PUBLISHED: 16:57 22 August 2016 | UPDATED: 09:53 23 August 2016
Steph Woolvett escaped the London rat race to open a plant nursery in Staverton six years ago and the business hasn’t stopped blossoming since, writes Charlotte Dear
As you drive along the peaceful lane that leads to Staverton Bridge Nursery, it is easy to miss this hidden haven of colour and beauty, nestled deep in the heart of the South Hams countryside.
Once out of the car, follow the path that runs parallel to the babbling River Dart below past vast glasshouses, taking in the scents of their wonderful displays of herbs, climbers and perennials as you go. Keep walking and you’ll reach the timber fronted café, where you can choose from an extensive and mouth-watering vegetarian menu which includes seasonal salads, fragrant tagines, delicious coffees and tempting cakes and pastries.
On a fine day, continue through the café to the deck beyond and enjoy a glass of local wine overlooking this stunning stretch of the River Dart, before wandering into the adjoining shop to pick up locally made arts, crafts and vintage treasures to take home.
Steph Woolvett was working as a buyer for Boden in London when she decided it was time for a drastic career change. Her mother already owned a small plot of land on this stretch of river where she grew herbs for wholesale and always suspected that her daughter might one day follow in her footsteps. However, it was not until Steph visited Petersham Nurseries in Richmond with a friend that she was inspired to create her own horticultural haven in the Hams.
After two years of careful research, planning and budgeting, Steph quit her life in the capital to start her new venture. She set about sourcing plants from local vendors, passionate about supporting other small Devon enterprises and drawing visitors to the area through complimentary businesses.
She explains: “When you move back to Devon you have to reinvent yourself, find a niche in the market and reach out to people. When I first moved down from London, I was frustrated at how slow Devon worked, but I adapted pretty quickly and my patience has got a little better as a result.”
Steph knew that in the current climate she had to offer her visitors more than just plants, so immediately set to work on an onsite café. Using local suppliers where possible – right down to the scaffolding boards that form the decking outside – she designed the building using her keen eye for rustic, Scandinavian style.
With a focus on organic produce, the café is stocked with Riverford milk and dairy, Ticklemore cheese, vegetables from Annie’s Fruit Shop in Totnes and cakes and bakes from The Exploding Bakery or baked on site.
“Having recently taken on a new head chef, John, from Riverford Field Kitchen, this year’s biggest project is to sort out the vegetable patch so that we can use our own produce in the café,” Steph reveals.
Last autumn, she made the decision to build a shop onto the end of the café: “The idea was to give people another reason to visit, and to support other small businesses in the process.”
The beautifully selected display of ceramics, tableware and jewellery includes Yume Martin silverware from Ashburton, glassware made by Steph’s sister and soaps and creams made by her mother from Staverton Bridge Nursery’s organic herbs.
“I used to spend a lot of time going to auctions for vintage finds, and loved the haggling involved even if I did often find myself returning the money when I felt I’d bought something too cheaply!”
It is clear that Steph, along with her five members of full and part-time staff, is working hard to expand the business and to welcome as many visitors and other enterprises as it will allow. With yoga classes on the decking, gardening courses in the nursery, lessons in reflexology and a new alcohol licence ready for summer evenings, this is becoming more of a community hub than just a nursery.
The impressive traditional glasshouse doubles up as overflow seating for visitors with dogs and a stunning wedding venue when lined with dramatic potted plants, rustic table displays and a fresh, seasonal menu.
“The possibilities we have here are endless; it’s sometimes hard to focus on one project at a time. It is also crucial that each new addition can pay for itself, which involves careful planning and a lot of patience!”
Five other places to explore in and around the South Hams
•Dartington Estate: once you’ve finished exploring the 1,200 acres of listed gardens and grounds, head to the pictures in the 14th-century Barn Cinema.
•Lukesland Gardens, Ivybridge: wander the 24 acres of woodland and Victorian gardens and waterfalls before enjoying a Devonshire cream tea in the tearooms.
•Bantham Beach, Kingsbridge: at the mouth of the River Avon, this swimming and surfing hotspot enjoys views over Bigbury Bay and Burgh Island.
•Buckfast Abbey, Buckfastleigh: founded in 1018, the abbey sits on the edge of Dartmoor National Park and is home to a community of Benedictine Monks.
•Greenway Estate, Brixham: walk in Agatha Christie’s footsteps as you explore her family home and woodland garden, which leads down to the banks of the River Dart.