Helping Dawlish bloom again
- Credit: SWNS.com
Toby Buckland steps in after storms destroy Dawlish railway station
Five days before he began his new job as manager of South Devon Stations, Ian Mundy’s place of work collapsed into the sea. Eighty metres of rail line was left suspended in mid air and great chunks of the sea wall were washed away as storms battered Devon last February.
At Dawlish station, the seaside platform was dramatically lifted out of the ground and crushed against the other side causing enormous damage. The canopy and platform surfaces all had to be replaced, and in double quick time, to help resume travel on Britain’s most photographed stretch of railway with its fabulous views over the South Devon coastline.
Ian recalls: “On my first day in the job I was horrified to see the platforms at Dawlish had been ripped from their moorings. The destruction was catastrophic. It is upsetting to see such an important rail lifeline so badly damaged, but I was immediate overwhelmed by the local community’s affection for the railway and their efforts to get us back on track.”
For local nurseryman and TV gardener Toby Buckland, Dawlish born and bred, it was a time to act to help bring the station back to life.
“It wasn’t until I went to the station and spoke to Ian, that I realised how much damage had been done not just to the rail line but the station itself. I made up my mind there and then that I wanted to make it beautiful again and for me that means plants and flowers,” says Toby.
The scenic railway line runs along the coast and Exe estuary only a stone’s throw from Toby’s nursery and Plant Centre at Powderham Castle which on 2 and 3 May hosts a major new garden festival with award-winning horticultural exhibitors, live music, food stalls and family entertainment.
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The Friends of Dawlish Station, a voluntary group which helps maintain the flowers at the station, was eager to help fill the ten planters installed on the platforms. The green makeover was organised as part of Citizens’ Rail, an EU project to get more people involved at stations on the stunning Riviera Line between Exeter and Torbay.
The interest in this communal effort had been so enthusiastic that stationmaster Ian Mundy is coming to give a talk about the refurbishment of the station at the festival. Citizens’ Rail staff will also have a stand at the Powderham Castle event, and will be joined by the Travel Devon team who offer tailored journey planning advice to encourage travel on public transport, on trains and buses as well as walking, cycling, or car sharing.
For Toby and the Friends of the Station, planting up the seaside platforms is no simple task. As the recent storms demonstrated, its beautiful but exposed setting means created a particular challenge requiring a palette of coastal salt-tolerant plants, including Torbay palms, silver-leaved Mediterranean plants such as lavenders and cistus, as well as the colourful seasonal bedding favourites. One spring treasure that Toby will be including is the Devon violet which grows locally along the coastal paths and byways.
Dawlish has a long connection with the violet, from the Victorian era when violets began to be grown commercially to the boom of the 1930s when an estimated 200 acres of the flowers grown in the Dawlish district. Dawlish Station was famous for the scent of violets wafting along the seafront, as porters loaded the ‘flower train’ that took violets from Dawlish to London Paddington and on to Covent Garden.
The fashion for wearing posies of violets may have long since passed but they are still a much loved flower to the gardener today thanks to their perfume. It’s a theme that Toby will be exploring when he returns to our screens on BBC2’s Great Garden Revival this autumn when he champions gardening for scent.
Now the station has now re-opened thanks to the work of dozens of engineers, track workers and security guards who toiled night and day to reconnect to the West Country to the rest of the UK and when this summer’s holiday-makers once again return to our picturesque county they will be greeted by a station in bloom.
Informal talks in the Victorian kitchen at the garden festival will include:
Ian Mundy of First Great Western and Friends of Dawlish Station will be talking in the Victorian Kitchen telling their story of a dramatically destroyed railway line and restoration of the station – with flowers including the famous and historical Dawlish violets.
Hill House Nursery: A visit to Raymond & Sacha Hubbard’s nursery is a walk through a wonderland of surprises as the vicarage setting belies greenhouses brimming with unusual and rarely seen plants.
Whetman Pinks: a world specialist of this fragrant British flower since 1936. They propagate hybrid Dianthus (Pinks) which are sold not just in the UK, but exported worldwide including mainland Europe, Japan, USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.
Bowdens Hostas: Tim and Ruth Penrose produce and sell an amazing array of lush and beautiful plants - hostas, ferns, grasses, herbs and bamboos - and are experts on protecting precious plants from those most voracious of garden pests - slugs and snails!
Pennard Plants: Incredible Edibles. Fancy lunch of Mexican Mouse Melon and Wolfberries or a supper of Scorzonera sprinkled with Good King Harry and Skirret Seed? All these “Incredible Edibles” are available from Pennard Plants, a Somerset nursery which houses one of the most remarkable collections of beautiful and productive plants.