A combe that casts a spell
Non Morris explores the Repton-designed grounds of Endsleigh, Olga Polizzi’s Devon hotel
Non Morris explores the historic 100-acre grounds of Endsleigh, Olga Polizzi’s alluring West Country hotel, designed by Humphry Repton in perfectly Picturesque style
There is a sheltered, south-facing terrace in a ravishing corner of Devon with perfect views down to the lushly wooded valley of the river Tamar. The terrace is protected by the handsome walls of what was once endsleigh Cottage, a hunting and fishing lodge built for the 6th Duke of Bedford and his wife, Georgiana, in 1810. The lodge was built as a series of low, comfortable buildings designed to nestle unobtrusively into the landscape—a style known as a cottage orné.
endsleigh came complete with such delights as a thatched dairy for the duchess and an unlived-in little house in the woods, built specifically so that, when the fire was lit by a boy who rowed across the river every morning, a charming wisp of smoke would emerge from the treetops to ‘animate’ the landscape. The house was designed by Jeffry Wyatt (famous for transforming Windsor Castle into a castellated Gothic palace) and, once it was completed in 1814, humphry repton, who had designed the duke’s garden at Woburn, was invited to consider the 100 or so acres of grounds.
It remains one of the most perfect examples of the Picturesque style, not least because it’s now a hotel owned and run in a personal and passionate way by Olga Polizzi. repton
famously prepared red linen-bound portfolios for his clients with beautiful ‘lift-theflap’ watercolours to show them what their garden would look like. ‘If you look at our Red Book, you see it all in front of you… the long border, the parterre, the dell,’ Olga tells me. As one of Repton’s last schemes, designed when he was no longer able to walk and had to be carried about the grounds in a sedan chair, it’s a garden that ensures there is comfort and intimacy close to the house, as well as a sense of surprise and adventure when you set off to explore the grounds.
The south-facing terrace—the parterre— was conceived by Repton as a ‘children’s garden’, built in a sunny spot in front of the nursery wing (or ‘children’s cottage’) and set out as a series of neat concentric beds around a pretty bowl-shaped marble fountain. In the Red Book, you’ll find an idyllic illustration of children floating toy sailboats along the elegant curved rill that frames the parterre.
There is a rustic verandah with barkcovered columns clothed today in the delicate pale-pink roses Phyllis Bide and Shropshire Lass and a boxy pavilion framed with exquisite French-grey painted trellis (the trellis is woven rather than nailed together) that casts wonderful, delicate shadows on the soft stone walls. ‘If you ever have the chance to have a lazy lunch under the verandah,’ smiles Olga, with her deeply imbued sense of how to turn a good thing into a magical experience, ‘you can have a long table laid here—it’s really lovely.’
The feel of the parterre is surprisingly modern. There’s a clever evergreen collar of golden creeping Jenny around the fountain and the beds are planted simply and stylishly with perhaps hundreds of mauveflushed Viola Sorbet Orchid Rose Beacon followed by Tulipa Groenland (rose pink with green flames) for winter and spring and the long-lasting Salvia horminum Claryssa Mixed for a more relaxed look in summer: ‘I love it when the salvias go mad. It looks wonderful when it’s a bit wild.’
Olga bought Endsleigh in 2005. It had been sold after the death of the 12th Duke in 1953 and run as a sporting lodge for several decades by the Fishing Friends, a syndicate made up of the duke’s friends who had enjoyed fishing and shooting on the estate. A certain amount of restoration of the long border and the Shell House had taken place in the 1980s, but, by 2003, it was on the market: a dilapidated, Grade I-listed house with much of the garden impenetrable.
A friend had suggested Olga visit it, knowing she would love the position, the grottos and the atmospheric waterfalls, but her initial verdict was that it was too much to take on. A Marcus Binney article in The
Times setting out the urgent need for a lifeline—‘can a secret country gem be saved for us all?’—made her reconsider. ‘I bought it with my heart and not my head. It was so beautiful.’ Her daughter, Alex, moved into the lodge house to supervise the painstaking
‘It remains one of the most perfect examples of the Picturesque style
Preceding pages: The original Endsleigh Cottage was built for the 6th Duke of Bedford. The concentric beds of the parterre are filled with Salvia horminum Claryssa Mixed. Left: Lysimachia nummularia Aurea creates a golden collar around the fountain. Above: The rose walk. Planting in the border to the left includes Rudbeckia fulgida, delphiniums, geraniums and ivy