RHS Garden - Rosemoor

I had the occasion to visit North Devon a few years ago so I took the opportunity to visit this beautiful garden.

The garden was bequeathed to the RHS in 1988 so I thought I would start my blog with a brief history* of it prior to this date along with a few details of what the RHS has done to it since.

* Most of the details have been sourced from the RHS Rosemoor website.

Following the death of her father in 1931, Rosemoor House and its estate became home to Lady Anne and her mother.

At that time the garden was typically Victorian, and described by Lady Anne as dull and labour intensive.

The first area of hard landscaping to be tackled was The Stone Garden (Area M) and was designed by Lady Anne’s mother.

During the war years (WW 2 ) the house was used by the Red Cross as a temporary refuge from the bombing for people from London’s Docklands and East End.

After the war Lady Anne Palmer as she was then, returned to live permanently at Rosemoor with her husband and young son.

They ran the estate as a dairy farm for a number of years with their herd of 50 Ayrshire cows.

Lady Anne’s interest in gardening began in 1959, when she met the noted plantsman Collingwood ‘Cherry’ Ingram in Spain where she was recuperating from an illness!

He opened her eyes to the beauty of the Spanish gardening techniques, and as a result, she made many expeditions around Spain and England viewing and collecting plants.

Ingram also invited her to visit his garden in Kent, and gave her some cuttings and young plants to take back to place in the gardens at Rosemoor House.

She then travelled widely to form her own collection,collecting plants from places such as South America, Papua New Guinea, New Zealand, USA and Japan.

These travels have led to great diversity among the 4,000 plants represented in Lady Anne’s Garden, and the gardens as we see today.

Due to the private commitments of her, and her husband, they had little time for dairy farming, so the herd was sold, and the farm reverted to pastureland, and was rented out to local farmers for grazing.

This arrangement continued until 1988 when the estate was generously given to the RHS since when it has been transformed into the acclaimed ornamental gardens and bicentenary arboretum of today!

When Lady Anne gave the Rosemoor estate to the RHS in 1988 it consisted of the house, the 3.2ha (8 acre) garden around the house, and 32 acres of pastureland.

In 1989 work began on building the new visitor centre, which was named the Robin Herbert Visitor Centre, after the Society’s President at the time.

This modern building, with its panoramic views across the garden, incorporated a shop, a plant sales area, a restaurant, and a lecture theatre.

A new entrance road, car park and maintenance tracks were also added, as well as utilities such as drainage / sewage, water supply, electricity, gas and a telephone link.

Then it was time to build the gardens.

First, the sloping site had to be regraded to alter the contours of the site, and achieve a gentle fall to the river.

Over 13,000 tonnes of soil were removed from the new entrance area and car park, and redistributed into the formal garden area to level off the site.

This was no easy task due to the heavy clay soil and the large amount of rain which fell.

For much of the first couple of years, Rosemoor resembled nothing more than a sea of mud.

A small seasonal stream was diverted and dammed to form a series of pools and falls, ultimately leading to the formation of the lake.

The lake doubled as a reservoir to contain irrigation water for the garden.

All these waterways were heavily planted with streamside plantings.

The Formal Garden was outlined with over 1,200 hedging yews, then around 2,000 roses were planted within its border.

Another unique feature of the gardens is the fact that the garden is bisected by the A3124, giving the gardens two very distinct areas.

This was achieved by constructing an underpass under the A3124 which formed a link between the new and old gardens.

On one side is the original garden – Lady Anne’s garden – which remains a diverse collection of plants in an informal setting, and on the other is the new garden, a formal, decorative area in a glorious woodland setting!

The garden opened to visitors on 1 June 1990. – truly an astonishing achievement in such a relatively short time.

The Garden Plan

My Visit

Click on thumbnail to enlarge image

My visit took place in August 2009 when I had the pleasure of visiting these gardens for the first time and I was very impressed with them, I found them to be mature well established gardens.

It is my guess that in the twenty years or so since they opened,they will have changed many times as they move with the times!

In fact it is possible they may have changed again since my visit, meaning that todays visitors may find them quite different from what they are going to see here in this blog.

When I arrived I studied the garden plan and noticed it was laid it out in alphabetical areas.

