Bocombe Mill Cottage logo

An organic garden with
a long circular walk in North West Devon

Bocombe Mill Cottage, Bocombe,
Near Clovelly, Devon
EX39 5PH

01237 451293

Chris Butler & David Burrows

Welcome Location Opening times The gardens Circular walk
Photo diary Garden history Local places of interest Blog flower Press

History of the garden

Welcome to the gardens and wild meadow, orchard and Goat Hillside of Bocombe Mill Cottage, where an organic regime is practised.

The property was purchased in 1997, and there are still large items of works to be accomplished. In 2006 we opened the gardens under the National Gardens Scheme.

The soil at Bocombe is light clay and is slightly acidic.

View over the ponds The rainfall is high and the ground is often wet to waterlogged. Year round temperature is tempered by the proximity of the coast. The Meadow bottom lies in a slight frost hollow, which can be frosted over all day in mid winter. Having said that, even in the Meadow bottom the first frost is often not until late November or early December, and the frosts gone entirely by early April. Frost is less of a problem above the walled bank, though, of course, it does occur!

Being in the shelter of a combe provides a climate essentially free from the howling gales that can damage plants (and buildings!) higher up, when gales from the South West tear in across the Atlantic.

A small and varied collection of perennials was moved into the kitchen garden in the late spring of ’97. This temporary site was to act as a holding bed prior to

  • the summer weather setting in making transplanting difficult
  • a garden plan and planting scheme being drawn up
  • the new beds prepared

At the end of the spring of 1998 many of the perennials were still in the kitchen garden waiting for the last of these items to be completed. The preparation of new beds and the clearing of weeds from the few old beds has been hampered by the presence of the invasive and difficult to remove Ground Elder, not to mention Brambles and Nettles, Ivy, Buttercups and Celandines and a host of annuals that spread their seed so widely

Many of the gardens at Bocombe Mill Cottage have been designed afresh, or are entirely new, though the one that remains essentially the same is the Kitchen Garden.

Kitchen Garden
This garden has been cultivated for some considerable time and the soil is in fair condition. The drainage is adequate, the shading too deep, particularly towards the end of the growing season when the sun sinks low, and the kitchen garden is well sheltered. A three year rotation is practised, The greenhouse is quite heavily shaded, but well protected from winds from the north east. The glass develops a rampant algae growth during the moist winter months, both inside and out. The potting shed was built early on.

The Kitchen Garden hosts one of the wells of Bocombe Mill Cottage, that we hope to reopen in the near future, both as an historic feature and to supply water to the garden. The Well is stone lined, with the water table some two metres below the cover level. A second well is in the meadow, and a third close to the house.

As well as a Kitchen Garden, on the hillside there’s half an acre of ancient orchard, next to the old mill site, and two new, large soft fruit cages and a raised asparagus bed.

Landscape Management
Our small herd of dairy goats (British Saanens) roam the majority of the hillside. The hill lifts us out of our sheltered valley and up towards the exposed top of the bumpy Devon landscape, with open views towards Parkham church tower in the south east and towards Horns Cross in the direction of the sea. Each winter our goats manage a portion of the wild meadow, allowing us to organically control the invasive brambles and trees such as willow and alder. Under supervision they also control the vegetation in our orchard.

Another winter activity is hedge laying, which opens up views of the Bocombe valley, previously hidden by the overgrown, dense foliage. Quite an eye opener, as the landscape changes so dramatically with the laying Devon style (that is, flat on the ground) of the overgrown (30 feet high) hedges. These ancient hedges contain Hawthorn, Blackthorn, Beech, Ash, Hazel, Willow, Oak and Alder, along with Sycamore that we’re trying to eliminate!

Over the winter of 2002 we planted up a new hillside Soft Fruit Garden. Our Gloucester Old Spot rare breed pigs cleared the area of existing scrub vegetation earlier. Many of the fruit bushes and canes were moved from the Kitchen Garden, allowing more space for vegetables, though dozens of new fruit plants were bought too.

Trees have been planted in their hundreds at Bocombe Mill Cottage. For instance, in the winter of 2003 planting continued, with some 150 new trees popped in. These included numerous specimen trees, as well as shelter belts of Lodgepole Pine (Pinus contorta) & Western Red Cedar (Thuya plicata). Where the pig cleared the land the previous year at the foot of Goat Hill we’ve introduced a small plantation of Christmas trees (Picea abies). Whilst we completed our main tree planting within a year or two of moving to Bocombe, we just can’t help planting a few more each year!

Visit the Circular Walk page to bring the garden at Bocombe Mill Cottage up to date!

Location Opening times The gardens Circular walk
Photo diary Garden history Local places of interest Blog flower Press
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