Restored Victorian fern collections at 90 acre Dartmoor Estate of Canonteign Falls are given Plant Heritage National Plant Collection status

6 January 2023

Canonteign Falls Fern Garden

The fern garden at Canonteign Falls was created in the 1800s when fern gardens and Fern hunting, Pteridomania,  was the height of fashion in Victorian Britain. As the prosperity of the Canonteign Estate waned during the 20th century, the fern garden was lost and forgotten. Lying undiscovered for more than 100 years.

Canonteign’s owner’s Kate and Chris Baylis rediscovered the fernery by chance in 2009 when heavy snowfall exposed ancient fern rockeries planted in a hanging valley through which the original waterfall stream still flows. 

Restoring the garden was painstaking work with no plans, descriptions or pictorial records to work from. Weeds, nettles, laurel and sycamore saplings were removed and the beds and paths were restored. Species like the majestic tree ferns (Dicksonia) from New Zealand were added to increase diversity and interest.

In 2022 the restoration work intensified with the help of Pteridologist Julian Reed whose careful guidance and specialist fern knowledge curated the planting of 400 new ferns in the hanging valley. Specifically, the hardy ferns genus  Dryopteris ( wood Ferns )and Polystichum ( rock dwelling ferns) flourish in the unique micro-climate the quarry-like valley holds.  These two collections have subsequently been awarded the accolade of National Collection status by Plant Heritage. Ongoing horticultural conservation work and the addition of ferns from Julian Reed’s private collection will ensure a secure future for these historic ferns at Canonteign Falls, for future generations to enjoy.

Kate Baylis said: ‘The Fern garden is an incredibly special place with a magical feel. To restore and preserve this unique garden and its history became very important to me.  We have worked on restoring the garden to its former glory for many years, so to be at a place where we have such a wonderful variety of ferns recognised by Plant Heritage as a National Collection is such an achievement. In becoming a National Collection we are taking on stewardship to protect these ferns, ensuring there’s a legacy and gene pool for years to come.

We plan, with Julian’s help, to grow this collection and add rare varieties to it that might otherwise be lost.

We would like to say a very special thank you to National Plant Collection Holder Julian Reed, who curated the collection, to Amy Greenman, our CEO, who has overseen the whole project. They both put in a huge amount of work and without them, the Plant Heritage collection would not have been realised. We’d also like to thank Bruce Boulton and our Estate Management team.’

Vicki Cooke, Conservation Manager at Plant Heritage, says: “Rediscovering plants that were thought to be lost and now being able to conserve them for future generations to enjoy is an amazing achievement. The work to restore two Victorian fern collections and safeguard these plants in this ideal, valley microclimate is great to see. Now with National Plant Collection status we hope that their fortunes have turned for good, and that they won’t be forgotten about again.”