The Country Diary: A Well-Planned Garden That Continues to Flourish | Written by Sara Hudston
Traveling along the western coast path from Porlock Weir, you will come across the enchanting remains of a mathematician’s imagination. Beyond the charming thatched gatehouse that serves as the entrance to the Worthy toll road, you will come upon a peculiar, half-circle stone bridge adorned with an ivy-covered turret. This structure is just one part of a complex network of curved walls, towers, and passageways constructed under the direction of Ada Lovelace, the renowned computer programmer also known as “the sorceress of numbers”.
In the 1830s and 40s, Ada and her spouse undertook significant landscaping endeavors, constructing a fortified Italian-style mansion with formal gardens, pathways, and carriage roads. She would often take walks there with her companion, the inventor and philosopher Charles Babbage, as they discussed calculations for his idea of an “analytical engine,” a potential computer.
The plans for her garden were never finished. In the 1970s, the villa was destroyed by a fire. Due to landslides over the course of two hundred years, the current path now runs slightly more inland and curves upward towards Culbone church. The view of the sea is only visible in short glimpses. Even though Ada’s structures may have been destroyed, there are still many thriving reminders of her time. The Lovelaces planted numerous trees, some of which were scattered by hand. They also brought Scottish pine (Pinus sylvestris) from their Scottish estate, as well as various exotic species from different countries.
As the indigenous sessile oak and birch trees lose their foliage, the non-native evergreens and firs stand out even more. Along an old track, a tall coast redwood (Sequoia sempervirens), one of the first of its kind to be brought to the UK, cascades dark green needles.
The path is filled with curved clusters of salt-resistant strawberry trees (Arbutus unedo), hanging prickly red ornaments. Their shiny, pale, bell-shaped blooms bloom in the fall along with the maturing of the previous year’s fruit, changing from yellow, to orange, to soft red – a delight for birds.
The whitebeam, Sorbus subcuneata, is a unique species thriving in this misty, coastal woodland area stretching from Somerset to North Devon. It has been flourishing here long before the Lovelaces implemented their vision. Despite its tattered, silver leaves that are now turning brown, the tree creates a Mediterranean atmosphere in the summer, which may have enchanted Ada.