Is it just me, or is it an astonishing year for blossom? The swathes of yellow gorse flowers with their drifting coconutty fragrance at Little Dartmouth, puffs of white petals on blackthorn bushes in the lanes around Bugford, magnolia flowers like teacups at Hillfield Village… Blossom everywhere.
It is also a good time to discover secret valleys and secluded estates, as gardens across Devon open their gates and set up tea tables to raise funds for the RNLI, Red Cross, St Lukes Hospice and other charities.
Yesterday I visited Bowringsleigh gardens for the first time. This splendid Grade 1 listed Elizabethan manor is tucked into a sheltered spot just outside West Alvington. Approached by a winding lane opposite the Cricket Club, you would never know it was there. Originally built in 1330, it was home to the Ilbert family from the 1690s until the 1980s. Standing in 1,200 acres of softly rolling hills, with distant views of Kingsbridge, the gardens are a delight to explore, with terraces, arboretum and many mature shrubs. It is in its element at this time of year with blooming magnolias, fragrant viburnums, buddleias and, arching over the lawn at the front of the house, a cloud of ornamental cherry.
Bowringsleigh gardens only opens to the public occasionally. The next open day is on Sunday 17 May 2pm-5pm. Contact 01803 712235 for more information. Teas and plant stall. All proceeds to Children’s Hospice South West.
Inspired by Bowringsleigh, I tracked down a handful of gardens, rarely seen by the public, opening for charity this month through the National Garden Scheme
This spring garden in Bovey Tracey has far reaching views over Dartmoor. There is a woodland walk where bluebells lace through camellias, azaleas, rhododendrons and magnolias. Open on Sunday 3 May 2 – 5pm. Teas served and plants for sale, Whitestone House, Bovey Tracey TQ13 9NA.
This Queen Anne House with Lutyens additions has a walled pleasure gardens, borders and Lutyens courtyard. An orchard is carpeted with spring bulbs, there is a collection of rare shrubs and trees and a camellia walk. A path through bluebell woods leads to a private beach (which was used in the filming of National Velvet and Sense and Sensibility). Mothecombe House is open on Saturday 2 and Sunday 3 May 2-5pm
Mothecombe House, Holbeton, nr Plymouth, Devon PL8 1LB.
What better excuse for a trip to Dartmoor? Spitchwick Manor, built in the late 18th century, was described by White as: “a neat House in a romantic situation” where the scenery is “unsurpassed”. This splendid six-acre moorland garden has a lower walled garden with glass houses, a large vegetable garden sheltered by high granite walls with a lily pond, rose garden, camellia walk and a secret garden where a plunge pool, built by Lord Ashbuton for his wife, is fed by an abundant supply of pure fresh moorland water.
Spitchwick Manor opens to the public on Saturday 9 and Sunday 10 May 11am – 4.30pm. Widecombe-in-the-Moor, Poundsgate Newton Abbot TQ13 7PB.