A taste of the unexpected at Coleton Fishacre, Devon
|Coleton Fishacre was designed and built for Rupert D'Oyly Carte, using local Dartmouth shale|
Coleton Fishacre is a secluded, but spectacular garden in Devon, hidden away down winding country lanes. This year marks the 30th anniversary of its acquisition by the National Trust - originally as part of the Enterprise Neptune campaign to link up the South Devon coastal path. The house at the heart of the 30-acre estate (above) was commissioned for the flamboyant and wealthy owner - Rupert D'Oyly Carte, son of the impresario behind the Gilbert and Sullivan operettas - who used the house and grounds for entertaining.
|The garden extends to 30 acres and enjoys a microclimate because of its position|
All the main rooms in the house face south, and Art Deco enthusiasts will enjoy the furnishings and textiles. But garden lovers will love the grounds, filled with rare and unusual plants, including many exotics, which thrive in the microclimate created by the unique position of the property, at the end of a promontory with the River Dart to the west and the sea at Pudcombe Cove. Access to Coleton Fishacre is along tiny Devon lanes, so it has not been ravaged by garden tourism - this is part of its charm, even if the access roads are a little daunting. My advice is: go early in the day so you don't meet a coach coming the other way!
|The rill garden - filled with colourful flowers in high summer|
The house (top) was designed by Oswald Milne - a pupil of Edwin Lutyens - and is quite austere. It's well worth taking a tour of the interior to see some fine examples of "art deco" living, but be warned.... don't try and take photographs out of the windows, because the ladies that look after this house on behalf of The National Trust, will simply not allow you to! I got into dreadful trouble with my camera and almost had it removed after quite some debate about whether or not I should be allowed to point my lens at the gardens from inside.
But you can photograph what you want outside and there's lots to immortalise on your memory card. Because Coleton is situated in a protected position near a river estuary it has its own micro-climate and you will find plants here that don't grow elsewhere in the UK, including proteas. There is also an unusual tree collection and you will encounter redwoods and swamp cypress, as well as a very tall tulip tree and a tree of heaven (Ailanthus altissima).
I have to confess that I'm not an expert on plants and I visit gardens to gauge the overall impression and atmosphere rather than the planting - but I'm told this garden is a plantsman's paradise - and visitors come from far and wide to see specimens that are not found anywhere else in this part of England. Even I was aware there are plants and flowers here that I've never seen anywhere else in the UK and I was particularly taken by the colour scheme and the way in which the borders were laid out around the house. Everywhere you look there are vibrant colours and another surprise!
|Part of Coleton's charm is that the garden is so varied ...|
There are many other gardens near here worth visiting, so if you have the time or inclination, do stay locally because this will allow you to visit some of the other properties nearby - it's a magical part of England and you won't want to leave! Particularly notable and worth visiting is The Garden House. Coleton Fishacre is open daily until the end of September, except Fridays, from 10.30 - 17.00. It remains open in October, but check website for opening times.
For more summer garden ideas, click here