Abbotsbury Sub-Tropical Gardens...
If gardens and gardening are your thing, you’ll love the Subtropical Gardens at Abbotsbury. No question and no great surprise.
But what is surprising is that if plants and planting aren’t what throws your switches, you might end up loving them even more.
The Abbotsbury Subtropical Gardens stemmed from comparatively humble origins - in so far as the kitchen-garden of a purpose-built castle on a full-blown country estate could ever be described as humble. But that’s how they started out in the 1700s, a garden to produce fresh veg for the ladies and gents of the Ilchester estates, upon whose lands Abbotsbury and the surrounding countryside sit.
The Castle to which the gardens were attached - for which read stately home rather than fortification - had a slightly sorry history. The original burnt down and its replacement fell down due to poor construction. But over the lifetime of both and beyond, the gardens developed a life and beauty of their own shifting from being a top notch vegetable patch to one of Britain’s best collections of open-air exotic plants.
Two happy coincidences combined to make this possible. The first is the moist and mild microclimate the gardens enjoy in their sheltered hollow by the sea, which allows plants that would otherwise be unsuited to the UK climate to survive and thrive. The second is a string of members of the the Strangways family, the estate’s owners, who took an interest in building and expanding the gardens and were able to add to their botanical inventory through extensive travel and postings around the world. That, and, of course, the right gardeners!
For the committed horticulturalist all this comes together to make a fascinating visit where you could comfortably lose the best part of a day, wandering around looking at different plant species and the way they have been used within the overall mix of these huge gardens. You can take lunch or coffee at the well-appointed and atmospheric “Colonial Restaurant” and then pursue your passion for plants further in the on-site garden centre, before further immersion in the wonders of the gardens themselves.
But what about gardening numpties? What’s in it for them? The answer is a whole lot more that you might think. No, the gardens aren’t going to get your adrenaline pumping. You’re not going to get thrills and spills or the fun of the fair. But that’s the whole point. The Abbotsbury Subtropical Gardens are the perfect antidote to the stresses of modern life.
Turn-off your phone on entry and in no time at all you will find your pulse rate drops, your shoulders loosen and your hassles lift away. Which is just what gardens are made for, whether it’s the tiny patch of grass out back or expansive and expertly tended spreads like this one.
And it is their size and the brilliant way they’ve been put together that really makes the Abbotsbury Gardens a wonderful day out.
Because they are so big, even when they are busy, you don’t feel like they are. Apart from areas around the entrance and café there’s more than enough space to swallow up visitors so that they are hardly aware of each other. And the brilliance of generations of gardeners at Abbotsbury has ensured that they are so well planned, planted and presented that most of the time they appear to be completely natural.
Visitors meander through a maze of pathways and secluded glades where greens, mauves, purples and reds, blues and whites, yellows and orange mix and merge seamlessly, filling vistas large and small with colours that could have graced a Monet. And despite the gardens’ size, they are made up of a mass of pockets and patches that lead gently from one to another so that each feels private, secluded and self-contained.
There are walled gardens and lawns, oriental bridges and ponds, water gardens complete with lilies and fish and woodland walks taking in everything from sculpture trails to bamboo jungles. There’s even some Jurassic swamp! But be warned, without a map, it’s easy to get lost!
Whilst it’s probably not the place to take children to scream, shout and run about, kids will enjoy the Abbotsbury Subtropical Gardens a lot. It’s different. It’s beautiful. And they can explore safely and find something amazing around every twist and corner.
And when they tire (or should you tire of them) there are plenty of seats and benches at opportune spots where you can simply sit and enjoy relaxing short- and long-range views. Because although it's not high-octane adventure, wandering around gardens this big and this winding, will give you and the kids some excellent, low stress aerobic activity. And top it all off with a great viewing point to take in the Fleet Lagoon, Chesil Beach and out over Lyme Bay.
Entry fees aren’t bank-breaking and great value if you buy the three attractions for one Abbotsbury Passport Tickets. And the beauty of it is that, once you’re in, unless you want some excellent ice-creams, drinks or eats at the “Colonial Restaurant” then that’s all you’re going to spend. The only other thing you can buy once you’re in the gardens themselves is 20 pence-worth of fish-food. You, your kids and the fish will think it 20p well-spent!
If you are a gardening buff, you’ll go the Subtropical Gardens at Abbotsbury to pursue your passion and to see how your own patch could or should be done. And you’ll learn a lot and you’re imagination will be fired to the point of meltdown.
But if you’re not green-fingered, chances are you may feel this visit is not for you, which is a shame, because you may find it is exactly what you need.
This is the Eden Project, without domes. Arguably it is Eden without serpents! Go there to relax. You’ll find the results amazing!
And don’t think a garden is just for spring and summer. Although wet days aren’t great days for a visit to the Subtropical Gardens, Autumn and Winter bring a beauty all their own to this garden valley by the sea, including amazing floodlit walks on October evenings!
And if you don’t believe us, why not see what the Historic Houses Association has to say. They’ve named Abbotsbury Sub-tropical Gardens as their HHA/Christie’s “Garden of the Year” for 2012, putting this former veg-patch and kitchen garden right up there with the gardens of national treasures like Castle Howard and Blenheim Palace!
Well done Abbotsbury Gardens! A national gem not to be missed!
If you’re not green-fingered, chances are you may feel this visit is not for you, which is a shame, because you may find it is exactly what you need."