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Marsh Villa Gardens

Visits > Past Visit Reports and Pictures > Devon & Cornwall Reports
Harvey, with a big smile and oodles of Cornish charm, met our coach and welcomed us to Marsh Villa Gardens. “Well, welcome to the gardens, the villa is still not built! “ he joked. ”Come and meet the crocodile”, he continued “Not my wife” he hastened to add. In the “Pretty Yard” surrounded by the cottage, small barn, tables and chairs ready for later refreshments was a big model crocodile; a smaller one was hidden in a nearby border.

Before 1976 flooding was a major problem. Then the Water Board started a flood relief scheme, including putting sluice gates on the tidal creek, which runs along one side of this three acre garden.

When Judith and Harvey Stephens moved from their Bodmin Moor farm to his family home in 1985, Marsh Villa was a small holding with chickens, ducks and one cow, no garden and very open to the elements.

Over some years the site was infilled with loads of building rubble, china clay waste from the harbour, clinker from the gas-works and household rubbish, covered by a mere 3 inches of topsoil.

Judith, with no formal training, found it necessary to use a crowbar, fondly named “Betsy”, to make planting holes for trees to form a shelter belt for shrubs and flowers to follow.

There were many ”rooms”, each very different but complementing each other. There were areas with soft coloured spring planting such as fragrant sweet rocket ( Hesperis matronalis)  and some vibrant borders with alliums, peonies, lemon and orange poppies and frothy forget-me-nots set against lush green mounds of oriental poppies, day lilies, delphiniums and sedums. Many more perennials were ready to burst forth later.

Trees of all shapes and sizes included Monterey pines, which Judith had grown from seed. I’m still intrigued by the Handkerchief tree ( Davidia involucrata ), but my favourite was the shrub Viburnum plicatum ‘Lanarth’ which in full flower was absolutely fabulous in “Gran’s Patch”.

When the cow died her field was made into a big pond surrounded by a wide grass path and lush growth, including gunnera.

Beyond the main garden is natural very marshy woodland with paths and streams invariably flooded during winter; a haven for birds and wild flowers.

The incredible vision, strength and dedication by Judith and Harvey to reclaim this area of marshland to form such an amazing garden was an inspiration to us all and blew me away!

Pauline Brierley

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