We started our visit at the entrance of the Walled Garden where we were met by Christine who is responsible for the area. She explained that its history goes back some 220 years, the house and walled garden being built in the 1800s by John Colby. The walled garden was restored and embellished in 1965. It was originally a vegetable garden. Today it is mainly trees , shrubs and perennials. We made our way to the high point of the garden close to the gazebo admiring many colourful and varied plants and shrubs on our way.The gazebo was added in 1975-76 by Mr and Mrs Chance . Unfortunately we were unable to go inside because a bee colony had made its home in there. To the side of the gazebo is the south facing border with a large magnolia grandiflora “Exmouth”, a hibiscus and other tender specimens with a pretty alpine border to the side.The slate rill running down the incline was put in by Mr and Mrs Scourfield Lewis in 1993. The rill is fed from a lions head spouting water into a semi circular cistern in the retaining wall of the gazebo platform. The water is then piped under the path and into the rill .
Moving on around the garden a large area of ferns was discovered with their different structures and textures. Christine pointed out a Drimys Winteri Tree which is a very tender species but is well protected here.Two huts were pointed out that used to be used for compost, one now houses gardeners tools and the other has information boards on the plants in the garden .
The first thing we saw as we moved into the meadow area was an impressive willow bee which had been made by Melanie Bastia . A variety of fruit trees also grow in this area including plum, pear, apple and medlar. Christine explained that a grass border had been created to fit in with the area 5 years ago. The hedges surrounding the meadow are cut in September
Leaving the meadow a large border of oxeye daisies interspersed with some ragged robin and other meadow flowers was ahead of us . The large concrete beds , called coffin beds, were constructed the same time as the wall and it’s thought they were used for plants such as asparagus. They now contain fuchsias, topiary yews with a mass of Chionodoxa bulbs for spring interest.
In 1889 on entering the walled garden through the gate there would have been a glass house to the left with a modern version in place on the same area until the 1990s .
Christine explained that they endeavoured to keep the paths clear so wheelchair users can move around easily. Keeping the ivy off the walls is a big challenge for her and her band of volunteers who she explained were fundamental to the garden’s maintenance.
As we ended our tour of the walled garden Christine was thanked for her informative and interesting tour and we were joined by Steve Whitehead , Head Gardener at Colby for the last 17 years who took us down to the main meadow area. Steve explained that there used to be 8 acres of formal garden, 30 in total, while the whole estate was 890 acres with 20Kms of footpaths. The Trust is moving to a more wildlife friendly garden and does not use any chemicals. There are many challenges e.g, ash die back . Trees are felled if they become a danger to the public. 3000 native species trees have been planted on the estate this year by garden volunteers and another 26000 by contractors. The meadow has mown pathsacross it. The cut grass is used to make grass snake habitats. We crossed a bridge under which is a small trout stream. The house with its formal garden was on our right.
Making our way along the meadow small ponds could be seen where frogs and toads spawn and newts and sometimes otters are seen . Unfortunately many ponds have been lost across the country. Large amounts of yellow rattle, a parasite on grass which weakens it, purple orchids and some knapweed which provides nectar later in the year were seen amongst the grass. Steve passed on a good tip ,spread the soil of mole hills and use it to scatter seeds on .
Arriving at the bottom of the garden we came to a circle of fallen ash trees. Colby has a partnership with The Darwin Centre which fund school visits and use this area. The National Trust staff undertake most of the felling of the trees but sometimes need help from the council. Some of the oak wood goes to Marine Heritage although extraction is difficult. Steve explained how delighted he is with the battery operated chainsaw, donated by us, which is extremely useful.
Starting our return journey along the path of the old mill leet we passed a carved hedgehog by Neil Machin and saw lots of Colby’s renowned rhododendrons, some of which were still in flower. A little further on was the site of a very deep old mine shaft capped by a large wheel. John Colby mined the area with as many as 9 mines on the estate, although they weren’t really profitable. Close by were memorials dedicated to Miss Mason and Mrs Chance.
Having gone nearly full circle we passed through 2 large gate posts which were remnants of a toll gate which had been sited nearby at the time of The Rebecca Riots. Back at the start of our walk Steve explained the work taking place in the Eastwood which is being reclaimed from a conifer wood. Some of the Maples we could see had been donated by us and provide good autumn colour.
Steve, 2 gardeners, Christine and their band of volunteers do a magnificent job of managing the estate and walled garden . They were thanked for making Colby the magnificent place it is today.
Report by walk organiser Pat Morgan, with assistance from Christine Bevan and Steve Whitehead