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Torquay.

That’s Fawlty Towers, kiss-me-quick hats, blokes with knotted handkerchiefs on their heads and deckchairs, right?

Wrong.

It’s the proud home of quite the best municipal planting I’ve ever seen. VP – you should get down there and take some pics for that OOTS strand of yours asap.

We’ve just come back from a little break there: I won’t bore you too much with what we got up to, though we did find a hotel John Cleese would have been proud of to stay in.

Instead I shall just introduce you to the Palm House at Torre Abbey. The head gardener – employed, take note, by the Torbay Council’s Parks Department – is career changer Ali Marshall, who used to be something in business administration but for the last year (only a year?!) has taken the helm at Torre Abbey. And my goodness, is she an inspired plantswoman.

It’s a small garden, but there’s a lot packed in. A dahlia border so densely-planted I mistook it for a rose garden from a distance; a cactus house with three-foot-across hummocks; palms a go-go and a bank of cannas. There was even a recently-planted Agatha Christie garden which owed a great deal to the Poison Garden at Alnwick but with a sleuthing twist.

But it was the recently-restored (as is everything at Torre Abbey, thanks to the Heritage Lottery Fund, gawd bless ’em) 1960s Palm House which stole the show for me. There weren’t many labels so I gave up trying to identify everything in the end and just marvelled.

You wouldn’t believe it’s a public garden run by the Parks Department, would you? Talk about showing everyone else how it’s done…

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