Lukesland: The romantic Dartmoor gardens bursting with exotic blooms and historic shrubs

Situated in a steep valley just below Dartmoor, Luxland Gardens – in Ivybridge, Devon – are romantic woodland gardens filled with exotic trees and flowering shrubs, many of which are of historical significance. Caroline Donald paid a visit; photographs by Mark Bolton.

If only spread counted for becoming the UK champion tree, magnolia campbellia in Luxland, a former hunting lodge above Ivybridge and two fields below Dartmoor, is quite qualified, with branches reaching an impressive 95 feet across. Alas, Board Hill in West Sussex has one with a wider torso girth, so it deserves credit, but after all, what’s in the name? The Luxland Magnolia in full bloom in March is a magnificent sight. Although, according to Rosemary Howell, such a display is a rare pleasure in a garden at 600 feet above sea level: “Most of the years the flowers start to bloom and then frost over.”

However, good things come to those who wait, and Mrs. Howell has witnessed the magnolia show many times. She has known Luxland since the 1950s when she came to Dartmoor as a friend of Brian Howell from Cambridge University, whom she later married. His parents Howard and Muriel bought the estate in 1930: “It was the Depression, so many estates were pretty cheap. They decided to do it because my mother-in-law wanted to hunt in the swamps,” explains Mrs. Howell, who moved into a Victorian Gothic home in 1975 with her husband. He died in 2003 and she still lives there with her son John and his wife Lorna.

The Victorian Gothic house towers over an abundance of rhododendrons. Luxland Gardens, Ivybridge, Devon. ©Mark Bolton

Addiscombe Creek flows from the swamp through the steep valley below the house in a series of romantic ponds and cascades created by successive owners, the slopes densely planted with exotic trees and flowering shrubs. “People who have a flat garden envy us that we have running water; You can’t go wrong with a beautiful garden, says Mrs. Howell.

Many of these owners were enthusiastic horticulturists, so Luxland reads like a horticultural history book, with each chapter demonstrating the availability of plants and labor of the day: Mr. Howell recently discovered, for example, that the late Victorian master gardener was a friend of the famous Veitch Nurseries in Exeter. so they had access to their latest and most exotic plants. He believes that at least the gingko, some rhododendrons, and the tall, somewhat out of place trachycarp palm date back to that time.

Rosemary Howell’s Top Five Early Flowering Plants in Luxland

  • Cornus kousa var. Chinese
    Attractive small tree with white-pinkish bracts in spring and red-orange leaves and strawberry fruits in autumn.
  • Rhododendron burmanicum
    An unusual small to medium sized rhododendron in need of protection. Greenish-yellow flowers fragrant
  • Rhododendron falconeri
    A large rhododendron with dark red peeling bark and huge matte green leaves that can be over 1 foot long with dark rusty red hairs underneath. Creamy white to pale yellow or pink flowers in large racemes from mid to late spring. The bark looks great during the winter months
  • The most fragrant rhododendron
    As the name suggests, this rhododendron has a strong scent, producing delicate white flowers with a pink sheen in May. Very easy to propagate from cuttings
  • Camellia Sasanqua
    They bloom before Christmas and many of them are scented. They like a sunny, sheltered place.
Must Read:  Curious Questions: How do you tell the difference between a British bluebell and a Spanish bluebell?

By the time Howard and Muriel Howell arrived, the range of plants in the nurseries was much larger; the legacy of those times includes magnolia campbelliamore hybrids of rhododendrons, garter tree (Davidia involucrate), much admired by visitors, some magnificent Japanese maples and some azaleas. However, World War II marked the beginning of the decline. “After the war, my father-in-law got old and lost momentum. It was a real mess,” says Mrs. Howell.

One of the many romantic places to sit and enjoy the views. Luxland Gardens, Ivybridge, Devon. ©Mark Bolton

When she and her husband took over, much of their initial work consisted of clearing overgrown shrubs and trees, and clearing out the pond, which is almost completely silted up. Howell, like his Canadian father, was a forester: he was one of the founders of Fountains Forestry and a forestry advisor to the late Queen’s Sandringham estate in Norfolk.

He made a new pond at the top of the garden and planted a pine tree in the 1980s at the top: Picea farreri from China is a rarity, and one of Mrs. Howell’s latest additions is the Wollemi pine. He also refurbished the beech forest along the Victorian roadway, where the lower tier is carpeted with bluebells in May.

Addiscombe Creek flows through a series of ponds and cascades. Luxland Gardens, Ivybridge, Devon. ©Mark Bolton

Many more camellias and trees were planted in the valley garden, and Howell was a great friend of Leo de Rothschild who lived in the famous Exbury Gardens in Hampshire, so Exbury hybrids and large-leaved rhododendrons such as R. falconeri, R. sinogrande And R. Maccawainum, are a special property. However, the pair have been so busy landing that most of them are unmarked and their names remain a mystery.

“It wasn’t that kind of garden,” says Mrs. Howell, who has opened Luxland to the National Horticulture Scheme since 1992. “This is in many ways a family garden.” Her son adds, “It’s the ‘garden of evolution’.” Near the house there is a rhododendron, which they, however, easily identify – “Brian Howell”, bred in Exbury and recently presented to the family by the head gardener. It bloomed for the first time last year and has pale pink buds with cream flowers.

A dark pink ‘Cornish Red’ rhododendron that can reach a height of 60 to 80 feet. Luxland Gardens, Ivybridge, Devon. ©Mark Bolton

Having worked in Luxland for over 40 years, Mrs. Howell can see the ripe fruits of her labor and remains very involved; she goes to the garden every day to look after things and plan new plantings. Meanwhile, Lorna has taken an RHS general gardening course – she’s injected summer color into a long, grassy border – and John is expert at maintaining and adding to structures like bridges and dry stone walls when he’s not at work. constant work as a soil scientist. The family has a team of four part-timers to help out as Luxland opens two days a week for its spring and fall shows.

The 1930s Dipper boy was washed away by a flood in 2012 but survived, buried under mud. Luxland Gardens, Ivybridge, Devon. ©Mark Bolton

Nature often had a hand in how things unfolded: 35 trees fell during the 1990 storm, leaving large gaps; or floods, such as in 2012, which destroyed two bridges.

But this is a family that does not stop, so to speak, at Victorian laurels (those that have long gone), and where there is a place, there is an opportunity: the cedar, left in a pot against the wall, and grown into the ground, finally died and was recently cut down . There was a new sunny corner where Lorna planted a herb garden last year. Another chapter has opened.

Lukesland House, Ivybridge, Devon, opens spring and fall – 01752 691749;

Applying many of the parameters she uses as an interior designer helped Victoria Wormsley remodel the living room.

Caroline Donald visits the garden at Castle Barton Gallery, near Helford, Cornwall, a garden that is paired with an award-winning art gallery.

Described in 1925 as the most important Japanese garden in the West, the Japanese Garden at Cowden in Clackmannanshire.

Recommended Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *