Hidden in North Devon are three men and a beautiful garden

PUBLISHED: 11:37 30 July 2014 | UPDATED: 11:39 30 July 2014

Ben, Alan, Nigel with their miniature schnauzer Oscar

Ben, Alan, Nigel with their miniature schnauzer Oscar


Everything is rounded up beautifully in a stunning North Devon garden, as GILL HEAVENS discovers

A classical bust sits well with a blue mophead hydrangeaA classical bust sits well with a blue mophead hydrangea

Take one man who curated a renowned botanical garden for 20 years, mix in a horticulturalist who provided a major city with all their bedding and greenhouse plants, finish off with a sprinkling of groundsman and what you have is the spectacular garden at The Round House in Ilfracombe, North Devon!

Alan and Nigel Teague trained at West Wythenshaw College in Manchester, although they did not meet until later whilst working at the city’s Debdale Park. They progressed through the local authority system with eventually Nigel being appointed curator of The Fletcher Moss Botanical Garden and Alan rising to the post of senior foreman of glasshouse production.

A more recent addition to the team is Ben Clennell, whose roles include lawn maintenance and heavy pruning; he is the “petrol head” of the triumvirate. Ben left a career in banking to move here three years ago, and the transition from London life to coastal North Devon has been a surprisingly easy one. Although Nigel undertakes 70 per cent of the garden works, all changes are discussed and agreed amongst The Three.

Surrounding the architecturally splendid main house is an acre of garden, which is steeply sloped. When they moved to the garden 16 years ago most of the hard landscaping was in place, including the many winding paths that skate around the garden. The previous owners had also planted the more mature trees including a monumental beech and an exotic Crinodendron hookerianum.

In one of the sunny borders Campanula lactiflora gives a good displayIn one of the sunny borders Campanula lactiflora gives a good display

Since then there have been many changes and the garden has been extended to make room for yet more plants. Nigel has a particular love of tender plants and Echium candicans, Geranium maderense and leptospermums all thrive here under his care. The risk of growing borderline hardy plants is that sometimes the border is crossed and unfortunately last winter a mature Acacia pravissima was split in half during one of the gales. Although they mourned its loss they are now reaping the benefits of additional light reaching some areas of the garden.

Adjacent to the cottage, in one of the sunnier (and flatter!) parts of the garden a lush border boasts Campanula lactiflora, pinks, sweet Williams, penstemon and lilies. Dotted around this area are an assortment of planters and pots voluptuous with lobelia, Begonia “Bonfire”, nemesia and heliotrope.

The main garden is in shade for much of the year and boasts many fine specimens of hydrangeas and rhododendrons. Making up the understory are epimediums, hellebores and geraniums. This is not a garden of regimental precision; self-seeders are allowed to pop up amongst the cultivated members. Nigel is particularly fond of red campion, but aquilegias, Lunaria purpurea and the bronze leaved Haloragis erecta are also encouraged. Salvias, penstemon and diascia are also favourites, with the added benefit of being unattractive to molluscs. The garden is dotted with sculptures, both classical and whimsical, which work well within the lush planting.

The Round House is situated next to the Cairn nature reserve and they have frequent visits from wildlife, including badgers, foxes and once a herd of cows! Luckily, visitors of the human variety are far more welcome than marauding cattle. As Alan and Nigel have worked in public parks all their lives this has influenced their cordial attitude to visitors, and as Alan says: “It is a shame not to share”. As well as opening for charity on specific days of the year, the garden is open whenever there are no guests in residence.

The Round House with its turreted entranceThe Round House with its turreted entrance

Before I left Ben took me out onto the flat roof of The Round House for an aerial view of the garden. Mature trees, cottage garden planting and exotics, all sitting beautifully together. Shining out, like a beacon in the sumptuous canopy, was my star of the show, the Chilean Fire Bush Embothrium coccineum. In the near future there are plans for Alan to get the greenhouse he has missed for the past 16 years and a place has been cleared behind the cottage for this purpose. Surely there can be no stopping them now!

Pick of the Crop

Echium candicans - Pride of Madeira

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As its common name suggests, this striking subshrub is native to Madeira. Bees are drawn irresistibly to the blue panicles which can reach 3m tall and 4m wide, a truly impressive sight when in full bloom.

Embothrium coccineum – Chilean Fire Bush

This evergreen member of the tricky Proteaceae family is worth the trouble growing it when you see it in full flower. The tree is festooned with magnificent tubular scarlet flowers which in the wild are visited by hummingbirds. There is also a rare pale yellow flowered form.

Geranium maderense – Giant Herb Robert

Another native of Madeira, the large panicles of dark pink flowers make an impressive statement. A short-lived plant, but seed is produced in great number so either leave it to nature or collect your own which will ensure plants for years to come.

Crinodendron hookerianum – Chile Lantern Tree

This evergreen tree produces hanging deep red flowers over a long period from spring to late summer. They can reach 8m tall, which is a little excessive for most gardens! Luckily they respond well to hard pruning, which will keep them to a manageable size.

Leptospermum lanigerum – Woolly Tea Tree

Most of the leptospermum species are endemic to Australia. They were named Tea Tree by early mariners who made a drink from the leaves as preventative to scurvy as it is extremely high in vitamin C. Leptospermum is also the source of the exclusive manuka honey, which has both anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties.

The Round House

Local lore says that after William Balmont, a local Ilfracombe builder, erected an octagonal summer house he was challenged to build a completely circular building below. Although it took eight years to complete, between 1912 and 1920, he won the bet. The First World War slowed construction down considerably and unfortunately Mr Balmont did not live to see the completion of this architectural gem. Interesting features include a turreted entrance and rotunda on the top floor with 360 degree views.

Alan and Nigel first saw the property on the TV programme Hot Property and admired it. When they visited Ilfracombe the following year and it was still on the market they jumped at the chance to buy this unique property. They have restored it in the Arts and Crafts style with a Shapland and Petter fireplace, parquet floors and Barum ceramics.

The summer house has been extended into the cottage that is now the residence of Alan, Nigel and Ben, and they rent out the main house to holidaymakers. It is available as a holiday let through Marsdens Cottage Holidays marsdens.co.uk.

To arrange visits to this lovely garden see The Round House Facebook page or e-mail bclennell@gmail.com.

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