Last Updated on February 4, 2020 by Sophie Nadeau
Whether you’re an avid horticulturalist or just love mooching round a beautiful garden and then enjoying a delicious lunch or leisurely cream tea, Hill House Nursery is definitely your go-to destination. The family-run independent nursery is a breath of fresh air, compared to the larger rather homogenised garden centres that have become the norm, and offers a number of unusual plants that are grown on site.
How to Visit Hill House Nursery
The nursery is certainly an interesting place to reach by car with all the lanes leading to Landscove being exceedingly narrow, high Devon banks on either side and the odd passing place here and there!
It’s approximately three miles south-east of the popular stannary town of Ashburton and just five miles to the north of Totnes, a bustling historic market town with a Norman castle. So, once you’ve filled up your car with goodies and eaten your way through a wonderful cream tea, there’s a multitude of places to explore within close proximity.
If approaching from the Ashburton direction take a moment to view the glorious South Hams rolling landscape before you descend the steep hill into Landscove itself. Much of the surrounding arable land that you see before you is currently farmed by Riverford Organics.
Hill House Nursery is open daily (including Sundays) from 11.00 – 16.45; and the Tea Rooms are open from March through to September.
Landscove Church and its Mining Community
Landscove is an amalgamation of a number of small hamlets, which until a few decades ago were almost all owned by the Church, including Woolston Green and Thornecroft, which can be seen when approaching from the Ashburton direction. Thornecroft was built, during the 19th century, as one of the mining communities who worked at the Penn Recca Quarries, now disused, and which can be found in the near vicinity.
Penn Recca, also owned by the church, was the only place that slate was ever quarried in Devon and was producing a grey-greenish roofing slate as early as 1388. All the workings, right up until the quarry was no longer in use, are recorded in the Exeter Cathedral Chapter Act Book. The site was abandoned in 1908 and, to this day, is still owned by the Church Commissioners for England.
By the mid-1800s the slate quarry was at its zenith and created jobs for more than one hundred men. Being more than two miles from Staverton church a decision was taken to build another church for the workers and their families. The Church of St Matthew was consecrated in 1851 with roof tiles quarried from Penn Recca and at the same time the various hamlets were amalgamated to become the present-day village of Landscove.
As you can see from the photos St. Matthew’s is literally a stone’s throw from the nursery and can be accessed through the garden. If you have a spare five minutes, it’s worth a quick look around.
Like much of the land in the area, St. Matthew’s Church and its Vicarage were built on land owned by the Church Commissioners. The benefactor, who also built the adjacent local school for the children in the area, was a Miss Champernowne, owner of Dartington Hall.
Both the church and the vicarage were designed by John Loughborough Pearson (1817-1897), a Gothic Revival architect, who restored and built many ecclesiastical buildings including St. John’s Cathedral in Brisbane and Truro Cathedral. Today the gothic vicarage is a perfect foil when viewing the stunning gardens and an idyllic place to relax and enjoy an afternoon tea.
The vicarage was sold off in the 1960s and came into the ownership of Mary Aylett who was married to the renowned plantsman and garden writer, Edward Hyams.
Edward Solomon Hyams (1910-1975) and Hill House Nursery
Edward Hyams was a multi-talented author and also gardening correspondent to the Illustrated London News, He wrote numerous gardening books as well as on diverse other topics including a book titled – Killing No Murder: A Study of Assassination and even a biography published posthumously about the French anarchist Proudhon!
Probably one of his most well-known books is Soil and Civilisation which is a forward-thinking book about organic farming that was originally published back in 1952.
A talented plantsman and keen advocate of organic gardening, Hyams set about establishing, in the early 1960s, the three acre vicarage garden that today includes numerous unusual plants, shrubs and trees including a rare Pinus Montezuma and a Magnolia delavayi that was given to him by the great crime writer, Agatha Christie. The creation of the garden became the subject of one of his books – An Englishman’s Garden.
Sadly, the Hyams divorced and Mary sold the vicarage. The garden fell into a state of neglect over the years until the property was purchased by the Hubbards in 1981 by which time the Old Vicarage had been renamed Hill House.
Hill House Nursery Today
Raymond and Valerie Hubbard set about restoring Hyams garden to its former glory and then propagating various plants in the garden which over the decades has led to the fantastic nursery that can be seen today.
The nursery has, from the beginning, adopted a Biological Control of plants and also introduced a number of new plants including Nemesia ‘Bluebird’ which has sold in excess of 12 million plants worldwide. It continues to be a family run business and the advice you receive from the staff is second to none. Everybody working on site seems to be truly passionate and knowledgeable about the plants they’re selling, unlike some of the larger garden centres around!
It’s at Hill House that I first discovered the amazing Anthemis Cupiana, otherwise known as Sicilian Chamomile. They have the most amazing specimen near the pond and tea room.
Around every corner, there’s yet another highly unusual treat and all at sensible prices. The analogy of a child in a sweet shop couldn’t be more apt for Hill House and I defy anyone that loves plants to leave empty-handed. It’s far more probable that your poor car will be groaning under the weight of your purchases crammed into it!
In the Spring and Summer months, there’s a cutting garden and simple but stunning bouquets are available to purchase.
Ashburton – An ancient Stannary town, situated on the southern edge of Dartmoor, that is now a vibrant community with lots of independent shops, great places to eat and paradise for antique lovers.
Riverford Field Kitchen – The Organic Restaurant serves fresh locally sourced seasonal food. The whole restaurant is served at the same time and booking is absolutely essential.
The Church House Inn at Rattery – Thanks to the fact that the building where the Church House Inn is now housed is alleged to date back to 1028 – i.e. the date when William the Conqueror was born, the quintessentially Devonian pub is one of the oldest pubs in Devon. Serving hearty meals and local beers, you won’t regret heading in for a bite to eat!
Dartmoor National Park – Dartmoor has a wealth of places to visit, from prehistoric monuments to breathtaking scenery and the iconic Haytor. For a complete itinerary, check out our guide to Dartmoor National Park.
Totnes – An historic market town situated at the head of the River Dart Estuary. There’s a wealth of independent shops, art galleries and a classic motte and bailey castle that stands proudly above the town.
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