The Excluding Eye – A Visit to The Garden House, Devon.

Why do we seek beauty and prettiness and exclude the unappealing, distasteful or unattractive when we photograph a garden?

I have just looked back over an album of shots from a visit to The Garden House in Devon and find the photographs strongly contradict my thoughts and impressions of the garden on the day. They paint a pretty and attractive picture of the garden – there were even repeated shots of the same view when the light was better – but my recollection of my thoughts on the day is that I was disappointed; that they gardens were not as they had been on previous visits and that the general standard of planting and maintenance had dropped noticeably. Yet, my photographs are of an attractive, even beautiful garden.

The Garden House (4)

The Garden House (12)

The Garden House (24)

When we are on holiday, when we visit a garden or other attraction, I expect our hopes are always high and disappointment when it comes our way, while not entirely denied, will be kept at bay at least. We are generally reluctant to concede that we have chosen badly and persist in hopes that things will improve. Sometimes they do but, at other times, they don’t.

The Garden House (35)

The Garden House (36)

The history of garden is entwined with that of Buckland Abbey and the local church. In 1305 the Bishop instructed the Abbot to build a house for the parish priest and this site was chosen. At the dissolution of the monasteries, the Abbot became the vicar of Buckland Monachorum.

Some parts of original building remain. A modern vicarage was built in the 1920s and The Garden House was sold as a private dwelling. The house came onto the market again just after the Second World War and was purchased by Lionel Fortescue, a retiring master at Eton, and his wife Katharine.

The Garden House (39)

The Garden House (44)

The Garden House (45)

He set about renovating and developing their garden whilst running a thriving market garden business, providing stock plants for growers in the Tamar Valley, and managing a herd of Jersey dairy cattle.

By 1961 they had established the Fortescue Garden Trust, an independent registered charity, to which they bequeathed the house and garden to ensure the survival of this beautiful place for future generations. After their deaths in the 1980s ownership passed to the charity, which maintains the Fortescues’ legacy.

The Garden House (58)

The Garden House (64)

The Garden House (56)

Perhaps, it is best to look with kind eyes on gardens that we visit, to take what is good there and to enjoy it and not be too bothered with the flaws. Perhaps, our photographs give the best report after all – selective sight.

The Garden House (67)






2 thoughts on “The Excluding Eye – A Visit to The Garden House, Devon.

  1. By its nature, photography is selective – we choose a particular flower or angle. The garden does look beautiful. Towards the end of the season, the effect of resources to tidy and deadhead (or the lack of them) accumulate, so perhaps it could be partly that. Some gardens are better at certain times of the year or after certain weather conditions.

    I completely understand your ambivalence in writing about the garden. Is it right to encourage other people to visit this garden rather than others nearby? Or to handicap, even slightly, the garden owners who have achieved a lot, are working in a field we admire and are presumably doing their best? I had a similar dilemma this summer after visiting a celebrated garden that I was seriously disappointed by. I was surprised to see even a few decent pictures when reviewing them later. It was one of the few times I have visited a garden and concluded that I would rather have gone anywhere else.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Unfortunately, we do meet with disappointments at times but it is not the general result. Most often, we are happy with our garden visits and it is a pleasure to tell others about them. With those which don’t appeal to me I find it better to use terms such as “it didn’t appeal to me” or ” I didn’t enjoy it” rather than make harsh comments that it wasn’t a good garden etc etc. If left as a personal comment it is less judgmental and a little less damning. This is especially so of show gardens where very often the garden may not appeal but we are not in a position to judge it as we are not familiar with the brief the designer submitted.

      Yes, photography is always selective – I’m inclined to say the camera lies at times but we will do our best!

      Many thanks for the comments.


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