Devon’s garden heroes and highlights

PUBLISHED: 17:21 27 March 2017 | UPDATED: 17:21 27 March 2017

Path winds through the Summer Garden

Path winds through the Summer Garden

Garden House

As he gears up for his annual Devon Garden Festival next month, presenter and writer Toby Buckland chooses some of his garden heroes and highlights

Devon has a rich horticultural heritage and fabulous gardens including Rosemoor, Knightshayes and Killerton which rightly deserve their high profile. However there are many less vaunted locations, nurseries that deserve to be better known and gardening heroes that quietly influence the way we grow and what we plant in our gardens.

Here is my pick of some of the horticultural faces and places that should be better known.

Katherine Miles, Willow Artist

Willow weaver and recent star of Channel 4’s Sunday Brunch, Katherine Miles has an extraordinary ability to capture her subjects in willow, whether a woven stag, heron or pocket-watch toting White Rabbit from Alice in Wonderland.

Katherine’s sculptures always bring dynamism to any landscape and are incredibly lifelike. Katherine runs courses through the year and can work to commission but get in quick, because she’s very much in demand! or call 07762 387347

Willow deer familyWillow deer family

Dartington Hall Gardens

Its undulating landscape is sliced with horizontal planes into the grass giving it a contemporary but timeless feel, enhanced by sculptures and artwork by amongst others Henry Moore and Peter Randall-Page.

At this time of year the bulbs are coming up and the leaves just starting to unfurl. One of Devon’s best known cultural centres and home of the Ways With Words Festival but unstuffy enough to be a favourite with my younger children who love to play hide and seek among the pillar-like tree trunks and clipped conifers.

Thornhayes Nursery

The place to find trees in Devon, this Cullompton nursery has been owned and run by Kevin Croucher and wife Pat since 1991. Kevin specialises in trees of all descriptions and boasts one of the widest selections in the UK including specialist varieties of ornamental trees, fruit and hedging.

Having celebrated their 25th anniversary in 2016, Kevin claims 60,000 trees in the British landscape are the result of his design and propagating knife. Quite an achievement!

An international expert on trees, it’s good to have Kevin on our doorstep here in Devon. Check out his website for winter fruit training courses, Thornhayes Nursery,; 01884 266746

Growers Organics

Producing high-quality organic vegetable, herb and flower plants and seeds from their South Devon Nursery, Growers Organics - run by passionate plantswoman Joa Grower - raise all their plants by hand and run the nursery on environmental and ethical principles backed by 25 years of garden experience – 18 of which have been in nurseries.

Their comprehensive range of veggies, seeds, herbs, fruit and sundries – all certified organic - can be bought by mail order or by taking a trip to the nursery which is open from March to September.; 01752 881180

Urban and Rural Plants

Based at Matford, near Exeter, this hidden away tree and architectural plant nursery is one of Exeter’s best kept secrets. Sourcing from around the globe and supplying to garden acolytes including Chelsea Flower Show designers, Sam and Lee have their finger on the garden fashion pulse but also know what will do well in your garden, whether it’s a cloud-pruned privet or an exotic date palm.

Many of the plants sourced for Chelsea show gardens find their way onto sale in the nursery, so if you’re after something really special… They also offer a landscape and design service.; 01392 253266

Nicky Scott

I’ve known and worked with Nicky Scott for years on our garden festivals, where he gives demonstration of his composting craft. And what he doesn’t know about making compost isn’t worth knowing!

Director of Devon’s Community Resource Network and Chair of Devon Growing Schools Nicky is a consultant helping businesses, schools, and community groups make the most of resources they might otherwise throw away. He is ‘Dr Compost’ and can be contacted at

Atlantic Botanic Atlantic Botanic

Atlantic Botanic

Many of Devon’s gardens are on the coast but many more sit on high ground and are exposed to winds, making growing conditions difficult.

For plants to survive they need to be tough and that’s where Atlantic Botanic nursery comes in.

Started by Alan Godsmark and Kay Tudor who met at RHS Rosemoor, this three-acre nursery is based behind the sand dunes of Braunton Burrows.

Here they grow and sell an inspiring range of wind and salt-tolerant plants hailing from South Africa and New Zealand, including agapanthus, red hot poker, osteospermum, architectural phormium and exotic ginger lilies, canna and passionflower, as well as ‘beachy’ grasses which dance in the breeze.; 01271 816225

The Garden House

The Garden House is a plant spotter’s paradise with a wealth of unusual and rare plants. Covering ten acres, its appeal lies in the way it’s divided into smaller gardens and scenes.

Features to look out for include the granite standing stones and serpentine walls. There’s also a romantic walled garden, 16th century ruins and flowering meadows, cottage garden with drift planting and terraced lawns. Buckland Monachorum, Yelverton PL20 7LQ, 01822 854769, open every day except Monday 10.30-5pm, adults £7.20

Hillhouse Nursery

Once the vicarage of Landscove near Ashburton and taken over in 1981 by Ray and Sacha Hubbard to become Hillhouse Nursery, selling a huge range of rare and tender perennials and climbers.

Ray pioneered the use of biological controls, using natural predators instead of chemicals to combat greenhouse pests.

He is a remarkable grower too, with a long list of plants he has bred and named including Nemesia ‘Bluebird’ which has sold more than 13 million plants worldwide. Open 50 weeks a year except Christmas.; 01803 762273

You can meet many of Toby’s Devon Garden Heroes at Toby’s Garden Festival at Powderham Castle on 28 and 29 April 2017. Tickets cost £10 and are available from the Powderham Castle Plant Centre or online

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