The Victorian Fern Garden

This mysterious and atmospheric garden appears almost lost in time, explore its cascading stream and ferns in this magical hanging valley.

Canonteign’s Fern Garden is a magnificent example of the Victorian obsession with ferneries. Tucked away in a hanging valley, high above the Estate, the full extent of the garden itself wasn’t even discovered until 2009 – and then only by chance.

When heavy snowfall that year broke through large boughs of laurel, gardeners found an elaborate fernery planted in a quarry-like area through which the original waterfall stream still flows.

This mysterious and atmospheric garden appears almost lost in time, after lying dormant for over 100 years.

Fern Garden

Fern garden and fox gloves

The path to the Victorian Fern Garden leads you into the rocky chasm where you’ll see the 70 metre Lady Exmouth Falls high above you.  Climbing through the Secret Garden – an almost entirely enclosed rocky area with caves and the original waterfall – and up the original 90 Victorian steps brings you to the entrance to the fernery.

Situated in a hanging valley, you can wander the paths and lose yourself in Victorian nostalgia.  In the 19th Century, “fern fever” gripped the nation and influenced everything from how ladies spent their leisure time, to fashion and design.

Fern hunting was a craze for Victorians in all sections of society and Canonteign’s Fern Garden offers a rich example of the variety and beauty of the ferns they so loved.  

The Victorians always believed fairies lived among the ferns. At Canonteign, they can still be seen today.  Can you spot our fairies hidden among the gardens?  Created by the renowned wire artist Rachel Ducker, they bring the magic of the ferns alive once more.  See if you can spot them dancing among the tree ferns and foliage and find the doors to their woodland homes.

Also at home in this ancient landscape is our resident T-rex, Terence.  A stunning 11ft willow sculpture, created by Dartmoor artist Katherine Miles, Terence arrived in Canonteign in the summer of 2018.  When you descend back down towards the lakes, you will be able to see more of Katherine’s work – a family of deer and a large heron.

T-rex in our ancient fern landscape

Walking Map