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28 October 2014
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Devon Gardens

An overgrown pond
An overgrown pond

Garden treasures rediscovered

By Carole Madge
Rare plants and trees have thrived in a secret Devon garden which has remained hidden from view for decades.

An historic garden, which has been left untouched for decades has been rediscovered in South Devon.

The new owners of Lower Coombe Royal, near Kingsbridge, fell in love with the overgrown garden and have now found they have a huge job on their hands trying to restore the site.

Planted in the 1840s by local businessman John Luscombe, the garden contains lots of rare and unusual trees, shrubs and plants. These have thrived in the sheltered sunny valley and rich soil of the South Hams.

The garden contains some are specimens
The garden contains some rare specimens

There are over 100 varieties of camellias and some of the original rhododendrons planted in 1840 are over 15 metres high. One large rhododendron arborium has toppled over, but even now is still growing horizontally. 

Horticulturalists say some of the trees are the oldest and largest of their type and experts are keen to take cuttings of the most unusual species. 

"I think we realised how beautiful the trees were," said garden owner Susi Titchener.

"What we didn't appreciate was the historical importance of tree specimens here that are really very rare and some of the largest of their type

"It's just fantastic starting to unravel the history and the interest that other people are showing is really exciting.

Part of the eight acre site was once a commercial nursery but was abandoned decades ago.

Plants have survived in their original pots
Plants have survived in their pots

One particular bed has been called the A-Z bed. Here the plants were left arranged in neat rows in alphabetical order.

Many of the plants, now fully grown trees, are still growing in their small pots.

What were once small specimens are now towering several metres into the sky. Trying to move all the overcrowded plants and save many of the the most interesting subjects will be a huge task for the owners.

A section of the site was designed with lots of plants from America. Unusual ferns create a rainforest look in the lower part of the garden. This is helped by a natural stream and small waterfall which leads to a pond.

The gardener, Rose Wood, says she was absolutely amazed by the wonderful plants when she first visited the garden just a few months ago.  But she's not daunted by the huge scale of the task facing her.

"When I walked around I was overwhelmed by some of the fantastic plants that were here," said Rose.

Restoration will be a challenge
Restoration will be a challenge

"When I first took on this job I decided it would have to be like eating an elephant, one bite at a time. 

"It is a fantastic challenge and when you look around you just think wow it's really wonderful."

During the summer of 2006 Rose will be concentrating on weeding the beds and herbaceous borders near the house so that the plants to be saved can receive all the light, nutrients and rainfall they need.

But there are many other beds that are still choked with weeds and there are lots of trees crying out for attention.

Even after such a short space of time, however, there are some areas which are already looking well ordered. An old wooden greenhouse has been cleared and is now a sanctuary housing some newly planted vegetables, salad crops and some chilli plants.

There are also plans to create a potager on the site of an old fruit cage.

The owners are now dedicated to slowly restoring the garden to it's former glory.  This, they say, is likely to be a lifelong task. 

last updated: 04/08/06
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