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The house called Greenway sitting serenely in attractive countryside has been an important Devon home for centuries, during which time there has been a long line of illustrious inhabitants since the first house was built here late in the 15th-century. It was then the home of the Gilbert family who lived in it for just over one hundred years. The Roopes bought it in 1700, and remained for almost a hundred years, and from then on the fortunes of the house fluctuated as it passed through several owners. But oddly, the garden was always greatly loved by most of them, and it is the contribution of centuries of enthusiastic gardeners that has made Greenway the stunning place it is today.
The first recording of a house here is of Greenway Court, a delightful Tudor mansion near the crossing point of the River Dart to Dittisham. This was built for Otho and Katherine Gilbert, a noted couple who raised three children here. Two of their children achieved fame, and the favour of Queen Elizabeth I. Sir Humphrey took New Zealand for Elizabeth, after-which he remained a favourite at her Court, whilst his brother, Sir John became Lord Lieutenant of the County.
Quite probably Roope Harris Roope built Greenway House next to what must have been the court. He was a merchant adventurer of many talents. Excavations of more recent times revealed parts of the foundations of the older property. Roope however, is mainly recalled for his sea-faring prowess, he developed trade with what was then the new world. One of his relations produced a species of the Camellia, probably from plants and seeds he brought back from sunnier climates.
By the time it was sold again in 1791 to Edward Elton a merchant adventurer, Greenway must have been a substantial property for it fetched £9,000, a significant sum in those days. This family enhanced the property with the addition of two wings, re-routed the entrance, added a lodge, and landscaped the grounds after the style of Humphrey Repton. These gardens remain as blissfully attractive today as they must have appeared all those decades ago. Vivid Camellia's blossom here amongst original garden buildings, and there are lawns bordered with beech trees, a study of autumnal perfection as their leaves change from green to gold.
Future owners concentrated heavily upon beautifying the already lovely landscape, as is evidenced in notes retained for posterity. The addition of glasshouses in the 19th-century meant that exotic plants could be nurtured, and soon visitors to the house could see Acacia, Clianthus and Myrtles.
In 1892 Greenway sold for £44,000 to Thomas Bolitho, a Cornishman from Trewidden who happened to be a keen plantsman. About this time the garden at Greenway began to be mentioned in the Gardeners Chronicle, most notably in 1899 and 1901. After Thomas died in 1919, his daughter Mary and her husband Charles Williams took over. They are responsible for the vast array of daffodils and other spring flowers, as well as for huge banks of Rhododendrons and a fresh influx of Camellia and Magnolia.
A local business man bought the estate from the Williams's in 1937, for whatever reason he chose to split it up and although no one exactly knows when Agatha Christie first set eye's on Greenway, what is known is that she immediately fell in love with it, buying the house together with 35 acres of grounds for £6,000. Agatha Christie is known throughout the world as "The Queen of Crime" she remains the world's best selling author other than William Shakespeare whose sterling reputation made Stratford-upon-Avon renowned throughout the world.
Fortunately both Agatha and her husband Max Mallowan were keen gardeners, Greenway was their holiday home and here together they carried on with the gardening traditions first established by Roope Harris Roope so very long ago. Max Mallowan was knighted for his services to archaeology and later Agatha Christie was made a Dame of the British Empire. Agatha Christie gifted Greenway to her daughter Rosalind in 1959. Dame Agatha died 17 years later in 1976 at the age of 85. Her daughter died as recently as 2004, strangely enough also at the age of 85. Four years before her death Rosalind and her family agreed to give this historic place together with Lower Greenway Farm to the National Trust.
The gardens of Greenway occupy an outstanding position fronting the beautiful River Dart, they are a riot of exceptional colour and beauty all the year round. They are perfectly arranged and yet in certain areas resemble a mysterious wilderness, giving the garden a vulnerability often lacking in more seasoned formal settings. Here amongst nature guided by the hand of man, you can enjoy a beautiful walled garden, a colourful Hydrangea Walk, Woodland walk, Victorian Fernery, the Top Golf Lawn and the Top garden. Greenways is a superb combination of charm and beauty which is well worth seeing. It is a garden that grips your attention with little to detract except for the fascinating views of river traffic plying the waters of the River Dart, and the wildlife thronging around it.
Access can be gained by a number of ways including ferry! In compliance with the request of local people, the gardens are open for only 37 weeks of the year and visitor numbers are limited to 40,000.
There is little doubt that these recently opened gardens will quickly become an international tourist attraction, whilst on the home-front they are a must for any keen gardeners calendar.
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