Ince Castle garden

Photographs: Charles Francis

March 2016: A conversation with Alice Boyd

What makes Ince Castle such a romantic place?

The castle is built from pink bricks, and another part of its charm is its position stretching out into the River Lynher. We also benefit from the borrowed landscape of the gardens at Antony, across the river.

How has the garden evolved in recent years?

We’ve increased the things that like it here, particularly camellias and azaleas, with some rhododendrons and magnolias. What I have added above all are bulbs, starting with a lot more snowdrops, followed by scillas, all sorts of daffodils and fritillaries in big groups. I’ve given the summer garden a reshuffle: a great many more salvias had come on the market since my mother-in-law made the garden in the 1960s, so I’ve got a large collection of them. Some years you lose some, so we take cuttings.

Salvia guarantica

Salvia guarantica 

 The salvias are mixed with dahlias, late-flowering daisies, asters, and plenty of large annuals which make an instant impact.

Dahlia 'Bishop of Llandaff'

Dahlia ‘Bishop of Llandaff’ 

In the last few years, we have concentrated on improving what is already here — but I have made a big raised bed out of granite, especially for little treasures in the spring: very small snowdrops, daffodils and cyclamens.

The start of 2016 saw many trees, shrubs and bulbs already in bloom. What are visitors likely to see this spring?    

Last year, we opened the garden in February, which is normally the best time for our snowdrops — but this year, they were out in early January.

Nivalis 'Flore Pleno'

This year, one of our open days is March 27, which is Easter Sunday. We opened on Easter Sunday once before, several years ago, and it went very well, but we’ve found that Mothering Sunday isn’t a good day — perhaps people don’t take their mothers to visit gardens on that day. People will be able to see camellias and magnolias, with any luck, and plenty of daffodils: there are enough different varieties to ensure that there’ll always be some in flower in March. When my mother-in-law first came here, she found that there were quite a lot of daffodils in the spinney to the west of the house: old Tamar Valley varieties, not necessarily bred in this area, but grown here for a long time. Varieties like ‘Seagull’ and ‘White Lady’, would be called old-fashioned varieties now, as they are pre-1940s. They’re very good at looking after themselves: they’re self-sustaining and they don’t go blind, and they have increased in productivity over the years. These varieties are not the sort of daffodils you see on a flower show bench, but they look very nice in a vase. The daffodils will all be over by the time of our next open day in April, but there will be rhododendrons and azaleas, still some magnolias, the tail end of the camellias, and more fritillaries and other bulbs.

Camellia japonica 'Mabel Blackwell'

Camellia japonica ‘Mabel Blackwell’

 The shell house is an unusual feature of the garden. What is the story behind it?

My father-in-law thought it would be nice to have a little dovecote decorated with shells, and he asked friends to send them from different places. It’s much less acceptable to remove shells from their place of origin than it was 50 years ago. The shells were very dirty when they came in, so I cleaned all 2,500 of them. My mother-in-law then arranged them on bits of Plasticine, and an old local man stuck them on the walls on a wet afternoon. It is a testament to whatever glue he used that very few have been dislodged in 50 years. A few years ago, while my husband was recovering from a stroke, he started putting shells on the outside of the shell house. He found it therapeutic, and he is still at it. He has also made a little shelter which has a good many shells — it’s near the car park, and is where we sit to collect money from visitors. By creating another shell house, we feel we’re continuing a tradition.

Shell house interior