Conserving the Orange Grove


This spring we’ve completed our project to conserve the beautiful Orange Grove in the garden.

Work on the Orange Grove ground to a halt last March when staff were sent home for the lockdown period, but we are so pleased that funding has been found to revive the project which has been carried out this spring.

Orange Grove Conservation

In recent years the planting in the beds surrounding the Orange Grove has improved significantly, however its central pond was in dire need of conserving.

What was the problem?

Several leaks were found in the pond liner as it had perished over time. The central fountain was also no longer working, and the coping stones around the pond edge needed to be reset and repointed. Problems with poor draining and weeds continually growing through the gravel were caused by the condition of the subsurface too.

What work was carried out?

To repair the pond lining, a thin layer of concrete was first put down over the old lining. During the time it took for the concrete to cure, all the ducting and pipework for the pond’s pump, filter and fountain were installed, and the coping stones around the pond edge were reset whilst keeping them in their original location. A thick layer of fibreglass was then laid over the top of the concrete to create a new, durable lining that should last many years.

To address the poor condition of paths surrounding the pond and new gravel was added to the existing surface.  

Existing plants were rearranged, new plants added and the citrus planters and benches were given a fresh lick of paint.

The Orange Grove is now looking the best it has in recent years and is once again the beautiful, secluded space at the heart of the garden that it was always intended to be.


An introduction to the Orange Grove conservation

Find out from Martin, Head Gardener, about the current status of the conservation work.


History of Saltram’s Orange Grove

Since Roman times, there has been a desire to grow luscious fruits and glorious flowering plants from climates warmer than our own. It is from these efforts that the greenhouse of today emerged bringing with it our ability to grow fruits from across the world. Oranges are tender natives of China and south-east Asia and their favour and decorative appearance led to them being grown in England from Elizabeth I’s reign. Initially they were planted outside and protected over the winter by temporary covers. However, by the 1670s, permanent buildings were constructed with large, south-facing windows to provide light to the plants that were grown in movable tubs. In summer they would be placed in the garden. 

Saltram’s Orange Grove was created in 1782, when John Parker II and Theresa Parker owned the estate, on an area thought to have been the site of the kitchen garden until 1772. In this year, a new kitchen garden was built at nearby Merafield which now lies outside Saltram’s boundary. A bill survives from 1772 for ‘taking down Old Garden wall’ and a LiDAR laser survey shows a rectangular form indicating a garden where the Orange Grove is now sited.

" We are now planting and finishing the place for the Orange Trees, which is behind the Chapel, it is so warm a situation that we mean to plant all sorts of curious shrubs, Myrtles we are sure will grow & geraniums we mean to try."
- Anne Robinson, 4 Jan 1782, in a letter to Lord Grantham

The orange trees, ordered from Genoa, were moved to the grove at the end of May from the nearby orangery which was built in 1773 and designed by Henry Stockman, the Saltram estate carpenter; based on a proposal by Nathaniel Richmond. Traditionally the trees were put out for the summer on Oak Apple Day (22 May) and put away for the winter on Tavistock Goose Fair Day (the second Wednesday in October).

By 1863 the Orange Grove had a small oval pool in the centre, with a fountain, which was enlarged around twenty years later. From 1884 Albert Edmund, 3rd Earl of Morley and Margaret Parker, daughter of the founder of Westonbirt arboretum, began to develop and enhance the garden. Saltram’s planting journal for 1886 records the gardeners planting the Orange Grove with tender plants from Westonbirt, the family house at Whiteway and the Scilly Isles. The 1888 journal contains a small drawing of the orange trees arranged in a cruciform or cross of paths centred on the pond, bordered by rows of orange trees in tubs. Photographs show a rockery, begun in 1893 and fringing the pond with rockery plants tucked between, which was removed after the 1930s. 

