Back in the dim recesses of time, as an almost qualified health visitor, I was dispatched to Tavistock to do something called Supervised Practice. This used to happen after final written exams and would involve (and may still) three months based in an area that had to be in complete contrast to your previous nine month student placement (mine had been a baptism of fire on the naval estates of Plymouth City) You would be given a mini-caseload of a hundred families to practise on visit in that time, before heading back into college at the end of the stint for a rigorous viva voce and hopefully a Pass.
Thankfully I passed but I doubt I will ever forget that Summer of '78.
Fancy being paid to drive around these lanes, and up onto Dartmoor; fresh-faced and mustard-keen I really couldn't get enough of it, so when a health visitor post came up in Tavistock while I was there, and was offered to me, I snapped it up. No matter that I would have to drive out from our flat in the gloomy Dockyard end of Plymouth every day, it would be worth it. Those were the days when you were given an NHS car, so I had an ex-Police Panda car cast-off (with the word POLICE barely sprayed over) sporting very random gears and the worrying number plate RTA, but about a month into the job I was offered an unfurnished 'Community Nurse' house too, in the village of Buckland Monachorum.
It's odd when you look back and realise how so much of your life just slots into place by luck and happenstance isn't it, and I'm sure similar things will have happened to many of you. It only took about three trips to move our two years-worth of married belongings to our new home, included the mandatory Swiss Cheese plant sticking out of the back window. We furnished sparsely... minimalist was us, decorated appallingly remembering that this was the era of the two-toned emulsioned room (Cinnamon and Spice ...a whole lot too much of brown) and got a Border Collie puppy as we proceeded to see what it was like to really live in the country.
Returning to Buckland Monachorum last Saturday, and walking through those same fields we had walked with Ben, it dawned on us both that this was where it had all begun, our road to where we are now and our love of country life and splendid rural isolation. We loved Buckland and would have happily settled there had we been able to afford it, but cottages were going for about £15k and we had a mortgage maximum of £12-14k... laughable when you look back, won't even buy a car these days. We had driven the ten miles or so for the summer fair last week but on the way turned into The Garden House just outside the village.
Now we hadn't been to The Garden House for years. To be honest we couldn't remember there being much that was of interest to us back in the day when it was a five minute walk away, but we had followed its progress over the years. We knew that the garden had been extended and that innovative head gardener Keith Wiley had wrought miracles before moving onto his own nursery along the road, that the garden has featured on Gardener's World and presenters Alan Titchmarsh and Carol Klein both adore it, and that Sophie Wessex had paid a Royal visit recently
The house was originally the Rectory for the village church and is now the tea rooms, the whole plot bought and developed by Lionel (an ex-Eton schoolmaster) and Kathleen Fortescue in the 1960s, this much we had known before..
I was, as usual, much in need of a cream tea and having had my cholesterol done last week and not yet been in receipt of the phone call to tell me off, thought in for a penny etc before I'm back on porridge. A pile of egg sandwiches, scones, jam, clotted, Earl Grey etc later we stepped out to look at the gardens before walking along the footpath to the village, and thinking the garden would only take us take us twenty minutes or so on the way and we'd moan at having payed £7 something to get in.
Cue...HUGE SURPRISES around every corner.. breathtaking ones at that
Acres and acres of it. The wildflower meadows in full flight as were the rhododendrons, this beauty (Vanessa Pastel) in a shady glade but pickled with glorious flowers...
and perhaps my favourite, unbeatable, biggest-gasp moment...
The meconopsis bed ...plant envy doesn't come close... I WANT A LOT OF THESE...
Everything looks so natural, yet planting schemes worked out meticulously to capitalise on the setting, its possibilities and above all the long gaze of the beholder...
There in the distance the village church and beyond that Kit Hill which we look across to from home. The church tower a reminder that we had meant to go to the summer fair, but we still had so much to see. Reluctantly we slipped down onto the footpath, did the village in quick order but couldn't wait to get back to The Garden House.
Far from begrudging the entry fee we were almost the last ones out, but not before we threw more money at them and became Friends, buying a year-long double ticket so that we can go whenever. Monty Don suggested on last week's Gardener's World (now avid fan) how important it was to go and look at other gardens to get inspiration for your own, and I was reminded of so much, not least that this is the only garden where we have failed to establish a good show of Aquilegias/Columbines which I love, so that is one of my many tasks for next year.
God knows what else I'll be wanting to grow after a year of seeing all this, watch this space, plus all tips for growing meconopsis, and while we're about it poppies too, gratefully received