Tuesday, December 06, 2011

The Garden House and the Mystery Schefflera

It's beginning to feel a lot like Christmas.....

It seems a strange introduction but there is a definite nip in the air recently, with thick frost on all of the cars and the road feeling a bit slippery with ice for the first time on my way to work this morning. I don't normally get into the Christmas spirit until about a couple of weeks before the actual day but with the recent chill in the air it looks like I will be lulled into an early Christmas feeling this time. 

Saying that, around this time last year we were covered in blankets of snow and have had several subzero temperatures already, so the mild autumn we've just experienced was a wonderful bonus. But all of us got used to the milder temperatures and with the sudden feel of chill in the air, everyone seems to have been suddenly reminded that it is winter after all (based on the amount of weather reports I received from all of our clients I spoke to today!).

But before I start getting into the Christmas theme, I thought it would be nice to feature one of the beautiful gardens we visited last summer. I mentioned about having a blog backlog awhile ago and this is one of them. It's also a nice way of getting a shot of green lushness and colourful displays at a time that plants outside are generally looking dreary already, and a little reminder of the beauty of summer. Something to look back and something to look forward to at the same time.

The Garden House is one of the more established English public gardens located in Yelverton, Devon. It is the elegant former home of the vicars of Buckland Monachorum with the present building dating back to the early 19th century. Along with the house is an eight acre garden that is also entwined with the Buckland Abbey and a local church. After the Second World War, the house and gardens were bought by Lionel Fortescue, and together with his wife Katharine they developed the garden and gave the property it's current name. They have established the Fortescue Garden Trust to which the ownership is now currently bequeathed to, ensuring that the long legacy of the garden is maintained and it's future more secured.

It is a reasonably well known garden with it's own established set of regular visitors, patrons, and even endorsements from several gardening celebrities. It is also well known among horticulturists and plant exoticists as the garden does contain several exotic plants and several sections have exotic planting schemes. These plants have been introduced to the garden through the years by various individuals and plant collectors, and also by it's former head gardener Keith Wiley. 

Recently however, the garden has generated some extra interest among exotic plant enthusiasts after seed grown Scheffleras have become more widely available and sold by several more nurseries in the UK. The seeds has been reported to have been sourced from the mature specimen growing at The Garden House. Naturally, being a Schefflera fan I just had to check it out myself.

But of course this garden and our visit is more than just about this Schefflera. It is a beautiful garden with lots of interesting plants and colourful planting.

A Fleeting Moment of Beauty

The South African Garden is one of the more notable sections of the garden, with a large collection of Kniphofias and other plants indigenous to that country. Unfortunately, with the last few winters being harsher than normal it has taken its toll on this part of the garden and has suffered extensive plant damages and losses. Because of this they have made the decision to replant this area with a different scheme altogether, using plants that are much able to withstand colder temperatures and harsher winters. So the South African Garden is no more and is now just a part of it's history of changes. The new planting scheme still remains to be seen as they won't be doing it till next year. 

However, just for this year they have made the area a wildflower meadow with plants consisting mostly of various types of poppies, cornflowers, grasses and I must say the effect was spectacular. An explosion of rich, vibrant colours spread throughout a wide area, billowing with the gentle breeze, and overall a wonderful sight. There are still a few Kniphofias left, dotted randomly across what is a temporary wildflower meadow and are just shadows of it's former South African Garden splendour. I hope that whatever new scheme they choose to go for, that they incorporate the few Kniphofias left as these remaining plants are survivors of a series of harsher winters and would be a shame to see them removed.

Kniphofia northiae

I am glad we were able to see this unique, one off display as the area was a sight to behold. The photos don't do it justice but I'm happy were were able to experience this fleeting moment of beauty.

And as for that Schefflera...

Until recently, 'hardy' Scheffleras are few and far between, with only a limited number of nurseries selling them and are rather on the expensive side. However, in the last couple of years a few more nurseries have started to sell a seed grown type for a fraction of the it's usual price, with the seeds collected from a mature specimen growing in The Garden House. This specimen has been growing there for many years now (several decades even) and has sailed through the last three 'harsher than usual' winters without sustaining any significant damage, in a location that rarely gets any winter sun for months on end. Taking this into account, the potential for hardiness of the plants grown from its seeds is very promising.

