alpines, I think next year we will have more.

IMG_0397Ah, Geum.  I love them.  We have a few and this is from the ‘Cocktail’ collection – it’s called ‘Cosmopolitan’.  A lovely delicate peachy, apricot colour with double flowers that look almost papery.   It’s a compact grower and is looking good at the moment.

IMG_0396I can’t resist showing you the poppies again.  This clump is absolutely full of flowers and bud.  I’ve had to stake it a little because they do flop so, but for me, these just say English Country Garden.  I shall split this clump I think, later in the year, and try to spread them through the garden.  ‘Princess Victoria Louise’.

IMG_0394Another hardy geranium waiting to be planted, this is a dwarf geranium with browny purple leaves and this adorable little pink flower.  It makes  a low mat at the front of the border and is tolerant of soil type and position although I think it prefers the sun to partial shade.  I’m hoping it’s going to be a fast grower.  It’s ‘Orkney Cherry’.

IMG_0393And last but not least is a hosta, variety unknown, that I split from a potted plant last year and is now growing away beautifully in the shade border.  It gets the sun very early in the morning (which is when the photo was taken) and then is in deep shade for the rest of the day.   If any of you more experienced 6ers can identify it for me, I’d be very grateful.

It really is the most beautiful day here.  Who could want for more?

The Optimistic Gardener

6-on-Saturday 5/5/18

It is such a beautiful day.  Cloudless blue sky, birds singing, lawns being mown.  Finding 6 for today was no hardship, there is so much going on in the garden.  If you want to join in with 6-on-Saturday hop over to here to find out how.

  1. IMG_03571. This is the white version of ‘Bleeding Heart’, although this picture does it no favours at all.  It used to be called Dicentra Spectabilis but it’s now called Lamprocapnos Spectabilis.  Sigh.  Perhaps it’s sulking at the shift in identity.  And ‘alba’, of course.  It’s in partial shade and a moist but well-drained (ha!) bit of the border.  I shall still call it Dicentra. So there.



2.  I have a very young fruiting quince tree – Cydonia oblonga – which is kept in a large pot by the front door, in full IMG_0346sun.  This is its second year.  Last year we had lots of small fruit, this year I am hoping for bigger quinces so will be thinning off any fruit that set.  It has the most delicate blossom – blush pink in the bud opening to white.  I’m not sure how happy it is yet – it’s a bit straggly, but we shall see.  It made some fine quince paste last year which I forced onto the family as Christmas presents.  The variety is ‘Meech’s Prolific’.



3.  IMG_0358This Polemonium is ‘Lambrook Mauve’.  I picked it up at a visit to Lambrook Manor gardens earlier in the month (of which more in a separate blog).  I don’t like the more common Polemonium – dark green leaf and darker blue flowers, they look kind of nondescript to me, but I love this combination of the fresh green leaf and that lovely pale purple flower with its white eye.  I hope it will be happy and spread and spread.



4.  IMG_0361These teeny, tiny, dark brown/purplish flowers are on  Pittosporum tenuifolium ‘Silver Queen.  I’ve never seen flowers on a Pittosporum before, but then I have led a sheltered life – which is more than can be said for the Pittosporum.  I think it hates our garden which is cold and windy most of the time.  We keep it in a big pot and do our best to locate it as much out of the prevailing winds as possible, but still it looks wan and feeble.



IMG_03595.  I can’t wait for this oriental poppy to flower.  It’s Papaver “Princess Victoria Louise’.  It’s a big clump now and is full of these huge, hairy buds.  Soon they will split and the pink, silky petals will unfurl like butterfly wings emerging from a chrysalis.  They don’t last long but are so beautiful I can’t imagine a garden without them tucked in somewhere.


IMG_03606.  And finally, here are some early veg plants that I am trying to harden off ready for planting in the garden.  There are leeks, courgettes, beetroot, peas, runner beans and a few cosmos in there for dotting about in gaps.  This week has been their first foray out of the greenhouse, poor tender little things.  As soon as they are properly planted out, I shall feed them furiously and hope that they will eventually do the same for me.

That’s it for today!

The Optimistic Gardener.

