Exclusive Dartmoor Weddings & Seasonal Events - Coombe Trenchard

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Looking ahead to the 'Home & Garden Show' 2016

GardensSarah MarshComment

By Ben Probert

Spring is an exciting time in the garden; as well as being treated to the glorious flowers of hellebores, snowdrops, primroses, daffodils and crocuses spring is the time gardeners get stuck in to planning for the year ahead.


As the days get longer and the garden at Coombe Trenchard reawakens from its winter slumber, it's time to make preparations for the coming season. Annuals are sown for the cutting garden, where flowers are grown for this year's weddings, and borders are tended as the perennials and shrubs burst into life.

spring seeds

Behind the scenes there's even more activity. 2016 sees another of Coombe Trenchard's fabulous summer Home And Garden Festivals, and already there is plenty of activity as bookings are taken and plans are drawn up. For anyone who hasn't been to any of the previous Home And Garden Festivals here let me describe what you can expect; dozens of stands featuring the very best in home and garden products, including top quality locally grown plants from some of the region's finest traditional nurseries, all set out on the lawns of the house.


The whole festival is deliberately planned to be a relaxed and friendly event, where you can enjoy the atmosphere of this special estate while you browse a wide range of products, many of which will have been made by the people you meet.


By welcoming traditional nurseries we aim to champion those hard working men and women who work all year round to grow top quality plants for your garden. I still don't think people really appreciate the importance of trying to source plants as locally as possible, despite such an appreciation of local food and other products.


Buying from your local traditional nursery, as opposed to buying plants shipped across Europe from factory nurseries in far-flung places, gives you the best opportunity to buy plants that have been grown in the same climate as your garden, meaning they have a much better chance of establishing and thriving. Add to that, traditional nurseries nearly always grow a more diverse range of plants than you would normally find at your local garden centre, including many old favourites and plants you might not have heard of before. Best of all, where could you get a better quality of in-depth advice about plants and gardening than from those people who dedicate their time to growing plants?!


Bringing local nurseries together in one place, especially with people who make and sell an interesting and diverse range of complimentary products for your garden and home, makes the Home And Garden Festival an excellent place to see what's on offer and buy something new, but the Festival isn't just about 'splashing cash'; enormous effort goes into making the weekend special, enthralling and unique.


There aren't many events in the South West where you can take tea on the terrace of an Edwardian 'Arts and Crafts' manor overlooking beautiful countryside before enjoying the mixed borders and the various areas of the garden, before browsing stalls selling beautiful products for your home and garden... if this sounds like the perfect use of a summer's day then join us for the Home And Garden Festival on the 4th and 5th of June, 2016!


To read more from Ben, take a look at his informative blog PenandTrowel

May in the gardens

Gardens, Events Coombe TrenchardSarah MarshComment
This months blog from Ben Probert looks not only at how the gardens are bursting into life, but also the impact that garden sculpture has on the gardens. 

May is a month of contrasts; at the beginning of the month it is still decidedly spring, with frost a real risk, but by the end of the month it's all but summer and plants are growing at incredible speed. It's a busy month for gardeners as lawns and borders grow quickly, and it's easy for them to get out of hand it they're not monitored carefully. May brings warmer temperatures but usually lots of rain (certainly here in Devon!), so mowing goes from being an occasional job to being a regular part of a gardener's routine in a matter of a week!

May brings the highlight of the the horticultural year; the Royal Horticultural Society's Chelsea Flower Show attracts interest from all over the world, with nurseries, designers and other garden companies come together for a horticultural extravaganza on the lawns of the Royal Hospital, Chelsea. Actually getting to Chelsea can prove quite expensive, so most people take in the sights and sounds by watching the BBC's coverage. Whether you can be at Chelsea in person or in spirit, Chelsea week is also the time to do a very important garden job; the 'Chelsea chop'! Certain plants might flower earlier than wanted, so these plants are sheared back during Chelsea week, causing them to regrow and then flower a few weeks later. Certain Geraniums, Salvias, Asters and several other plants are perfect for the Chelsea chop, and it's a great way to make sure that you get a big display in your borders from June onwards, instead of having a few plants flowering at a time.

