A Plantsman’s Garden at Andrews Corner

PUBLISHED: 13:30 24 April 2008 | UPDATED: 15:07 20 February 2013

Underplanting beneath the leafy canopy

Underplanting beneath the leafy canopy

A family dynasty has developed the garden at Andrews Corner near Belstone, but it's taken them over 30 years

The entrance fee was only 10p when the garden at Andrews Corner first opened in 1972. Today, sensitively managed and developed by Edwina and Robin Hill, the garden still continues to be opened under the National Garden Scheme (NGS), but the fees have gone up a bit, albeit to only £2.50.

The garden, on the outskirts of Belstone village a few miles east of Okehampton, looks onto the wild northern slopes of Dartmoor. It was started in 1967 by Robin's parents, and created from lawns and a few rhododendrons, at a time when island beds and dwarf conifers were in vogue. Harold's enthusiasm for gardening rubbed off on young Robin, who still remembers many hours spent mowing the grass or growing tomatoes.

Edwina and Robin retired from teaching in 2006, allowing them to devote more time to their gardening, and now their own enthusiasm has transferred to their son, Simon, and his partner, Una, who, while living at Andrews Corner, developed the vegetable garden on purely organic lines, using raised beds and a new glasshouse. In recent years they have tried out some of the more unusual vegetable cultivars and this has always attracted plenty of interest on open days. Trying to garden organically has always been at the forefront of garden management by the Hill family.

Trying their hand at the Good Life

Around 1980, Robin and Edwina tried their hand at 'the good life', keeping goats and chickens on a piece of land they borrowed from next door, but this area has now been made part of the garden, and the productive chickens replaced by traditional breeds. Bearing monikers such as Folies, Bergere, Jacques and Tammy suggests that the chickens occupy a place in their affections somewhat higher than conventional stock.

It's very obvious as soon as you arrive that Andrews Corner is a plantsman's garden influenced by a natural woodland style - the maturing specimen of Betula albo-sinensis and the dense planting of trees and shrubs on either side of the house is the first indication of this.

Robin is keen on growing his plants from seed. "It's something I believe all gardeners should try their hand at," he says. "I'm prepared to have a go at almost anything, and the results are sometimes really good. One great success has to be the number of blue poppies I've grown from seed, including some from my own plants." As well as saving their own seed, Robin acquires it from many other sources, and prior to sowing checks its requirements which he writes on all the packets.

Good at propagating

The aroids Arisaema taiwanense and Arisaema nepenthoides, which grow by the side of the house, are examples of a genus that Robin has been increasing in this way. Other species, such as the low-growing ground cover Chrysoplenium davidii, are increased by divisions. The Hills are obviously good at propagating, evinced by the big collection of plants on sale by the first lawn.

A summerhouse at the top of this lawn, in the shade of a gold-leaved Robinia pseudoacacia 'Frisia', is clothed on one side with Actinidia kolomikta, a climber which, when mature, has leaves with white and pinky mauve tips. From here, grass paths leads down through a mixture of trees and shrubs.

"Woody plants like these make the backbone and structure of a garden and I think should be placed into the overall design before infilling with other plants," says Robin. "We have progressively removed many conifers, which had outgrown their usefulness, as well as other trees and shrubs, to let in light and open up the views. We always start by dealing with sickly plants and dead or misplaced wood."

Making use of maples

The Hills have made clever use of large, multi-stemmed maples, allowing views through the clean stems and light from a thin canopy to a strong underplanting. They have chosen the maples for their range of green, purple and yellow foliage from spring until they change into their multicoloured autumn colour. Some plants have been placed as focal points; there's an extra-pendulous silver birch, Betula pendula 'Youngii', and a Cornus alternifolia ('Variegata') 'Argentea' with tiers of variegated foliage. An open area has a small alpine bed with a seat, and a dry wall for alpines and similar small plants, with hostas and ferns in the shade.

Rhododendrons also abound, of which pink 'Bow Bells', dark-foliaged 'Elizabeth Lockhart', and 'Sleepy', one of the Rhododendron yakushimanum hybrids, are of particular note.

A small pond with irises and bog bean at its margin encourages the wildlife with which the garden abounds. The Hills have recorded some 40 bird species there, but unfortunately the visiting wildlife also includes roe deer, rabbits and grey squirrels with a passion for strawberries.

From the pond, the route back to the house passes a swing seat by a wisteria-covered pergola, sweeps under a Magnolia sieboldii, and past a developing potager to a patio. Here you can relax in what is the perfect sheltered spot to enjoy a cream tea.


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