Tree planting…

So the tale of the removed tree comes full circle as we planted a replacement this week.  Not a job for the faint-hearted (or the getting on in years and ever so slightly over-weight) it was a bit of a trial but it’s in and looking good.  IMG_0352As mentioned in the last blog we chose a pink-flowered hawthorn, Crataegus rosea flora pleno, from a reasonably local tree nursery Chew Valley Trees.  The nursery was excellent – great choice of trees for the smaller garden, prompt delivery and good written instructions on planting and advice on after-care.  They also supplied an appropriate stake and tie.  What could go wrong…?

IMG_0351First, dig your hole.  You will remember that we are on heavy clay over rock and shilletty stuff.  Digging the hole took a while.  There were tree roots as thick as my wrist to saw through.  There were rocks to extract.  The possibility of digging a hole three times the size of the containerised root-ball was zero, but finally there was a hole in the ground ‘so big and sort of round, it was’ (apologies to Bernard Cribbins).

Second, insert the stake.  According to the instructions – to be hammered in at least one foot below the bottom of the hole.  The bottom of the hole had hit rock.  There was no way the stake was going in any further.  A bit of head-scratching, then the sensible suggestion of inserting the stake at an angle, beyond the edge of the hole and angling across the trunk (well, thick stem at the moment) of the tree.  Success!  Serious break for rest and cup of tea.

The rest was easy by comparison: put mycorrhizal powder in the bottom of the hole (optional, but we like it) and on the root-ball, lower tree into planting hole, ensure surface of root-ball level with top of hole (we actually used a spirit level – MrOG is a stickler for doing things right), backfill with good soil firming in well, attach tie to tree stem and to stake and Bob, as they say, was our uncle. IMG_0354

We saturated the soil for about a metre all around it and plan on doing this every couple of days unless it rains hard.  The commonest reason for newly planted trees to give up the ghost is lack of water, so we will be vigilant and diligent with the hose or the cans.

So, the gap is partly filled, the tree is a lovely shape and looks really nice,  it’s well in leaf and has masses of flower buds and, fingers crossed, it will grow away beautifully.  Job done!


The Optimistic Gardener.


Garden busy, at last…

So much has been happening in the garden over the last couple of weeks it’s hard to know where to start!  A couple of weekends ago we went out to do the weekly shop, came back and found that our neighbours had removed a 25 years old maple tree that had screened our house and garden from their upper windows (and vice versa) for many years.  It was quite a shock to find a wide view of the surrounding houses when we had been pretty well enclosed.  The pictures below are taken from the position we would normally sit in, but from opposite that fence it’s really pretty open now.  After 24 hours of shock and plans of retribution, sanity prevailed – it was their tree after all…and in their garden… Looking on the positive side it has given us the opportunity to explore the possibility of a new small tree for that border, in fact, the possibility of more than one new tree for that border.  We wanted something not too expensive, quite robust ( it’s very windy) and good for wildlife, not too dense (so conifers not considered) and with some seasonal interest.

We took a trip to Chew Valley Trees just over the water from us in Somerset and my, oh my, were totally bowled over by the selection of trees available in all shapes and sizes.  With a bottomless wallet (which we don’t have) we could have bought a ready-made forest.  After much deliberation we finally decided upon a 10 ft pink hawthorn (crataegus rosea flore pleno) and we now have the excitement of waiting for it to be delivered. 🙂  I only hope it doesn’t turn up its toes at our clay soil. 😦

We were also very taken with the selection of crab apples (a real possibility for further along the border), Amelanchier (trunk and multi-stemmed, but we already have one in the garden), and the prettiest magnolia (hugely expensive – for us).

Whilst we were meandering around Somerset we made a trip to the gardens at East Lambrook Manor, they were lovely in spite of it being early in the season and we came back with the car laden with perennials – but that’s for the next blog.  Hopefully with a picture of the new tree partially filling the gap and normality resumed.

The Optimistic Gardener


A tiny wildlife pond…

What a difference it makes when the sun comes out!  After such a slow start to the growing season and such grey, dreary weather a few days of warm sunshine has really lifted my spirits.  And the forecast is promising.  At last there is real hope of a period of warmer, drier weather.  Over the weekend we have been creating a little woodland glade area between the summer-house and the fence; I’ve had the plants for a week or so – ferns, Erythronium, bluebells, Pulmonaria, foxgloves  – just didn’t have the planting weather.