These plants are often sold as S. rhododendrifolia, occasionally as S. impressa. On one or two occasions I've heard that they were also sold as S. taiwaniana, and a correspondence given to someone by a Garden House nurseryman referred to the plant as possibly S. incisa (but even that letter had a tone of uncertainty). And to make matters even more confusing, the plants they were selling in their own plant sales are currently labelled as S. chapana.

So what is the true identity of this plant? I think for now it remains largely a mystery and I personally refer to these plants being sold as collectively 'The Garden House Scheffleras'. I do have an idea as to what is the likeliest identity of the plant but it's not really my position to mention what it is. There's a mash of curious stories behind it (all entertaining and fascinating), as to how it was introduced there and who and where did the original material came from. I haven't had the chance to verify any of the stories myself to those who were directly involved with it so for now everything I've heard remains a collection of speculations. 

But more importantly, is this Schefflera worth buying? A resounding yes! As a juvenile plant it's one of the nicest looking scheffleras I've ever seen and the mature plant at The Garden House don't look bad either :-)




  1. This is a truly stunning garden, and it looks like you visited at the absolutely best time of year. I would love to spend a day there enjoying the plants. That winding path in the middle of your post is incredible!

    Cold-hardy scheffleras are even harder to find over here. Still looking for a S. taiwaniana. I read that it's "supposed" to become available more widely in 2012 as Monrovia, one of the largest U.S. wholesale nurseries, will introduce it to the retail market.

    :: Bamboo and More ::

  2. OMG I could spend all day there. It is stunning. Lots of great ideas for people ti be able to apply to their own gardens. Thanks for the tour Mark.
    Cher Sunray Gardens

  3. Wow - what a gorgeous garden! I love those up and down, windy paths! And that wildflower meadow is lovely. I bet there are tons of butterflies there! The schefflera identity is interesting, and confusing!

  4. Yes, I'll take three please! (if it were only that easy...)

  5. What a magnificent garden, definately one to be added to the list to view. The meadow pics where spectacular! You where definately fortunate to be there at just the right time!

  6. Fabulous!! What a marvelous tour of a stunning garden(s)!!
    Thank you so much for sharing all this beauty and history.
    Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! to you both and can't wait to see your "Personal Haven" next year when it's once again thriving!!

  7. Wow i love the Garden House, both the garden design and the plants. Mark, are those red spikes called lupines? I've only seen other colors but not like that red! Is it okay to ask if your work involves plants too?

    [regarding your comment that South Cotabato was closed a few years back, no it is not. It is only Basilan which is a bit dangerous. South Cotabato is a very safe place. For ARMM where Cotabato City is, i went there a few times in the past, alone from Davao and it was okay, not anything unusual, even if just rode the public buses. I've also been to Zamboanga Sibugay many times, but i don't dare go to Basilan.]

  8. What an awesome place! I really like the South African Garden and the color scheme of those borders. Since last summer I have been working on establishing a border with a red and reddish-purple color range at my parents' place in Michigan, mainly as a change from the pastels and yellows that dominate most summer gardens in those parts.

  9. Looks smashing. I love all those dark lupins and that winding path leading up to what? a summerhouse is fantastic. And the wildflower planting is stunning.

    But how was the cake?

  10. Thanks for the tour of a really gorgeous garden! I was thinking the schefflera reminded me of a rhododendron, then I see someone identified it as S rhododendrifolia! I think it would be a great addition to a woodland area.

  11. Gerhard, it is a stunning garden indeed. One or two areas could do with spicing up but overall it is superb. Hopefully you can get hold of an S. taiwaniana soon :)

    Cher, Holley, glad you enjoyed it!

    Loree, if only it is easy to send plants over there! Hopefully some of the seeds have made its way across the pond and the same plants will be available there soon too.

    Libby, next time you’re ‘round Devon way it’s definitely worth including in your itinerary :)

  12. Thanks Roberta, glad you enjoyed it! Season’s Greetings to you you too! :)

    Glad you liked it Andrea! Herbaceous plants here are exotic there :) Yes, those red spikes are Lupins.

    College Gardener, the rick tones of red and reddish purple makes a superb combination. Jewel tones :)

    David, we didn’t try their cake I’m afraid, we bought our own (and saved a few pennies) :)

    Thanks Debs! It would be a great addition to your woodland garden!

  13. There is a Schefflera at Arduaine Gardens, Argyll Scotland that may be about that age and is called S. impressa. I wonder if you could possibly find out whether they came from the same source - that might tell you something.


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