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Unique garden set in stone

By This is Exeter  |  Posted: October 05, 2009

  • A massive limestone rock face reveals the Rock House Garden's quarrying past at Chudleigh OLIVER SANDERS EE280909_OS02_04

  • Gardener Colin Tree with some of the cyclamen now in flower. Stunning rock features, centre, and one of the garden's walks, right OLIVER SANDERS EE280909_OS02_05/07/01

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THE expression being led up the garden path takes on a whole new meaning at Rock House Garden in Chudleigh.

Prior to my arrival I was pre-warned it was far from being a traditional, quaint Devon garden, but the last thing I expected was being led down a steep flight of makeshift steps into a cave entrance.

And nor did I imagine that instead of fences I would be greeted by massive limestone rock faces revealing the garden's historic quarrying past.

The fact it can be enjoyed by the public today is down to the Boulton family who bought the site in 1946 to start a market garden and nursery.

Over the years the overgrown land was cleared and a proper garden was established.

The cave, given the grand name of Chudleigh Cavern, has since been explored by experts, who found prehistoric bones and material from 10,000 to 75,000 years ago.

The man-made and natural landscape has been open to the public since 1987 and will be again later this month under the National Garden Scheme on Sunday, October 25, from 9am to 5pm.

Autumn is a great time to see the garden because a fine display of cyclamen is in bloom.

A garden walk starts at the nursery shop and behind the tea room is one of the largest ginkgo biloba trees around.

Aptly named gardener Colin Tree, who has worked for the Boulton's since 1987, explained: "It goes bright yellow in the autumn and when you get a frost the leaves drop and you get a completely gold carpet come down.

"They are often planted at Buddhist temples as they are a very sacred tree left over from the Jurassic age. This one has got to be at least 150 years old.

"It's like the garden has its own microclimate. It's so well protected and hidden away. It's like its own little world down here.

"What I like is the unusual landscape of it and the uniqueness of the garden. It's very different and you won't see anything like it anywhere else.

"We started planting new tree ferns in about 2000 to try and give a tropical appearance to it and make it even more different."

At this time of year the 37-year-old is busy giving the garden a good tidy up.

Colin revealed: "We try to keep it as natural as we can, and even though it's on the wild side it is quite walkable.

"But being listed by English Nature as a triple Site of Scientific Interest means it's protected and we are fairly limited as to what we can do here.

The garden is spread out across around three acres. Other features in it include ponds filled with koi and orfe carp, a walk with spectacular views, rare and unusual trees and shrubs, a waterfall and access to Chudleigh rock and glen.

The dramatic rock face is also home to a colony of jackdaws.

Rock House Garden is situated in Station Hill on the south edge of Chudleigh town.

Admission is £3, children free. Visitors are also welcome throughout the year.

For more information, visit www.therockgardens.co.uk.

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