On further study, I decided not to keep strictly to an alphabetical order for reasons that will become clearer as we do the virtual tour.

I would suggest that should you ever visit these gardens that you choose a route that suits your purpose!


Area A - Alpine Terrace & Greenhouse.

On entering the gardens we find ourselves on a paved terrace where we can sit and have a coffee / snack purchased from the adjacent cafe

Behind the sitting area is a greenhouse with two raised beds containing various alpine plants.




Alpine Beds


Area C - The Terrace Garden by Robin Templar Williams.

This garden was designed as a garden adjacent to the house, now the office and cafe!

It is of a formal / contemporary design with its straight lines and raised beds.


The West Country Town Garden - by Lisa Camps

This was Rosemoor's first Model Garden built in 1999.

The garden was built on a sloping area and incorporated steps and handrails between two small terraces.

A sundial was situated on the top terrace, and a water feature consisting of a large rock drilled to allow a jet of water to be projected vertically from it.

The paving was formed of natural slate and sea washed pepples embedded in concrete.


Area D - Winter Gardens

As the name suggests this garden has been designed for Winter interest.

The plants used give structure, evergreen foliage, flowers and scent during the winter months, during the rest of the year it is a peaceful area to sit in and contemplate!

The stone structure seen in pics two and three is a licensed wedding venue, and makes an excellent backdrop for the wedding photos, failing that the pictures can be taken elsewhere in the garden, e.g. The Rose Garden.

The choice of route from this point is a matter of choice in so far as one can enter the Formal Gardens via the Long Borders from the Winter Garden end or alternatively, take the Lower Woodland Walk to The Brash and then return via the Formal Gardens from the other end as I did!


The Woodland Walk and The Brash.


The Brash is an area constructed to form a family picnic and play area, and was still a work in progress area when I visited.

I have since heard that it was completed in May 2012.

The area creates a natural hideaway in the woods for children (and adults) of all ages to enjoy.

In the play area there are log stepping stones, giant bugs, dens, bird feeding stations and much more!

You can also enjoy a picnic in The Brash just make sure you fetch a rug / mat to sit on.


The Brash


Sitting Area


Adventure Area


Giant Bug


The Children's trail

Following this trail is optional, so I did not bother taking it!

To take part you pick up a free children’s trail form at the entrance kiosk, then have fun following the clues.

In fact the whole family can have fun spotting plants, insects and sights around the garden!

On completion take the form to the shop and claim your prize!

There is a different themes for Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter.


Formal Gardens & Long Borders

I then proceeded to the Formal Gardens via the North end of the Long Borders!

The two long borders at 180 metres long form the central walkway and access to the various areas.

The borders are filled mainly with herbaceous plants some small trees, shrubs and evergreens have been planted among them to create some 'winter' interest!

The plant selection provides colour and interest, from May to October, and sping bulbs for the earlier part of the year.

The tall Yew hedges at the back of the borders form a backdrop and shelter for the plants!


Area I - Foliage and Plantsman's Garden

As the name suggests this is a Plantsman's paradise where one can leisurely walk around the edge of the lawn, or take the footpath and take in all the plants on display, most of which has been selected for their foliage!


Area H - Herb, Potager and Cottage Gardens

This area has been designed with disabled people and wheelchair users in mind!

The footpaths throughout the gardens have been formed with brick paviors and levelled to eliminate the need for steps!

The gardens are built up of a series of inter-linked island beds, each with its own planting plan.

The herb garden has been formed as a raised bed for easy access to disabled and abled bodied people alike!

A thatch cottage forms the main feature of the Cottage Garden and the Potagers have been filled with fruit and vegetables!

Sitting areas have been included in the form a Summer House and there is a Pool stocked with fish and Nymphaea (Water lilies)

All the beds have been planted with plants that have a medicinal, culinary or historic connection.


Summer House





Interplanting with various annuals, perennials and climbing plants creates interest throughout the whole year!


Area G - Shrub Rose Garden

This garden is laid out in island beds formed in concentric circles with a contemporary Sundial as a centre piece.

The planting consists of around 200 cultivars.


Area F - Square / Hot Garden

Hot Garden an apt name for this garden, and more so if you caught it at the right time of the day as I did, i.e.when the sun was high !

