The show must go on

Tape­ley Park and Gar­dens, In­stow, north Devon Non Mor­ris dis­cov­ers that ex­per­i­men­ta­tion, en­vi­ron­men­tal­ism and nu­mer­ous dra­matic flour­ishes in­vig­o­rate this un­usual Devon­shire gar­den at ev­ery turn

Country Life Every Week - - Contents - Pho­to­graphs by Val Cor­bett

En­vi­ron­men­tal­ism and dra­matic flour­ishes mark Tape­ley Park, Hec­tor Christie’s un­usual north Devon gar­den. Non Mor­ris pays a visit

Few houses can have been built with such tan­ta­lis­ing views. Grade Ii*-listed Tape­ley Park, built in 1702 and re­mod­elled in the 19th and early 20th cen­turies, sits in a com­mand­ing po­si­tion look­ing down onto Devon’s Tor­ridge es­tu­ary, the pretty town of Bide­ford and out to Lundy Is­land in the dis­tance.

‘I thought you were com­ing to­mor­row,’ says Hec­tor Christie with a school­boy grin as I track him down, guided by the cheery sign: ‘Hip­pies use back door. No ex­cep­tions.’ He glances sea­wards for just a frac­tion too long as he de­scribes how the es­tu­ary’s per­fect surf­ing con­di­tions are the re­sult of the River Taw merg­ing with the Tor­ridge at just this point.

I have time to ad­mire his green woollen jumper, which has flared sleeves and holes so big it looks as if it’s made of car­toon cheese, and his bucket hat bound with yel­low-and­black plas­tic bar­ri­cade tape. How­ever, the mo­ment of agony has clearly passed: ‘Don’t worry, the surf’s still go­ing to be there tonight.’ And so, to­gether with his english bull ter­rier wayne, Hec­tor gra­ciously in­vites me on what will turn out to be one of my most up­lift­ing gar­den vis­its of the year.

we walk past the south-fac­ing façade of the house, im­pos­ing with its re­peated col­umns of stone, but there is a soft­ness and warmth to the wind-beaten red of the brick. There’s a clever, sim­ple plant­ing of a Mag­no­lia gran­di­flora and an Aca­cia deal­bata (mi­mosa) on each side of the main en­trance, the trees grow­ing lushly in their sun­trap of a home.

we head up and west­wards to the walled kitchen gar­den, a tra­di­tional pro­duc­tive plot on a per­fect, south-fac­ing slope with won­der­ful views over the rolling es­tate. There are long-es­tab­lished es­paliered ap­ple and pear trees, a sto­ry­book thatched pot­ting shed and a 1930s green­house, with a curved roof, run­ning the length of the wall. Hec­tor is thrilled with the in­ge­nious way the green­house has been re­stored with plas­tic gut­ter­ing. ‘It’s a bril­liant so­lu­tion— it’s flex­i­ble, will last for ages and it cost about £300 in­stead of thou­sands.’

It’s about look­ing af­ter the place so that as many peo­ple as pos­si­ble can en­joy it

we hur­tle through the pot­ting shed to pay homage to the im­pres­sive wa­ter-stor­age sys­tem, a series of huge grey wa­ter­butts, roofhigh in neat rows against the barn be­yond. we meet head gar­dener Chris Barham, who matches Hec­tor in his en­thu­si­asm for the way the sys­tem sup­plies wa­ter for the kitchen gar­den, new poly­tun­nels, per­ma­cul­ture gar­den and the Ital­ian ter­races. ‘There’s a bore­hole if we need it—we’re self-suf­fi­cient.’

ex­per­i­ment­ing with ways to be self-suf­fi­cient and sus­tain­able is fun­da­men­tal to the 21st-cen­tury Tape­ley Park: ‘It’s about shar­ing this house and the build­ings around it, de­vel­op­ing and prac­tis­ing ideas of sus­tain­abil­ity and look­ing af­ter the place so that as many peo­ple as pos­si­ble can en­joy it.’ The en­ergy and un­stuffi­ness of the ap­proach sim­ply can’t fail to win you round. ‘Look—there’s wild gar­lic here for four months of the year. I honk like a pig, but it’s free and it’s so good for you,’ ad­vises Hec­tor.

He in­her­ited the house in 1988 from his aunt Rosamund, who fa­mously gar­dened, chased af­ter vis­i­tors for their en­trance fee and did the teas sin­gle-handed—all while car­ry­ing a par­rot on her head. when Hec­tor

was 19, it be­came clear to their father that younger brother Gus would be the man for the other fam­ily es­tate, Glyn­de­bourne in East Sus­sex, and Hec­tor for the farm in Devon. Although the lat­ter’s jour­ney has been more fiery, he’s man­aged ‘by the hair on my chinny chin chin’ to turn Tape­ley around to its cur­rent, re­fresh­ing and in­spir­ing form.

A large pro­por­tion of the sto­ries you may have heard about Hec­tor are true. A pas­sion­ate pro­tester against ge­net­i­cally mod­i­fied (GM) crops, he dressed up as a GM potato in Ger­many and in­fil­trated the G8 sum­mit in Genoa dis­guised as a priest (‘the Glyn­de­bourne cos­tume depart­ment has been a great help’), but, at Tape­ley, he was also busy es­tab­lish­ing one of the ear­li­est and big­gest per­ma­cul­ture gar­dens in the UK.

