Gorwell House Garden


We moved into Gorwell House in September 1976 when I joined a local General Medical Practice in the town; the house had belonged to my (then) senior partner. We fell in love with it and its characterful appearance enhanced by the unusual Bath stone colonnade.

When we arrived there was no garden to speak of - the field of almost 4 acres was grazed by bullocks and the garden round the house was barely developed.

The field had lovely views of Hartland and Lundy island, and it was my original intention just to plant some trees and create a parkland effect. The Tulip Tree just inside the field gate was the first thing I planted in early 1977, having to erect a stockade against the bullocks whose reach was amazing.

Several trees followed in 1979 - magnolias, a Sweet Chestnut, a red flowered Horse Chestnut, the Cedar of Lebanon and the Blue Atlantic cedar on the old tennis court, among others.

In 1982 we got rid of the stock and could plant in earnest, having decided that a garden was what I wanted to create. We also acquired the old walled garden at that time which had had a sheep in it to keep the grass down, some tumbledown buildings and old apple trees.

I discovered that not only was there a favoured maritime microclimate, but also all the high south facing walls enabled very tender plants to be grown. The rainfall is about 40 ins per annum. In a typical winter our minimum night temperatures are above freezing with lows of down to -2 to -5C but only for one or two nights at a time. The frost never penetrates. The lowest temperature I have ever recorded has been -12C in the severe winters of 2009/10/11 when Devon and Cornwall were especially badly affected, and which led to casualties especially in my Australasian plants and palms etc.

Within a strict design, I have planted many unusual plants to see if they would grow and in spite of the inevitable losses, a great many have. Over the years I have obtained plants from many specialist nurseries and knowledgeable friends, building up the collection you see today. It is continually being added to as new plants are introduced and become available. In 1997 following a trip to Chile, the garden became one of the trial outposts for Chilean plants from the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh.

Magnolias are a particular love of mine, including the recently introduced evergreen species

formerly known as Michelias/Mangletias etc., but smaller shrubs, herbaceous plants and alpines all find their place here.

A plant collecting trip to Sichuan in the mountains near Tibet in June 2004 has produced more additions to the collection, as have plants collected and donated by botanist friends.

Over the years I have built some follies - a small temple was the first, followed by an octagonal summerhouse, obelisk, urns and a decorated shell grotto - entrance complete, interior chamber yet to be built! A large round domed temple dedicated to Pan was completed in 2004.

After 42 years in the old house, we moved to the back, but kept the majority of the garden I created.

The garden has appeared in various magazines and articles, and many of the plants and design features have appeared in reference books.

Development is still taking place, a garden never keeps still!

Gorwell House Garden