Monday, 11 June 2012

Flowers in the Rain at Topsham

If it hadn't been for the rain you wouldn't be admiring this image of a glistening, tear-dropped red rose which I found in one of Topsham's secret gardens yesterday.

Or its diamond-clustered deeply blushing pink near-neighbour.

Or yet another image of the same one which I didn't have the heart to cut out. Just showing off really.

And gardening expert Veitch enthusiast Caradoc Doy wouldn't have been able to demonstrate how if you rub the soaking flowers of this magnificent ceanothus between your hands it'll be almost exactly as if you were holding a bar of soap. The foam that comes from this novel form of hand-washing is caused by the saponin contained in the plant, a substance found in many other specimens of the secret world of plants.

If it hadn't been for the rain Friend of Fairlynch Margaret Wilson wouldn't have been holding this umbrella as she greeted visitors at Topsham Museum's Secret Garden event yesterday with a brave smile.  

The rain, it has to be said, was torrential at times. Margaret, Head Gardener at Topsham Museum, must have been, as they say 'gutted', to see the weather forecast for an event which had been six months in the planning. And it's one of the Museum's main fund-raisers of the year. And it was her birthday.

Still, you can't have everything. The rain's what makes Devon so green, and our own rhododendrons in Budleigh Salterton are looking so much happier now that the water-butts are full again after that short-lived heatwave in May.

At least the stormy Atlantic gales had blown themselves out. A windswept herbaceous border is a sad sight, and a fine notice like this one advertising the event might well have disappeared into the River Exe flowing at the bottom of the Museum garden. 'Daisies', the painting used in the design of the notice, is the work of local artist Sarah Gillard

And I learnt interesting stuff from Caradoc, including the fact that the leaves from a crab apple tree in the Museum's garden, originally from China and imported by the English plant hunter Ernest Wilson in 1900, were used by peasant workers to make a form of tea. The tree, Malus hupehensis, also known as the 'Tea crab apple' is now so rare in its homeland that there are many more growing in the UK than in China.

Also, that the book about Veitch that he's published, a facsimile reprint of Hortus Veitchii first published by James Veitch & Sons, of Chelsea, in 1906 is on special offer and available at £35 instead of the usual price of £95. 

More information can be found by clicking on

And people were so friendly. The British seem to be that much more inclined to talk to strangers in a downpour, as if we feel that the rain's our common enemy and a good chat, especially over a cup of tea, is the best way of dealing with it.

So that was why, perhaps, I found myself engrossed for a time, bizarrely, in an absorbing conversation about sponges, flint, salt, foraminifera and other arcane matters with a Topsham resident, a professor of Geological Sciences whom I met by chance in one of the first gardens we visited.

That in itself would have made my day because the professor was kind enough to offer help in planning our 'Sea, Salt and Sponges' exhibition at Fairlynch next year, a tribute to Henry John Carter (1813-95), Budleigh's own Fellow of the Royal Society.  

Later in the afternoon the rain almost stopped and the gardens at times were almost full of visitors. So here are some more photos showing that we had a wonderful time discovering that there is indeed a secret world of flowers, shrubs, and even quite exotic fruit and vegetables growing in the shelter of the often sun-baked old brick walls of ancient Topsham.

Like this pretty pink rose growing at 34 Strand, in what the programme described as "a hidden walled garden."

In the same garden was another rose with teardrops in the rain which caught my eye - white with beautiful shades of yellow this time. 

There was quite a variety of gardens on display.

Finding this communal garden at Strand Court at what seemed to be roof-top level with a view of those typically Topsham Dutch gables was a pleasant surprise.


But I wish I'd been able to identify this pretty pink herbaceous border plant.

And this iris-like blue flower also foxed me. Any ideas out there?

But I know that this is a beautiful cistus, looking even more fetching in the rain.

And this, I think, could be a variety of Escallonia called 'Apple blossom' which I lost in the Northamptonshire frosts many years ago.

Quite a number of the Topsham gardens were communal and charmingly intimate, shared between different cottages. At Clara Place I found what they described as a medley of small private gardens.

And at 20 Ferry Road where there are two contrasting small gardens belonging to Flats 3 and 4 I admired this acer which looks like the roof of a thatched cottage.

By contrast there was the large Victorian garden of Grove Hill House with its neatly trimmed hedges, soft clipped lawns and well-tended borders.

At the garden of Globe Hall, the owner says "I run the garden for me, the dog and the birds." But I think it's also run for the magnificent clematis soaring up into the apple tree.

Of course, teas with scones and cakes were being served here at 21 Victoria Road along with a friendly smile from the steward, as well as at the Museum's garden at 25, Strand.

Raindrops were falling on my head as I watched flowers in the rain, feeling the power of flowers in my head and thinking of so many songs and poems inspired by our damp British climate including 60s' rock musicians. And quite pleased with some of the photos I'd taken.

And the Museum?  Well, a few cowardly souls who couldn't face getting a little bit wet had taken refuge there and I thought I'd better see what they offer.

"Wow!" I thought when I saw this splendid gallery which rather understatedly they call The Loft. Definitely Topsham Museum, which to my shame I hadn't seen before, is worth some return visits. And yes, we'd like just a bit of sunshine in the garden when we go again.

For more information about Topsham Museum  click on

Share my Garden  has left a new comment on your post "Garden news from Topsham Museum":
Have found your site following from a pleasant visit to the museum on Saturday, (delicious cake!) I do hope that you will repeat the open gardens event next year and if so will let me know the date.
We have a scaffolding tower - one of the most useful things that we have bought. I hope that you concentrate and don't play around too much when you are on it!

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