I meet Jenny Hayns, who chore­ographs this fas­ci­nat­ing acre of gar­den that’s tucked into a shel­tered spot lower in the grounds. Per­ma­cul­ture is a thought­ful, cre­ative ap­proach to the way plants work to­gether. It uses lay­ers of per­ma­nently pro­duc­tive plants: fruit trees grow­ing above fruit bushes, which, in turn, grow above peren­ni­als— per­haps globe ar­ti­chokes and fen­nel—which grow above ground-cover plants such as wild straw­berry or ‘the X-fac­tor plant’ com­frey. It clev­erly ex­ploits the ver­ti­cal di­men­sion, so that a vine will be trained up a mul­berry tree, of­fer­ing ed­i­ble mul­berry leaves in spring, fol­lowed by mul­ber­ries, fol­lowed by the grapes.

As ever, the sto­ry­telling ap­proach at Tape­ley is in­fec­tious. ‘Take black­cur­rants —a black­bird’s favourite aper­i­tif. In the Kitchen Gar­den, the birds just gob­ble them up, but, here, we let the sting­ing net­tles grow through them to keep the birds off. When you want to har­vest the cur­rants, you sim­ply cut the net­tles down first.’

I’m smit­ten by the way my gar­den­ing knowl­edge is turned on its head. I knew that dahlia tu­bers were ed­i­ble, but had never con­sid­ered steamed shoots of solomon’s seal as an al­ter­na­tive to as­para­gus or us­ing the leaves of pol­larded lime as a salad.

The Tea Rooms—based in the re­stored Queen Anne dairy, with food also served out­side on the Dairy Lawn, with its bor­der de­signed by Carol Klein—of­fers ‘chem­i­cal­free food fresh from the kitchen and per­ma­cul­ture gar­dens and even from the for­est floor’. Beef and lamb will be sourced from the es­tate’s own ‘solely grass fed’ High­land cat­tle and sheep. ‘We ad­vo­cate ex­cel­lent food at a very rea­son­able cost,’ adds Hec­tor, with his trade­mark no-non­sense pas­sion. ‘You’ll be able to have your fill for a fiver.’

Buzzing with the un­stop­pable en­thu­si­asm that per­vades the whole es­tate, I head at last to the Ital­ian ter­races, the tiered gar­dens that fall el­e­gantly away to the south of the house, cre­ated in the early 20th cen­tury by John Belcher un­der the watch­ful eye of Hec­tor’s great-grand­mother, Lady Rosa­mond Christie. I squeeze through a pair of ma­ture Ir­ish yews to find the crisp, an­gu­lar form of a Quer­cus ilex tun­nel to my right and, in front of me, a rich-red fuch­sia hedge and danc­ing white fes­toons of solanum against lichen-cov­ered, pale-grey stone.

Much of the lat­est plant­ing on the ter­races was the work of Hec­tor’s won­der­ful ex-wife, Kirsty Macdon­ald (mother to their two chil­dren Bess and Archibald). Kirsty em­ployed the ser­vices of Carol Klein and Mary Keen to do a com­plete over­haul of the three main Ital­ian ter­races, which of­fer a dif­fer­ent pal­ette at each level. The Mid­dle Ter­race is home to the Blue-and-yel­low Bor­der, cheer­ful with the long-last­ing, lemon-yel­low dahlia Glo­ria van Heem­st­ede and the paler yel­low Cephalaria gi­gan­tea. The Bot­tom Bor­der is unashamedly pink and the stars of the show are the volup­tuous pink dahlias ‘that were here long be­fore I ar­rived’.

The Bot­tom Bor­der opens onto a spa­cious lawn that’s an­i­mated by the ex­otic stilt-walk­ing drama of a series of Chu­san palms. At one end is the D-shaped Lily Pond (Hec­tor has a clearly de­li­cious mem­ory of push­ing an im­por­tant vis­i­tor into the pond when he was very young), which be­comes sud­denly elec­tric when the late-af­ter­noon sun floats onto the wa­ter.

At the other end is the Toot, a stone sum­mer house that of­fers a par­tic­u­larly up­lift­ing view up through the gar­den to the house.

There is an in­built stage set, giv­ing a party-ready qual­ity to the ter­race lay­er­ing, and the steps lead­ing up from the Top Ter­race to the 18th-cen­tury Ice House and Shell Grotto (the next ren­o­va­tion project) take you away to the Mediter­ranean with their lush plant­ing of echi­ums and Cordy­line aus­tralis. Tow­er­ing yews and enor­mous bat-winged cedar trees an­chor and pro­tect the house and sketchy, wind­blown Mon­terey cy­press frame ev­ery view.

At the end of the Tape­ley Park guide­book Hec­tor writes: ‘I hope you en­joy your visit, and if, when you leave you feel bet­ter than

View down to the Top Ter­race from the Shell House, with its tun­nel of tightly clipped holm oaks (Quer­cus ilex) when you ar­rived, then Tape­ley has done its job.’ I get into the car smil­ing from ear to ear—job done.

A mag­nif­i­cent cedar of Le­banon takes cen­tre stage in front of the house, whose com­mand­ing po­si­tion over­looks the es­tu­ary of the River Tor­ridge

Steps lushly margined with Chu­san palms Trachy­car­pus for­tunei, cab­bage palms Cordy­line aus­tralis, Echium pin­i­nana, blue-flow­ered aga­pan­thus and pink wands of Dierama pul­cher­ri­mum lead from the Shep­herd’s Shed on the Top Ter­race to the Shell House

Over fuch­sia and laven­der hedges to the Toot, a 20th-cen­tury sum­mer house at one end of the Bot­tom Ter­race, flanked by un­clipped Ir­ish yew

The mostly blue-and-yel­low Mid­dle Ter­race Bor­der was orig­i­nally planned by Mary Keen and fea­tures Dahlia Glo­ria van Heem­st­ede and Cephalaria gi­gan­tea

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.