In 1903, the Gardeners’ Chronicle described the Orange Grove during the summer and autumn filled with about thirty orange trees, some 12 feet high and almost as much in diameter, and 100 years old. The layout we see today remains similar to photographs of the late 19th century through to the 1930s, although today’s planting is not as massive – almost wall like – as shown in early photographs. The National Trust imported new orange trees from Italy in the 1960s and placed them in tubs based on the design of a slate plant trough in the ‘Tudor’ courtyard. Today Saltram’s tranquil Orange Grove continues to provide a sheltered and peaceful communal space.

Planting in the grove

Originally designed as a place for the citrus trees to thrive during the summer months, the Orange Grove remains a home for these Mediterranean plants today. You’ll find lemons, limes, grapefruit, mandarins and various types of oranges (Seville and blood oranges) in the planters in the Orange Grove and outside the orangery.

The citrus trees are out of the Orangery
The Orangery
The citrus trees are out of the Orangery

Sheltered from the wind and with full sun all day, it’s the perfect spot for citrus trees, with the pond at the centre preventing the grove from getting too warm. This microclimate means the surrounding beds are home to many interesting and exotic plants. It’s unusual to see these growing outside in this country thanks to the mild and relatively dry winters afforded by Saltram’s coastal location here in the South West. We rarely get any frost, let alone snow.

Although the Orange Grove is so named because of its historic link to the citrus trees, Head Gardener Martin complemented this by planting fiery coloured plants of oranges, yellows and reds. Starting in spring with swathes of Narcissus ‘Jetfire’, Tulipa ‘Ballerina’ follows soon after. Strong colours continue in spring with geums like G. ‘Mrs J. Bradshaw’ and G. ‘Totally Tangerine’ combined with impressive bearded irises like Iris ‘Carnival Time’. Summer brings gladioli (Gladiolus ‘Georgette’, ‘Lemon Drop’ and ‘Evergreen’) amongst Alstroemeria ‘Flaming Star’ and ‘Red Beauty’ and daylilies (Hemerocalis).

From mid-summer to the autumn the tropical planting bursts into life. Hot colours are provided by dahlias like ‘David Howard’, ‘Bishop of Oxford’, ‘Bishop of York’, ‘Honka’ and  ‘Verone’s Obsidian’, which mix with drifts of Canna indica ‘Purpurea’, ginger lilies (Hedychium gardnerianum, H. ‘Tara’ and H. ‘Assam Orange’) and Ligularia ‘The Rocket and ‘Othello’. Tender annuals like the impressive Ricinus communis ‘Red Giant’ and tropical flowering bulbs like the pineapple lily (Eucomis) add to the show. All this grows around the backdrop of tropical shrubs like the jelly palm (Butia capitata), European fan palm (Chamaerops humilis), rice paper plant (Tetapanax papyrifer), tree ferns (Dicksonia antarctica) and Japanese bananas (Musa basjoo).

An impressive black walnut (Juglans nigra) and eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) grow to the south, with the former supporting a huge vine (Holbeollia coriacea), all protecting the Orange Grove from the wind. Behind the Chapel grows a coast redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) and stately old yew (Taxus baccata). There are also stands of the tree rhododendron (Rhododendron arboretum) as well as mature Chinese windmill palms (Trachycarpus fortunei) adding to the tropical backdrop.

What's next?

Looking ahead, the garden team hope to focus their conservation efforts on a different part of the garden each year, so this project is the start of a series of work to understand and care for these beautiful historic spaces.

Latest updates

17 May 21

Project complete, the Orange Grove reopens

The last of the works have now been completed, the fountain is working and the restored benches are in place. The Orange Grove has reopened to visitors to enjoy. The final stage will be to move the citrus trees into position around the pond. Information about the Orange Grove and the project can now be found in the orangery.

Orange Grove has reopened with the fountain working again

07 May 21

Marquee removed at last

It is a big day today. The large white marquee in the centre of the Orange Grove is finally gone. It has been an eyesore covering the pond for over a year due to the pause in the project as a result of the pandemic. It’s so good to see the space in its entirety again. It won’t be long now until we can welcome visitors back into the newly conserved space

06 May 21

Fountain pump installed

The pump and filter for the pond are now being installed. It won’t be long now until we can give the fountain its maiden test.

A new pump is installed for the Orange Grove fountain