Our soil is heavy clay and there’s not much of it; just a few inches down there is rock and then this fractured, shilletty stuff.  It’s horrible to get any depth but with brute force and a pickaxe we were able to make a hole big enough to take a tiny, pre-formed pond that holds about 25 litres of water.  Behind it we put in a lilac that we moved from another part of the garden where it was not doing very well.  Around the edges ferns, multi-coloured Pulmonaria including a beautiful clear blue called ‘Blue Ensign’, Erythronium (which have finished flowering, but should come back next spring), English bluebells, some snowdrops from my sister’s garden and a couple of foxgloves.  We edged the pond with the lumps of rock dug out of the hole and covered the ground in ‘chunky chip’ bark.  And do you know what?  It’s a magical little place already.  You can’t see it from the house but it’s tucked between the summer-house and the fence and I am hoping to be able to watch the odd dragonfly later in the summer and maybe even tadpoles next year.  When I can find some I shall put in a few clumps of Corydalis ‘China Blue’ and maybe a few spring bulbs in the autumn.


In the pond there is Juncus, Equisetum, Lysimachia, iris, Arundo and some of that stuff that lies on the bottom doing its oxygenating thing.  And, of course, it’s the perfect habitat for this little chap.  I love it already.


Enjoy the warming weather!

The Optimistic Gardener

A good couple of hours…

No rain today (yay!) sees me and Mr OG busy in the garden.  Another stretch of fence is painted – that’s about half of it done now.  Two sides of the garden has fence panels – all of them ours – so we are diligent about keeping it in good order.  That’s about 50 metres of fence and a lot of painting.  We used to keep it a kind of brown colour, now we paint it black.  It looks so much better.  IMG_0285.jpg

I’ve been wanting to prune the hydrangea for a little while, but also wanting to leave the dead flower heads for as long as possible.  They give a little volume to the winter garden and somewhere for the dunnocks and wren to forage around in.  I took the plunge today and nipped off the flower heads, taking the stems down to a good pair of buds.  I also stood back and checked out the shape and then nipped off any stems that seemed a bit wayward.  This hydrangea is one of my favourites plants of high summer – it’s a white macrophylla, I’m not sure which variety, but it starts off a greenish white, goes on to a brilliant white head, then as the blooms fade they get a tinge of a pinky brown.  I’d like to think it was ‘Limelight’, but I’ve really no idea.  Anyway, here it is, before and after a quick prune.


Last week I took a bold decision and bought two big golden bamboo plants – Phyllostachys aurea.   There is a gap at the back of the border and our neighbour’s bedroom window looks straight into our sitting room – not that they do that, they’re really nice people!  The Buddleia was there last year but it’s so messy and needed cutting right down this spring.  I’ve tried a lilac there, but it just doesn’t grow fast enough, so – instant height and soft barrier – the bamboo it is.  I haven’t put them in yet, just prepping the border and digging the holes, and worrying about them invading the whole neighbourhood in the first season (catastrophising, I know!).  I’m thinking of growing them in big pots, sunk about half into the soil…but I’ve read lots of conflicting information.  Some say sink some kind of barrier to prevent them running where you don’t want them, others say they’re really not a problem in the UK climate.  They are going against the boundary fence between us and neighbours, so I’m really nervous.  Readers – any advice gratefully received before they go in!

Hope you managed to get a bit of dry weather too.

The Optimistic Gardener


At last – a bit of warmth…

It finally felt warm enough today to risk sowing a few seeds – under cover, of course.  I know lots of you have already taken the plunge, but I am ultra cautious and have had too many past disasters to start too soon.

I grow potatoes in bags on the patio and planted the the early first earlies this week.  I chitted them first and then filled the bag almost half full with a general purpose compost.   I rubbed off all the chits except the strongest one, and then placed four potatoes on the compost with the chit facing upwards.  Then I cover them with more compost.  As they grow, I’ll keep covering them with more compost until they reach the top of the bag. The variety is ‘Rocket’ and they should be ready to pull in early June.  As we still have a threat of frosty nights I have put the bag in the (unheated) greenhouse for a week or two.  The spuds I grew this way last year were fabulous, so I am hoping for more of the same.  In a couple of weeks I shall plant two more bags up, one with ‘Charlotte’ and one with ‘Pentland Javelin’.  This is a rubbish picture.

