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Marwood Hill Gardens


A magical private garden situated in a wooded valley and created almost from scratch by Dr Jimmy Smart MBE, VMH. Highlights include three inter-linked lakes, National Collections of Astilbe, Tulbaghia, and Japanese Iris, and a Camellia house and plant sales area situated within a walled garden.


The site has a notable downwards incline from the southern boundary to the middle lake and bog garden area. Gentler slopes fall from the north-west corner towards the lower lake. and from the upper lake on the eastern boundary to the lower lake on the western edge.

Location, Area, Boundaries, Landform and Setting

Marwood Hill Gardens is situated 4 miles north of the town of Barnstaple in North Devon, sitting between the hamlets of Marwood and Guineaford.

Entrances and Approaches

The site is approached from a road to the north, the entrance being on the north-north-east of the grounds.

Principal Building

The principal building is a house built by Dr Jimmy Smart in the 1970s and which was his home until his death in 2002. The living room was subsequently converted to become the site's tea-room, which opened in 2005.

Grounds and Pleasure Grounds

To the left of the entrance are sited herbaceous borders and a Wisteria arbour with several benches. Following the path to the east, Mediterranean beds are sited below the tea rooms, this being the warmest and driest area of the garden. On the eastern-most border a small quarry, which is being developed with planting, gives way to the upper lake.

The upper lake is the current site for the collection of Japanese Iris, which were moved from a drier area. It has a small stream feed to the middle lake and the area between them is home to the National Collection of Astilbe. An island in the lake features a sculpture of a mother and child. A stream from the middle lake then flows through the bog garden and into the lower lake, the lakes forming the central horizontal core of the grounds.

From this core, the ground slopes upwards to the southern border. This is a large area featuring many shrubs and trees. On the eastern side is a conifer collection, whilst the lower end of the slope features a collection of birch and Eucalyptus . These were specifically chosen by Dr Smart to complement each other - the birch being a Northern hemisphere deciduous tree and the Eucalyptus being a Southern hemisphere evergreen, but both having stunning bark. The upper-most edge of the area houses a Camellia walk, and a Hydrangea walk cuts through the middle of the area.

Beyond the lower lake, towards the north-western corner, lies a scented arbour followed by a folly and waterfall. A wild garden stretches from this corner back towards the east, leading to beehives and a bluebell wood which is central to the northern border.

Heading from the bluebell wood back towards the admission gate, the walled garden can be seen. The inner area of this features the National Collection of Tulbaghia, a Camellia house, and the plant sales area. The outer wall area features a Hellebore bank and scree area on the southern side, a small pool on the northern side, and herbaceous borders to the east.

Benches are placed at regular intervals throughout the gardens, and sculptures are featured at the north-eastern approach to the upper lake, on an island in the middle lake, between the middle lake and bog garden, and at the eastern edge of the lower lake. The sculpture between the middle lake and bog garden is placed almost centrally within the whole site and is of Dr Jimmy Smart.

Kitchen Garden

A walled garden immediately to the right of the admission gate and on the north edge of the site formerly contained cordon and espalier apple trees. It now provides space for a sales area of plants propagated on site and it also where the National Collection of Tulbaghia and the Camellia house is situated.

Plant sales include some unusual Astilbe from the National Collection, which may be difficult to source from other nurseries.

Visitor Access, Directions & Contacts


01271 342528

Access contact details

Please note that the Gardens are closed on Monday and Tuesdays.

The Gardens will be open from 10am – 4.30pm Wednesday – Sunday.
The Tearooms
are open from 10am – 4.30pm, Wednesday – Sunday. (Last orders are at 4pm and we stop serving our quick bites from 3pm onwards. Cream Teas and cakes are available till close.)

For more visitor information visit the Marwood Hill Gardens website.


For more detailed directions visit the Marwood Hill Gardens website.


A detailed history of the garden, largely told in Jimmy Smart's own words, can be found at History of the Garden (

A condensed history, based on the information found at the link, is given below.

At the time the land was purchased by Dr Jimmy Smart, the gardens extended for less than 2 acres. Work was undertaken to remove a great deal of the existing planting, excepting some Rhododendron nobleanum, which Dr Smart stated had been a large draw when he was considering buying the house. Other initial work involved establishing herbaceous borders and clearing the front lawn.

In the 1960s, the purchase of adjacent land enabled the creation of two small lakes and many of the trees appearing opposite the house were planted. In the same year, a greenhouse was built inside the walled garden, which now houses a stunning collection of Camellia species - a plant which Dr Smart showed and judged; he also worked with the RHS Camellia Committee.

Over the years, numerous trees and shrubs were added and the gardens were opened to the public for an admission fee with a selection of plants propagated on site being offered for sale. A new house was built and the old one sold with the new house taking the name of Marwood Hill Gardens.

Around the time of Dr Smart's retirement from medical practice, he was afforded the opportunity to purchase a further 12 acres of adjoining land. This allowed the development of a bog garden in which the National Collection of Astilbe is housed.

In 1982, a third and lower lake was created on this land, followed by a folly and scented arbour in 1986.


Late 20th Century (1967 to 2000)

Features & Designations


    Soil Type

    Ericaceous soil of clay and shillet (stones). The shillet enables good drainage of the clay. Good loam but shallow in places.


    • Bog garden
    • House (featured building)
    • Description: Tea Room
    • Ornamental Lake
    • Garden Ornament
    • Description: Sculpture of Dr Jimmy Smart
    • Folly
    • Camellia House
    • Specimen Tree
    • Description: Magnolia "Marwood Spring"
    • Tunnel arbour
    • Description: Wisteria
    • Terrace
    • Description: Wall planted with Hellebores
    • Island Bed
    Key Information



    Principal Building



    Late 20th Century (1967 to 2000)





    Open to the public


    Civil Parish

    Marwood (North Devon)