This rich tapestry of colour was a sight to behold!

These pictures do not do justice to the sight I saw!

The Square gardens were in complete contrast to the Hot garden.

It was a pleasure to sit there and just gaze over the Hot garden.


Area E - Spiral garden

The Spiral Garden is as the name suggests, a spiralling footpath lined with tall planting.

This gives the effect of a maze except you can not get lost in it.

Children love it, as they run in front of their parents and call to them through the plants.

It is a relaxing garden to walk around, with its pastel shades, and the alternating light and shade, as the plants come between you and the sunlight.


Area B - Queen Mother's Rose Garden

If you like roses then this is the garden for you!

This garden was opened in June 2002 and was dedicated to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother who was patron of the RHS at that time!

The garden is laid out around an octaganal footpath (8 sides) and and is bisected with two further walkways with a climbing rose covered pergola at each intersection.

It is filled with hundreds of modern roses which come into their own during the summer and autumn months.

That concludes the tour around the formal gardens, and it was now time to walk down the Long Borders to the Lake.


The Lake

On leaving the Lakeside I headed across the Streamside Field towards the Orchard and Fruit and Vegetable Garden.

Enroute I passed the stream that fed the lake and a solitary 200 year old large Oak tree standing in a field of wildflowers!

Area J - Fruit and Vegetable Garden

As a fruit and vegetable grower this was one of my must see features and I was not disappointed!

I have now visited three of the RHS gardens, and in terms of the Fruit and Vegetable gardens I like this one the best!

The Orchard




This garden offers apprenticeships to young people to encourage them in to horticulture,and speaking for myself if I had my time over again this is the garden I would have loved to serve an apprenticeship in!


Area K - Stream Garden and Rock Gulley

After leaving the Fruit and Vegetable garden, I walked up the walkway leading to Rosemoor House.

As I passed under the tunnel beneath the A 3124 I was faced with this water feature.

The water cascading down this rock gulley progresses down the hill I had just climbed and eventually reaches the lake.

My route towards Rosemoor House took me along the bottom edge of the Arboretum.

As I looked across this large expanse of grass shrubs and trees I could see the Gazebo. *

* See below for more details!


Area L - The Mediterranean Garden

Story has it that these gardens came about as a result of Lady Anne catching Measles from her children.

While recuperating in Spain she met the respected gardener Collingwood Ingram, who encouraged her to construct her own Mediterranean garden, and gave her plants to begin the project.


Area O - The Croquet Lawn

It was quite a common occurence in Victorian times for the aristocracy to construct an area in their gardens to play Croquet.

They would do this by dedicating an area of their garden to do this.


Area M - The Stone Garden

This garden was created by Lady Anne's mother.


Area N - The Cherry Garden

This garden was probably constructed as a result of Lady Anne's association with Collingwood Ingram.

He was well known for introducing many Japanese cherry varieties to this country as well as producing many hybrids of his own.

In 1948 he wrote a book on the subject of Ornamental Cherries.

That more or less concluded my tour around the gardens so I stopped and had afternoon tea at Rosemoor House tea room, before heading back to the garden exit.


The Gazebo

On the return journey I passed the Gazebo which I found out had quite an interesting history!

Apparently the Gazebo was once a part of Palmer House in the centre of Great Torrington, where over the years it had become rather dilapidated.

Rather than allowing it to become a ruin, and in order to maintain a relationship with the previous owners of Rosemoor, a decision was taken to dismantle it and re-erect it at Rosemoor.

With the financial help of the Heritage Lottery Fund, and under the direction of architects from Caroe and Partners, the building was moved to its current location at the top of the Arboretum.


Approaching the Gazebo


The Gazebo


The view from the Gazebo

I then headed towards the exit, but not before visiting the shop and plant centre on the way out!

Finally, because of its connection with RHS Rosemoor garden, and the fact that I stayed there the night before I visited the gardens, I thought I would include a few pictures from around the town of Great Torrington which is only a couple of miles away from Rosemoor.


Town Plan


Scenes from around the Town centre



The Visitors Centre


The Stocks






Views from the Visitors Centre Car Park


........and that concludes my trip to RHS Rosemoor!

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