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Westward Ho!

April 4, 2024
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We set off early for the AGS South West show – two days early in fact.

When we visit the show at Rosemoor, I work hard all day doing the show photography, and seldom have the time or energy to visit the garden at the end of the day, let alone explore it properly.  Instead, we wanted to visit Rosemoor before the show.

It was great to have a couple of days away with no commitments or time constraints.  The spring sun had some warmth in it, and the roadside verges and banks were adorned with wood anemones and primroses as we got further west.


Instead of flying up the A361 to Barnstaple (currently undergoing major widening works), we chose to stop for lunch at Knightshayes Gardens at Tiverton.  We visited last year, at the end of May on our way back from Wildside, when the gardens were glorious, but somehow I ran out of time to put the pictures onto this diary.

As we drove through the park, the grass was golden with celandines, rejoicing in the sun.  Under the trees, clumps of primroses nestled.

Scilla bithynica

After parking, and a cup of coffee and sandwich at the entrance, we ventured out to walk across to the main garden area.  An open woodland to our left was blue with flowers we immediately assumed to be bluebells.  But on closer inspection, they are not; the shade of blue and stature is wrong, let alone the individual flowers.  These are one of the small species of Scilla – I suspect Scilla bithynica.

Knightshayes House

The house itself is a spectacular Gothic revival building dating from 1868, when Sir John Heathcoat-Amory commissioned the architect William Burges to create Knightshayes Court.  It is built of local red Hensleigh stone, contrasting golden Ham stone from Somerset and bright red clay tiles.  The property sits at the head of a series of terraces, with wonderful views out past a huge cedar of Lebanon towards the hills.

These photos of the house and view date from our visit last year.

In March, the garden is less exuberant, and initially appears rather austere, but everywhere there are signs of new life.

Iris japonica

At the corner of the house there is a small conservatory, which doubles in summer as an auxiliary tea-room.  This was not open yet, but peering through the window I could clearly see a magnificent clump of Iris japonica.

Chaenomeles japonica

Trained to the Gothic stonework of one mullioned window of the house was a find red Japanese quince, Chaenomeles japonica.

At the head of the flight of steps leading up from the lower lawns stood two proud statues of eagles.

Further down, creamy white daffodils lined the edge of the terraces.

Cyclamen repandum

I was surprised to see good plants of Cyclamen repandum, growing under shrubs close to the house wall.

Yew hedges wall the formal garden, with some lovely topiary depicting a series of animals running and leaping along the top of the hedges.

Tulipa bakeri ‘Lilac Wonder’

In the beds below we found some well-flowered clumps of Tulipa bakeri ‘Lilac Wonder’, blooming next to Romulea bulbocodium.


But our main objective was the woodland garden.  The pink of magnolias drew us along the path out of the more formal areas.  Closer to, these flowers were enormous, and in places the ground underneath was pink with fallen petals.

Magnolia stellata

As well as the big ‘tree’ magnolias, we saw some fine bushes of the smaller white Magnolia stellata.

Not to mention Rhododendrons.

Woodland beds

I had hoped that these woods would be full of Erythronium, given the cultivar Erythronium repandum ‘Knighthayes Pink’ originated here, but we found just two blooms.  However, there was plenty else to see, competing for the space, including:

  • more Cyclamen repandum,
  • Anemone nemorosa and Anemone blanda,
  • an attractive Symphytum (S. ibericum ‘Wisley Blue’),
  • Hellebore hybrids and Epimedium.

Scilla bithynica

However, the dominant plant here, out-competing even the celandines, was the blue Scilla we saw earlier.


I was pleased to find flowers on a small shrubby Arctostaphyllos (probably too tall to be Arctostaphyllos uva-ursi).

There were wonderful displays of catkins on the alders.

Camellia transnokoensis

…and dainty white flowers on a species Camellia.

At the far end of the woodland walk the path bends round a daffodil meadow.

Helleborus argutifolius

Returning along the bottom of the meadow, we came across a large patch of Helleborus argutifolius.

Cyclamen repandum

It was a delight to discover that this lower woodland was a sea of Cyclamen repandum, a species I have never managed to establish successfully in the garden, although occasional seedlings survive.

Anemone nemorosa ‘Leeds Variety’

In between the Cyclamen were large drifts of wood anemones.


Above were smaller flowered Rhododendrons in a wide variety of colours.


The bottom of the wood seems to be mainly a collection of Camellia cultivars, many attractive even when the frost has browned the petals.

