National Trust


OVERBECKS – A hidden paradise of subtropical gardens and quirky collections…



Although born in England, Otto Christoph Joseph Gerhardt Ludwig Overbeck was descended from a distinguished Dutch family. His parents were of mixed nationality; his father, Joseph, was Dutch and Italian, his mother Prussian and French. Perhaps this cosmopolitan background accounted for his varied interests. A research chemist by profession, he was also an accomplished linguist, artist and inventor.

Unrequited love

Mr Overbeck was the last of his line, with the exception of a female cousin living in Germany.  It is said that he spoke often of his wish to marry her, but his father was greatly against such a thing.

The start of something special

Otto studied at Bonn University in Germany, where he excelled in chemistry and science. Whilst working at a brewery in Grimsby, he discovered that a waste product of brewing was infact a nutritious food – he called in carnos (Greek for meat. A company was formed, which unfortunately didn’t last long. The patent he took out on this product was allowed to expire and almost immediately a very similar product appeared on the market under the name ‘Marmite’. He is also credited with inventing the process to de-alcoholise beer, but unfortunately a large tax levy was placed on the product and it never reached the market.

Otto’s commercial success

Otto’s most economically successful invention was the ‘electrical rejuvenator’ that he patented in the 1920s, and which he claimed could defy the ageing process if users applied the electrodes from his device to their skin. He produced various pamphlets and published two books on his ‘electrical theory of life’ and successfully marketed the rejuvenator worldwide. The success of the product allowed him to purchase the property in Salcombe and it is thanks to him that the National Trust has this special place for everyone to enjoy.


The Convalescent Story

The present house, originally called ‘Sharpitor’, was built in by Mr and Mrs George Medlicott Vereker. The Verekers enjoyment of their new home soon came to an end when Great Britain declared war on Germany on the 3 August 1914. Their second son, second lieutenant Robert Vereker, 2nd Battalion, Grenadier Guards, was killed at Mons, Belgium on the 25 August, just 22 days into the war, aged 21.

Good foundations

In memory of Robert, Mr and Mrs Vereker offered their new home to the Red Cross Society to be used, rent free, as a Voluntary Aid Hospital for the treatment of convalescent British and Allied Troops. Sharpitor V.A. Hospital, formally opened on 23 August 1915, was mostly run using volunteers and was supported by a constant flow of gifts, both financial and in kind, from the local community.
Spirits were kept high with home-produced entertainment including concerts, plays, boat trips and more than a few billiard tournaments played in what is now the Overbecks’s tea-room.
By the time of its closure on the 29 January 1919, 1010 convalescents had passed through ‘the old home’ as it was affectionately referred to by the men, and thanks to the skill and dedication of the staff not a single death was recorded.


History of the Garden

Overbeck’s garden is a 20th-century creation. Edric Hopkins, the first owner laid out much of the garden structure who sold the property to G.M. Vereker in 1913. He and his wife, who were keen gardeners, extended the garden to its present size. In 1928 the property was sold to Otto Overbeck, who continued to add rare and tender plants to an already unusual garden.

Sheltered by woodland and cliffs, this area of Devon enjoys an astonishingly mild microclimate, thereby providing ideal growing conditions for many less hardy trees and shrubs. An increasing number of plants from Australia and New Zealand are grown, while the more formal area of garden near the house is Edwardian in character and reminiscent of gardens on the Mediterranean Riviera.
Entrance to the garden, via a flight of steps, is through an avenue of chusan palms, trachycarpus fortunei, named after the plant collector Robert Fortune. Below the retaining wall by the wrought-iron gates is a row of lantern trees, crinodendron hookerianum. It is surprising how these acid-loving trees thrive here considering the relatively high alkaline content of the soil.
From here, each section of the garden has been divided up into plants which flourish in their given environments. The most successfull of these is the Himalayan Magnolia campbellii, which was planted on the lower terrace in 1901. It is an unforgettable sight in February/March, covered in deep pink blooms.
The garden has a rich history and one which must be seen to be fully appreciated.


Treats Galore

Take home a little piece of paradise.

You can buy plants carefully chosen from the National Trust nurseries in Devon and Cornwall or propagated from the Overbeck’s garden. All are grown in peat-free compost.

Statuettes Replicas of Albert Bruce Joy’s ‘First Flight’ statue in the garden, are now available in the shop. Modelled by hand and with a bronze resin, these remarkable statuettes make the perfect gif.
Local flavours, Experience the flavours of Devon in the Overbeck’s shop. Savour our jams and chutneys, all produced locally in South Devon.
Special occasion , A special occasion calls for a special treat – we are taking bookings for High Tea – birthdays, anniversaries or special events, phone the tea room on 01548 845014 for booking and payment.
Gifts galore, Whether you are on holiday or just popping in for a quick visit, you will always be able to find the perfect gift in our shop.
New shop range, Choose an item from the new Cotttage Garden range of items for the home and garden.
For more information on National Trust in the Area click here….