Visit to Buckfast Abbey
On Monday 26 July a group of Exeter Branch members enjoyed our first day out together for many months. It was a joy to meet again in person and not on Zoom.
The venue was Buckfast Abbey where extensive grounds and a large terrace outside the restaurant enabled us to meet and chat and enjoy lunch safely before the afternoon tour. Some members also took the opportunity to visit the beautiful Abbey Church of St. Mary, cool and peaceful on a hot summer’s day and providing as ever, a welcome to all.
After lunch we held a brief ceremony, thanking Frances Canning for her role as Chairman and welcoming Mike Aspray as Branch Chairman for 2021-22. We also thanked Secretary Peter for linking us via emails and the Newsletter during the past 15 months.
Maia Hall of the gardening team led us to see three of the specialist gardens maintained at Buckfast. Like all gardens, these are constantly evolving. First we admired the lavender garden (which at one time comprised the National Collection, now held elsewhere) located in a sunny, south facing position with lots of grit for good drainage. The sea of azure and mauve flowers was attracting some bees, we were pleased to note.
Next we moved on to learn about the Physic Garden, comprising four sections of planting separated by a shady low arched arbour, covered by vines, plums, quince and medlars at a height easy for picking. This garden has plants commonly used in medieval times: for example the medicinal quarter had feverfew (for headaches) lavender (an antiseptic) and self-heal (for hypertension) while the culinary quarter grew onion, garlic and borage. The household section contained rosemary and pineapple sage, used to mask unpleasant smells indoors and meadowsweet that was used for dyes. In the quarter with poisonous plants we were glad to see these on a small island surrounded by a pond and were told about monkshood (fatal if ingested) and lovage that can cause kidney damage. We did not linger here!
Our final stop was in the peaceful Millennium Garden, designed to commemorate the 1,000 years since an Abbey was founded here in 1018. This garden won Silver at the 0217 RHS Malvern Festival. Centred on a circular pond at which a white-painted wrought iron deer is drinking, the garden has a blue, white and silver theme with hostas, foxgloves, silver birch trees, hazel, ferns and other low-growing plants densely packed around the pond. A delightful and peaceful place.
Our tour concluded with an explanation from Peter Hague, Head Gardener, of the newer buildings in the grounds which include a conference centre. We thanked our guides and found shelter just as the thunderstorm broke! A dramatic end to a splendid outing. Thank you, Frances, for organising this visit.