Burrator gardens

A long term aim of Devon Conservation Officer Neil Reeves was to restore the historic Victorian Gardens of Burrator Lodge at Burrator Reservoir.

His ambition came to realisation when he was approached by the West Devon Explorer Scouts who were looking for a worthy project for their Chief Scout platinum and diamond awards and the service element of the Duke of Edinburgh Award.

For several days during the autumn and winter of 2008 and into early 2009 the scouts joined Neil to uncover and restore the lost ornamental pathway known as Wembley Walk.

The pathway ‘Wembley Walk’ was named following a celebratory trip to London after the raising of Burrator Dam and was constructed as part of the Empire Exhibition celebrations in 1924.

Plymouth City Water Works commissioned the walk, and the archways at each end of the walk were built using granite salvaged from the farms and houses demolished to make way for the reservoir.

Wembley Walk was originally a road leading to Sheepstor, the majority of which is now submerged under the Reservoir.

The scouts, aged 14 to 18, helped Neil to clear back the overgrown vegetation and native wildflowers were planted into the banks. The stone planters remain “unplanted” for the time being and insect boxes were placed along the pathway.

Neil is proud to say that the first spring after the clearance (2009) saw the walkway bursting with life and colour as flora previously smothered with rhododendron ponticum, berberis, previously coppiced hazel and willow, and bramble were able to break through and provide a fantastic display. Flora included daffodils, narcissi, primroses, bluebells, ferns and a variety of wildflowers. Some of the original planting remains in places including a variety of ferns, welsh poppies, lilies and London pride.

Since the restoration Neil has been taking advice from the Devon Historic Gardens Trust to continue restoring the gardens including the terraces behind the Lodge which host several hybrid species of rhododendron. The main tasks here are to identify the specialist rhododendron and to reduce the amount of rhododendron ponticum. The rhododendron around the lawn at Burrator Lodge are planted hybrids, and these will be managed in the future with both conservation and historic context in mind. The emphasis of Wembley Walk will now be on a wildlife garden basis, with all future planting and management being along these lines. The scouts will also be coming back to help manage the garden, but all volunteers are most welcome – it’s a great opportunity for keen gardeners to be part of this garden’s restoration.

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