IMG_0124 2

I’ve also put in leek seeds – ‘Zermatt’ for pulling while they’re young and small, and ‘Apollo’ for growing on because they’re supposed to be good for planting close together.  I love leeks, and last year they were one of the few vegetables that did well.  This year I’m planning to sow everything in modules rather than trays, and although I’m using last year’s plastic ones (the one’s that haven’t fallen apart), I’m buying coir modules if I need new.  I’m experimenting with watering, but standing them in a tray and watering from the bottom seems to keep them moist without splattering the compost.  The coir modules also dry out a bit quicker, so  a watering tray means I can keep on top of that more easily.

I’ve started the peas in root trainers – I find they do better in my stony soil if I do this rather than sow them direct – this year I’m trying ‘Douce Provence’ and will succession sow in two weeks time.  I don’t have any pics, but as far as I can I use loo rolls, or the cardboard tubes from kitchen roll etc, cut down to about 4 inches high.

These will all stay in the greenhouse now.  Last year I found that germination was just as good in the unheated greenhouse, if a little slower than window sills indoors, and there was much less of a problem with damping off.

Through the rest of this week I will refresh the soil in the raised bed and let it settle a bit before getting ready to sow carrots and parsnips.  I said never again after two years of lush leaves and no roots, but I’ll try one more time.  Have to be optimistic!

The temporarily pessimistic gardener…

A couple of hours in the garden this week has revealed a sorry mess.   I know that the early part of the year can often be a depressing time (for people as well as gardens) and a proper look around has certainly depressed me.  I was feeling quite ‘spring-is-coming’ optimistic until that weather blew in on its north-east winds making it just too cold to even venture outside for long, let alone the fact that the ground was snow-covered for a fair bit of the time.  Even here in the milder climes of south-east Wales the wind chill has been bitter and the morning frosts unusually hard.  The border we built last year has really suffered, although the weather isn’t all to blame.

Planting a border in the height of summer, as we did, meant that enthusiasm overwhelmed common sense.  The border is mostly north facing, in the dense shade of the house.  In high summer when the sun is overhead the shade is gone, and this, together with the excitement of the refurbished garden and a new empty border, meant that we sort of ‘forgot’ that this piece of ground is in dense shade for eight months of the year, is cold and wet and is also badly drained at one end.  At the ‘better’ end of the border oriental poppies have over-wintered well and are growing strongly even in these cold conditions.  An Achillea is showing some new growth and the Cistus and good old mexican fleabane protected by the tulip pots look ok – a bit tatty, but nothing that a trim over won’t sort out.  In the middle of the border the stately Verbena bonariensis appear to have succumbed to the frost, as do the other Achillea and two of the three Geum.  There is nothing that looks even remotely like a sprig of new growth on them, or on the Monarda or the Astrantia.  Even a Lavatera bush, which in the past has been virtually indestructible in this garden, is stick-dry and unpromising.  I keep telling myself it’s early days, the weather is unseasonably cold, the border is even more so, and I should be patient, but to be truthful, I am at present more pessimistic than optimistic gardener.

A lawn trim has made me feel better – it makes such a difference to the look of the  garden, even though it is more mossy than ever and there is a huge patch of some weed growing on it.  A careful root around at the very soggy and shady end of the border has revealed some tiny points of Hosta lurking under the (now removed) hairy bittercress and the fuzzy reddish first shootings of Astilbe, so all is not lost.  I shall have to steel myself and plant only those things that can cope with damp and shade and cold.  I know it’s the sensible thing to do.  Every gardening book and blog I read has the sage (something else that hasn’t survived) advice to ‘go with the growing conditions’, grow what will grow, not what you want to put in regardless of shade, damp, cold etc.  It’s advice I would give other people.  I wish I’d taken it myself!

Here is something that hasn’t suffered!  And here’s to a new growing season.IMG_0121

The temporarily down-hearted Optimistic Gardener.