9 secret Devon gardens opening to visitors this spring

Poppies in bloom in a Devon garden

Poppies in the walled garden at Heddon Hall, Parracombe, Devon. - Credit: Andrew Lawson 

The National Garden Scheme is gearing up for a new year in Devon, with several new gardens to explore, as CATHERINE COURTENAY discovers 

A famous church, motte and bailey castle and rather good pub are reason enough to visit Parracombe, but if you are planning a trip, then one weekend in June might provide the perfect opportunity. 

A walled garden at Heddon Hall, Parracombe, Devon.

The walled garden at Heddon Hall, Parracombe, Devon. - Credit: Andrew Lawson 

Six private gardens in the village will be open to the public as part of the NGS fundraising scheme. They are all within walking distance of each other and include a large historic garden along with smaller gardens packed with interesting plants, including one with an enviable veg patch. 

Parracombe can be found just off the A39, in the Heddon Valley, where the river runs off the moor to reach the sea at Heddon’s Mouth. The village dates back to Saxon times and is home to the ancient St Petrock’s Church. Saved from demolition in 1879, St Petrock’s was the first church to come under the ownership of The Churches Conservation Trust. 

Two garden chairs in a garden amongst summer flowers.

Laurel House may be small but it is packed with plants. - Credit: Laurel House 

Heddon Hall was once the vicarage for St Petrock’s, and its impressive garden is one of the six garden openings. Its formal walled garden was originally laid out by the designer Penelope Hobhouse. A tributary of the River Heddon runs through its four acres which include a natural rockery leading to a bog garden and series of ponds.  

The effect is like “a wonderful secret valley”, says Dave Austin who, with Alison Smith, owns another of the open gardens. Their riverside garden at South Hill House is set in gently sloping grounds and has views across the village. A walled front garden and cobbled courtyard leads to a rear garden with a mix of herbaceous borders and terraced beds, along with some specimen trees. 

Julia Holtom used to be a gardener at Heddon Hall, and her own garden at Little Close is filled with unusual plants, shrubs and trees. As Dave says, “Julia plants things that others don’t try. It’s an eclectic mix but it works really well.” There’s a terraced area with beds and species trees as well as an orchard and wild meadow. The house and garden date from 1923 and everything is framed by trees from the original 1940s’ garden. 

A tree in a Devon orchard.

The garden at Little Close includes an orchard and wild flower meadow. - Credit: Little Close 

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Julia’s garden also has views across to Holwell Castle, the remains of a Norman and motte and bailey castle, one of the best preserved examples of its kind in England.  

Accessed by a narrow little lane, Paradise Villa is a veg growers’ delight. Andy Full, ‘“always seems to have the best fruit and veg in the village,” says Dave. The south facing garden has 14 separate growing beds, along with extra treasures from grapevines and fruit trees to various bamboos and giant Gunnera. 

The village pottery at Rock Cottage is the location of another garden. Owners Kevin and Val Green started with a bare, waterlogged small paddock and now have flowers, herbs and raised veg beds along with a wilder area by the riverside. 

Blue skies over a Devon garden.

The garden at Paradise Villa is a veg grower’s delight. - Credit: Paradise Villa 

The sixth garden, at Laurel House, may be small, but it is packed with plants.  It’s been developed from scratch over a 30 period. Although it’s south facing, and has fantastic views, “We didn’t really realise how exposed it was!” says owner Lesley Brownlee.  

The site can be quite windy, wet and cool, but there is still something to provide interest throughout the year. Carefully maintained evergreens and beech provide shape and colour in winter and a long winding bed is filled with perennials and grasses. There’s a terraced area and a shady woodland corner, along with wildlife pond and a rose covered arbour. 

The sometimes challenging conditions haven’t stopped Lesley growing tropical plants. The garden is filled with pots, both front and back – including a collection of around 70 bonsai. 

The open gardens coincides with another floral-themed village event, a Festival of Flowers. Well over 1,000 knitted, crocheted and sewn blooms will festoon village landmarks, from the phone box to St Petrock’s tower. 

A Devon garden in bloom in summer.

Rock Cottage garden has been transformed from what was a bare, waterlogged small paddock. - Credit: Rock Cottage and Pottery 

“Whatever the weather, this is a beautiful village,” says Dave. There’s also a thriving sense of community, so much so that a community trust, set up in 2018 when the village shop had to close, successfully raised the funds to open a new shop and cafe. Due to open this spring, the new venue will be serving refreshments. There’s also the village pub, The Fox & Goose, which will be open for lunches, but as it’s very popular it’s a good idea to book ahead. 

The gardens are open for the NGS on June 18 and 19 from 12.30 to 5.30pm. Admission: adult £6, children free. Home-made teas at The Pavilion Stores and Café, with refreshments in aid of Parracombe Community Trust. Lunches available at The Fox & Goose Inn, booking advised 01598 763239. Wheelchair access to Rock Cottage and the walled garden at Heddon Hall only. 

Paving through a Devon garden bathed in sunlight.

The cobble courtyard at South Hill House. - Credit: South Hill House 

New for 2022 

There are several new gardens opening for the NGS this year, including:  

Ashley Court, Tiverton: A small Regency country house with a walled kitchen garden currently undergoing restoration. View the apple loft, root stores, stable buildings, woodland walk, lawns, and borders. 

West Clyst Barnyard Gardens, Exeter: Planted in farmland around a converted barnyard of a medieval farm, these gardens include a wildflower meadow, wildlife ponds, bog garden and many trees and shrubs. 

Spring Lodge, Exeter: Originally part of the Georgian pleasure gardens of Oxton House, the lodge garden has a hermit’s cave, dramatic cliffs and a stream which runs under the house. Built in the quarry, there is lush planting laid out on many levels.  

For all dates, opening times and information on booking, along with details of all the 2022 garden openings, click here or look out for the NGS Devon Yellow Book in garden centres.