Kitchen Garden

Before we left we walked across to the huge walled kitchen garden, on a sunny south-facing slope.  We found lots to see here last year at the end of May, but in March the volunteers were still putting in the hard work to prepare it for the summer.

Leucojum aestivum ‘Gravetye Giant’

However, the long wall at the back of the herbaceous border which runs up one side of the garden was lined with vigorous clumps of Summer Snowflake, Leucojum aestivum, probably the cultivar ‘Gravetye Giant’.

In the park, the celandines were still magnificent, though the sky had clouded over, and they weren’t glowing with the power we saw on arrival.


After a relaxing evening, and an excellent meal at the New Inn in Goodleigh, we set off in the morning for Rosemoor.  Breakfast was limited to coffee – neither of us had room for anything else – but we bought a picnic lunch.

Sadly, the weather had changed; although it was sunny, there was a bitterly cold wind.  Definitely time for coats, and we would need to find a sheltered, sunny spot for lunch.

As always at this time of year, the bank along from the entrance was magnificent, covered in daffodils with cherry blossom overhead.

Narcissus bulbocodium

The lawns of Narcissus bulbocodium had clearly been magnificent a week or so earlier, but now they were just starting to go over.

Scilla bithynica

The wooded slopes above Lady Anne’s garden were foaming with flowers, again I think Scilla bithynica in a mixture of colour forms.

I always love the views westwards across the lawns from the north-east end of this garden.


The camellias were lovely, and the paths were covered with fallen blooms.


In one of these little garden rooms, we encountered a peacock, who was calling loudly.  Helen was very taken, and spent a long while talking to him and trying to take pictures.

Meanwhile, I was exploring the garden roundabout.  The trees and shrubs were beautiful with blossom or breaking leaves.

Lichen crusted every branch – a feature of this sheltered valley location.

Cyclamen pseudibericum

Under one shrub in the Mediterranean garden, I found a patch of Cyclamen pseudibericum seedlings.

Fritillaria verticillata

Nearby two beautiful clumps of Fritillaria verticillata were in full bloom.  I wish I could keep my slugs away from it.


On the slopes above us, the magnolias were magnificent.


Beneath them, there were beautiful rhododendrons.

Anemone nemorosa

In the garden as well as the lanes, the banks were decked with wood anemones.

Cup lichen spread across patches of bare soil.


Not all the shrubs were pink.  I love the yellow flowers of Corylopsis.  There were two species here, Corylopsis glabrescens and Corylopsis sinensis.

Trillium kurabayashii

Underneath, a wonderful clump of Trillium kurabayashii.

By now, Helen had left the peacock, and was waiting for me on a bench in the sun.

Adiantum venustum

Now we followed the stream back through the tunnel into the lower garden, past patches of new fronds on Adiantum venustum.

Fritillaria meleagris

The lower lawns were very damp, and I was wary of walking on them, but the snakeshead fritillaries were out.

Narcissus cyclamineus

In places, the fritillaries were growing with the beautiful Narcissus cyclamineus.

Narcissus bulbocodium

One of the lower lawns near the lake was thick with Narcissus bulbocodium.  I don’t remember them here before, and wonder if they are a new planting.  Nearby we found a sunny bench out of the wind to take a break.

Fritillaria imperialis

We were too early in the season to find many flowers in the formal garden rooms, but there were Imperial fritillaries flowering in the hot garden.

Viburnum x burkwoodii

Even on a cold windy day, I noticed the flowers on this Viburnum because of the beautiful scent.

Magnolia stellata

Below and beyond the formal gardens, a huge Magnolia stellata reminds us that spring is here.

This was a great way to get to see these two gardens, before the work and rigours of the show the following day.  I will turn my efforts now to an account of the show itself, but I don’t think that will appear before the Chesterfield show this coming weekend.

Image of Jon Evans Jon Evans

Jon lives and gardens on the north side of the Hogsback on the border between Hampshire and Surrey, on a heavy clay soil. He is a long standing member of the AGS and has been treasurer of the local group in Woking for many years. He is interested in bulbs of all sorts, particularly those from South Africa, and has recently won his Gold Medal at AGS shows after about twenty years.

However, he is best known within the AGS as an enthusiastic amateur photographer. For about 10 years he was responsible for organising the artistic and photographic section of the AGS shows around the country, and also for organising the show photography. During this period, he set up and ran the AGS Digital Image Library. He still visits many shows each year to catalogue the extraordinary achievements of the exhibitors, and is actively involved in other plant photography, both in gardens both public and private, and on outings to view and photograph wild flowers in the UK.

If you have any comments or queries for Jon, you can contact him direct at