A Ramble Around Rosemoor


Rosemoor, the most south-westerly RHS garden, is my favourite of all the RHS gardens. Opened officially in 1990, the society’s secluded Devon outpost is located in a lush valley outside Great Torrington. Rosemoor is set like a polished gem in a vast woodland clearing. Its verdant grounds are fed by clear springs which have been carefully channeled and dammed to create a series of modest water features. The garden’s layout combines traditional formality with the typical serpentine flow of a West Country estate. Every tree, shrub, rose or perennial that grows on the wet, sticky clay does so with rude vigour, so that one is bowled over by Rosemoor’s enduring freshness and vitality. Special arrangements are made for Mediterranean plants, which flourish here on the site of an old tennis court. All approaches to the garden involve navigating miles of winding roads, hence Rosemoor is also one of the quietest RHS gardens; all the better for preserving its unique magic.

It’s rare these days to find me behind the wheel of a car, since I gave up car ownership eighteen months ago. Although I appreciate cars and enjoy driving, I have not missed the palaver of owning a car. Now I hire a suitable vehicle when I need one. For this trip I knew I’d need wheels as I would be returning home with a large quantity of plants. In retrospect, the choice of a Ford Fiesta was an unrealistic one (but then, I hadn’t anticipated buying a tree fern at the time of booking). Rosemoor was to be a stopping-off point en route to Cornwall, and an opportunity to meet up with fellow gardening enthusiasts Torrington Tina and Rusty Duck. Torrington Tina was kind enough to offer me room and board in her beautifully restored Devon long house, so naturally I accepted. A warm welcome was extended following a six-and-a-half hour drive from Broadstairs in the driving rain. After a delicious dinner and much convivial conversation I slept like a log, the rain still tapping on the window pane.

The following morning the sky started to clear, although the rain continued for a while longer. We made our way to Rosemoor prepared for the worst possible conditions and were rewarded with the best – blue skies and bright sunshine. It had not escaped our notice that Plant Heritage were hosting a plant fair at the garden that day. Mr TT and Mr RD were safely installed in the husband crèche, otherwise known as the Garden Kitchen, and supplied with coffees and Sunday papers to keep them out of mischief. Within an hour they were care-taking a bevy of plants projecting out of small white carrier bags (biodegradable ones, of course), the product of three gardeners with limited will-power egging each other on. One plantaholic is bad enough, but when three go on a shopping spree, the number of purchases increases exponentially.

The Damage

  • Eucomis vandermerwei (again).
  • Blechnum chilense (at long last, image below).
  • Salvia rubescens subsp. dolichothrix (a giant Colombian salvia from Ian and Teresa Moss).
  • Salvia uliginosa (from Millwood Plants, as seen on Gardeners’ World).
  • Miscanthus sinensis ‘Red Chief’ (as above).
  • Correa reflexa ‘Brisbane Ranges’ (A tender correa from the brilliant Nicholas Lock).
  • Monstera deliciosa ‘Albovariegata’ (from Fragrant Plants).
  • Brugmansia ‘Frosty Pink’ (from brugmansia specialists Exotic Earth Plants).
  • Colquhounia coccinea (technically collateral damage as this was purchased from Trevenna Cross Nursery the following day having seen a specimen growing in the garden at Rosemoor).

Plants safely stashed in our cars we enjoyed a hearty roast lunch before heading out into the autumn sunshine to see what Rosemoor had to offer. Outside the visitor centre deep borders planted with tender exotics were still rich and abundant. In the rose garden there were still plentiful blooms standing proudly above healthy foliage. Coral-pink R. ‘Jubilee Celebration’ stood out from the crowd and the scent was heavenly. Rosemoor’s famous ‘hot’ garden didn’t disappoint. There were gingers, heleniums, kniphofia, dahlias and hearty clumps of Miscanthus still in their prime. In a few weeks’ time an amphitheatre of trees in their autumn garb will add to the drama.

I enjoy the quieter parts of Rosemoor, especially the foliage garden where pleached Tibetan whitebeams frame an elegant eau de Nil seat. This little ‘moment’ reminds me of the shaded arbors that sit at each corner of Lutyens’ formal garden at Castle Drogo, not so far away on the edge of Dartmoor.

Approaching the lake, several maples and liquidambars were starting to display fiery autumn colour. Pools of autumn crocus (colchicum spp.) surrounded mighty oaks, the delicate blooms laying on their sides here and there where they’d been toppled by the previous night’s rain. One moves between the new garden and the original garden, created by Lady Anne Palmer, through a tunnel beneath a road. Lady Anne’s garden is a more intimate affair, although it’s hard to get any sense of the layout without a map, or such expert guides as I had. Torrington Tina and Rusty Duck are regulars here, and yet we all stumbled upon plants we knew less well. As you might expect, I particularly enjoyed the exotic garden, packed with gingers and generous clumps of tibouchina. I’d love to have the space to achieve something like this and I’d quite like the house to go with it too.

Rosemoor House is fairly modest considering it belonged to the Earls of Orford who decended from Horace Walpole. It can now be rented out for holidays. Beneath a pretty iron verandah can be found citrus trees and large succulents cultivated in pots. A splendid clump of Begonia grandis subsp. evansiana var. alba.was a joy to behold. Once you have this hardy begonia in your garden you will never be without it, not just because it’s terribly pretty, but because it seeds around so freely.

By now time was running out and I needed to continue my journey down to St Agnes in neighbouring Cornwall. We walked back through the fledgling arboretum, enjoying the view back to Torrington from the elevated summerhouse along the way. We were soon back at the visitor centre, via an immaculate space known as the Cottage Garden. Note the laden golden crab apple and try not be distracted by the obligatory red cagoule, a garment which can only have been designed by someone with great disdain for garden and landscape photographers. Here I bid a find farewell to Torrington Tina and Mr TT, lingering for just a few moments longer to peruse the plant centre with Rusty Duck and Mr RD. A disappointment, I have to say, after the riches of the plant fair and the splendours of the garden, but I was spent-up in any case.

If the West Country changes it does so very slowly, and I found Rosemoor little altered since my last visit. The gardens have matured, of course, but in the manner of a fine wine or cheese. What a relief this is in a world that seems to be changing all too quickly and not for the better. TFG.