Unusual things in gardens in the South West

National Trust gardens may be well known for their fabulous floral displays, but there are also plenty of things you wouldn’t expect to find hiding in these historic places.

    A basalt column from the Giant's Causeway

    A view of the Bear Hut and the grounds at Killerton, Devon

    At Killerton, walk up to the rock garden past the Bear Hut (yes, it really was built for a bear) and you will see a small upright stone tower. In fact, this is a basalt column collected from the Giant’s Causeway in County Antrim, some time before 1830, by the Acland family – the ultimate souvenir of their experience and not something you’d get away with today.

    A stone from the old London Bridge

    Roses scrambling up a stone pillar with the castle in the background, at Compton Castle, Devon

    Compton Castle, near Torquay, is home to a sundial mounted on a stone reputed to be from the old London Bridge. This piece never made it to the USA when it was sold in 1968, to be rebuilt in Arizona minus this one stone. No-one knows why it ended up at Compton Castle.

    Part of an ancient stone circle

    The garden facade of Max Gate, Dorset

    A large standing stone that was once part of an ancient stone circle can now be found at Max Gate, having been rescued when the Dorchester bypass was built.

    An Egyption sarcophagus and obelisk

     Sarcophagus on the South lawn at Kingston Lacy, Dorset

    Perhaps the strangest of all our South Western oddities is at Kingston Lacy where an Egyptian sarcophagus, minus its occupant, sits somewhat incongruously in the heart of a quintessential English landscape, right on the main lawn. It’s joined by a large obelisk found in a river in Philae and acquired by Joseph Bankes’s family around 1815.

    A tortoise lawn and seagull seat

    Castle on St Michael

    In the small garden below the parapets of St Michael’s Mount, there are two more curiosities. There is a tortoise lawn, made for a tortoise given to the family by the Empress of India – you can also see the little stone shelters made for it. There’s also what’s known as the seagull seat; not made for seagulls, but to protect against them. When not in use, the back folds down over the seat and the legs fold up over that, to prevent seagulls perching or leaving their droppings on the seat itself.

    A locked safe

    The path to the boathouse between trees in the Greenway, Devon

    At Greenway, half way between the house and the camellia garden, there is a locked safe abandoned in the undergrowth. It was found during works on the house in recent years, and when it was moved, it was clear from the noise that there was something inside, but no one has ever looked to find out what.

    A tank inspection pit

    The tank inspection pit on the Serpentine Walk at Saltram, Devon, built by American troops stationed at Saltram during WW II

    An inspection pit for military tanks can be found on the Serpentine Walk at Saltram, built by American troops stationed at Saltram seventy years ago, preparing for D-Day in 1944. The area has now been enclosed by a hedge of scented Osmanthus with seats, and a view of the parkland beyond, to commemorate the American presence.

    Indian stone carvings and a Burmese temple bell

    A Temple Bell from Mandalay, placed at the end of the Cork Oak Lawn at Antony, Cornwall

    Antony is a treasure trove of interesting things: as well as the modern sculptures, there are stone carvings from North West India and a Burmese temple bell brought to Antony by General Sir Reginald Pole Carew who picked it up, as it were, on the road to Mandalay.