 The borders at Coombe Trenchard are certainly very healthy, and I put this down to a combination of the use of the right plants and a liberal dose of 'Coombe Trenchard gold', the fantastic home-brewed compost made from manure, green-waste and woody material. Most gardeners know about composting but a surprising number don't do it. Reasons include lack of space, lack of time (because composting does take a degree of time and effort) and the convenience of being able to buy a bag or two of compost as and when it's needed. A garden like the one at Coombe Trenchard generates a large amount of organic matter, and this is definitely not wasted! By the time the manure and organic matter has composted properly it's turned into a wonderfully rich, nutritious and bulky material, and this home made compost is absolutely fantastic for getting plants growing at their very best

The borders and Wisteria bursting into life

The borders and Wisteria bursting into life

A nice billowy mass of fresh growth and flowers is always a delight to see, but gardens are often left lacking... something. It can be hard to put your finger on it, but all too often what's needed is a man-made element to anchor and balance the exuberant planting. Installing something like a bench, a sculpture or even a bird bath can really change a garden; you put a feature into a planted area and the feature somehow manages to make the planting seem more rich and vibrant, while the planting also frames and shows off your feature. It's a strange illusion, but somehow the whole becomes more than the sum of its parts.

The right choice of a garden feature is critical, and it's a decision that is best thought about before taking the plunge. What colour? What would look right? How tall? How wide...? Time and time again I've seen gardens where budget has been a constraint, but the garden has been filled (and sometimes I mean filled) with smaller, cheaper sculptures and statues that just don't suit the space, and I'm left wondering if the money had been saved and spent on something more appropriate.

Coombe Trenchard is currently hosting its sculpture exhibition, and I would strongly advise that gardeners take a look. Although the exhibits are most definitely works of art in their own right, displayed using the garden as a 'green gallery', their placement in the garden really shows the importance of 'right sculpture, right place'. Take, for example, this piece below...

Pelham System by Julian Wild

 This sculpture is made of rusting pipes, but this is not simply a pile of rusty old metal! The shapes, scale and colour of this piece look very industrial and unashamedly man-made, but sitting in a sea of wildflowers it looks fantastic. This sculpture would, certainly to my eyes, look rather drab in surrounded by concrete or indoors, but surrounded by the wildflowers it sits comfortably in its surroundings. Although surprisingly big it's not bulky, and is in fact the perfect size and scale for this part of the garden. A smaller piece here in the woodland would simply look small and out of place, and something big and bulky would dominate the wildflowers. It's a balancing act to get the right proportions, but it's definitely something worth the effort of getting right.

We come from Heaven, I from Hell 2012 by Robert Philips

We come from Heaven, I from Hell 2012 by Robert Philips

This example above works on a smaller scale; this tall sculpture acts as a perfect accent to the Cordyline australis behind, while low planting around its base acts to balance the height and wide of the piece itself. The sculpture and the planting both compliment each other perfectly. I don't want to spoil the fun of seeing these sculptures for yourself, so this is my final example. The Irish yews (Taxus baccata 'Fastigiata') in the yew avenue are tall and upright, and in the fairly long and narrow space between them a low and wide sculpture would have the wrong proportions. Take a small sculpture and put it on a nice tall plinth and you have a piece that sits comfortably in its surroundings.

You can combine art and comfort and go for a nice garden bench.... This bench is in Coombe Trenchard's woodland garden and is certainly not the kind of thing you see in your local garden centre or DIY store! It has to be big because it's in a big space, so a smaller bench would just get lost in this part of the garden. A high back allows this bench to be seen but also makes a sitting place into a visually striking feature. There's something very appealing about this bench; it's solid but also looks incredibly inviting. Where space and budget allow, a bench with character and substance could act as your principle seating and also as an artistic focal point.

Big Bench by Chris Amey

You can use plants themselves as sculptures; gardeners have been using plants to create topiary sculptures for centuries! You don't have to be wild and outrageous with your topiary, even something as simple as a shape made from box (Buxus sempervirens) can be the perfect sculptural element for your garden. The rule of thumb here is the same as with sculptures made of any other material; be bold! A small clipped shape in a big space will disappear as quickly as a small statue would, so plan for your masterpiece to grow to a reasonable size. You might have to plant several of one thing to get you the effect in a sensible time, and your living sculpture will need clipping and shaping regularly to keep it looking good. It's important to bear in mind that, even if you buy fairly large plants to grow and clip, creating your own topiary sculpture of any meaningful size takes time, so if you want something big and bold now you might be better finding yourself an artist...!

These shapes look great in long grass but have taken a long time to get this big!

By Ben Probert Penandtrowel.co.uk

Sculptural15 runs until June 20th, opening from Wednesday - Saturday 11am-5pm (closed June 6th for private event)


Hydrangeas & Headaches

GardensSarah MarshComment

Hydrangeas & Headaches by Ben Probert

Charles Dickens summed up the weather of early March so well in 'Great Expectations'; “it was one of those March days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold: when it is summer in the light, and winter in the shade”. The trade-off for the glorious views at Coombe Trenchard is that when the wind is in the right direction it can bring quite a chill, but it's amazing just how much everything is springing into life.

