We are well into April now but each day it seems to get colder. The daffodils are on their last legs but the bluebells are well under way, looking spectacular. I feel quite sure that now it is cold that they will hang on for Bluebell Week which starts on Sunday. The most difficult decision is when to hold an event as each year is so different. This year everything is so early. In the winter Leighton and Dave did a sterling job reopening a long overgrown path leading from the Summerhouse to the Gazebo. It is such a treat to be able to walk to the beach and back by a different route, something that hasn’t been possible since 1914 when the gardeners left for the First World War never to return. In those days two people were fully employed keeping the lovely paths open but sadly nowadays funds don’t go that far! The primroses, violets and wood anemones are spectacular too and for the sharp-eyed the wild orchids are appearing.
Easter is a great family get-together at Hartland with all the family arriving, some for a week! With four children, their spouses and nine grandchildren, great granny, siblings, other cousins and masses of dogs the Abbey rapidly fills up and the total head count for the Easter Sunday lunch picnic was around 40! Everyone is wonderful and brings contributions to feeding the masses. After lunch the family Easter egg hunt is the highlight of the day ending in lots of happy and chocolatey faces! By Easter Monday we are always exhausted having been full time caterers and bottle washers but happy having been all together again.
During the Easter weekend a fox ate ALL our 12 chickens and our two adorable runner ducks. Some were at least five years old and were really sweet friends. Mary was a bantie cross hen and came in the kitchen all the time. I am devastated as not only did they produce the best eggs but were genuinely part of the family. To find your hens and ducks with their heads and legs eaten off is the most horrible sight imaginable. The fox had dig under the chicken run at night. Now we have to get some more but they won’t run into the kitchen and scratch in the garden as they won’t have an older hen to show them. It is eerily quiet and there is noone to give the scraps to, it is really miserable.
Joanna Mitchell, who has been our Head Gardener for the past twelve years, ‘retired’ on Good Friday. She has been marvellous for the garden and kept it immaculate for all this time having also helped us with the restoration. She will be sadly missed by not only all of us but by the many visitors who chatted to her over the years to glean advice! She was presented by Sir Hugh with a plate from the Springfield pottery in Hartland. Nigel Alford, who has helped Joanna part-time for the past twelve years, now takes on the formidable task but we have every confidence that the garden is in good hands. Nigel trained at Bicton College and has also worked for Clovelly and Downes during this period.
Sir H has put together an interesting display in the Abbey of memorabilia from the 1936 Olympics in Munich in which his uncle, The Hon John Bampfylde of the Royal Horse Guards, took part. He was a member of the British Fencing Team and a fascinating letter from him to his mother vividly describes the extraordinary atmosphere when Hitler appeared in the stadium. Another athlete, Dan Pettit – latterly Sir Dan Pettit, had ties to the Abbey; he was a master at Highgate Junior School when it was evacuated to the Abbey at the outbreak of war and was a member of the football team. A booklet which they were given at the time, explains how they should continue with gentle exercise before the Games, rather different from today’s training regimes!
The gardens are looking wonderful at the moment. The camellias and magnolias have flowered better than we have ever seen them before; lack of frost has prevented them going brown which has helped. The tulips in the Walled Gardens have started flowering and the azaleas are coming out. Spring is on the way….
Come and join us for a bluebell day and if you have a moment take time out in the Walled Gardens for a relax and, possibly, even a read in the sun! The walks to the beach, Summerhouse and Gazebo will be looking lovely and The Tea Room in aid of St Nectan’s Church will be open daily during the week of Sunday 22nd – Sunday 29th serving their usual light lunches and delicious cream teas. On Sunday 22nd and Sunday 29th Sam and Em will be doing their barbecue again with that deliciously tempting smell coming from their little tent! Bring lots of dogs and wellies if wet. The house will be open too on Wednesday, Thursday and Sundays. Do come!
We are now open regularly for the season. See www.hartlandabbey for all the details of opening times etc.