Even through the rain and cold winds of the last few weeks the garden has stirred; perennial plants in the border are peeping up from the ground, buds are swelling on the shrubs and trees, and all around the birds are starting to think about nesting. With each day that passes we move closer to the warmer days and to the point where spring has truly arrived.

Coombe Trenchard has an extensive area planted up with Hydrangeas; these once unfashionable plants have been seeing a return to popularity in recent years, especially with the introduction of so many excellent new varieties. During the summer the Hydrangeas make an impressive display along the banks of the stream that runs through the garden, but to get this display right they all need a little early spring tidy.

Gardeners are often scared of pruning Hydrangeas, but the process really is usually fairly simple. For 'mophead' and 'lacecap' varieties pruning is simply a matter of cutting off last year's flower heads to just above the next pair of buds down. While most if not all 'lacecap' Hydrangeas flower on the current season's wood, traditional 'mophead' Hydrangeas often bloom on old wood (stems from last year), with newer varieties flower on both old wood and new stems. Not knowing precisely which varieties are growing at Coombe Trenchard introduces an element of risk; from the remains of last year's amazing display it looks as though nearly every stem has bloomed, so if these are varieties that only bloom on the previous season's wood then we're going to be very disappointed this summer! Looking at the stems it looks as though the varieties did flower on current season's wood, so disaster should be averted, but with much resting on these blooms for this year I'll be nervously biting my nails until I see the flower buds!

Last year the group of Hydrangea 'Annabelle' near the stream flopped and looked untidy, so this year we've pruned them back much harder. This form of the American Hydrangea arborescens has become very popular in the last few years and has been joined by several different new forms, all of which are superb. Hydrangea 'Annabelle' was planted among the other Hydrangeas so that the big balls of white flowers would combine well with the more conventional Hydrangeas in the display. As Hydrangea arborescens flowers on new wood (stems produced the same year) it can be pruned fairly hard back, and with a good season these plants should reward us all with beautiful flowers.

In an ordinary garden a Hydrangea that is alive but not blooming would just be an irritation, but at Coombe Trenchard the Hydrangea blooms are often used in flower arrangements for the weddings that take place at the house. With an eye toward sustainability, flowers picked from the garden are a very important part of Coombe Trenchard weddings so getting things right is critical!

The Hydrangeas aren't the only things that cause headaches in the garden at Coombe Trenchard! Given that the house and its garden are over 100 years old there are several old trees and shrubs in the garden that need care. While most are looking great and need minimal intervention, such as the magnificent gnarled old Wisteria growing along the house, others might not be doing quite so well. The tree that's causing me the most concern now is an old evergreen Magnolia grandiflora growing against a wall. Magnolia grandiflora is a characterful species; native to parts of the USA, it is easily recognised by its large leathery leaves and huge scented cream flowers in summer. Magnolia grandiflora is naturally a large tree, although it can be pruned and trained fairly easily and kept under control. When I was asked to look at the Coombe Trenchard Magnolia I started thinking about ways to prune it and revitalise it, but then I saw it wasn't in good health. Looking at the stem I would say that some disaster has hit this plant; maybe a hard frost when it was young caused severe damage, maybe disease...? We will never know for certain what happened to this tree but that's not really important; now it's a matter of seeing what can be done to protect it.

Seeing a plant of any decent size with only half of its trunk is a testament to just how tough so many garden plants actually are! After whatever caused the damage had gone the plant repaired itself as best it could and carried on growing. The problem that we now face with this tree is that it's growing very one-sided, which would make any tree a little more unstable but with the trunk so badly compromised the question is whether it has any future. I'm told that this Magnolia flowers so late each year that the buds and emerging blooms are destroyed by frost, so this is certainly not a plant to keep for flower either, and it's plain to see that the tree isn't in good health. It's likely that the tree will have to go, but there is an enormous degree of apprehension. This is clearly an old tree and has been a part of the garden at Coombe Trenchard for many decades, and if and when the decision is made to remove it that decision will certainly not be made lightly.

Death and rebirth are a part of any garden. Each February and March, Coombe Trenchard plays host to a fascinating reminder of its past. Many years ago a magnificent beech tree (Fagus sylvatica) grew on the lawn, surrounded by a carpet of Crocuses. The tree eventually died, was felled and the ground was returned to grass, but every spring the Crocuses still appear and carpet the ground in a ring of purple and white, a testament to the tree that once stood there and an annual reminder of the garden's rich history.

Ben Probert Penandtrowel.co.uk