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garden tales from a Brit at home and abroad

Abbotsbury Sub-Tropical Gardens

“Garden of the Year” is a strange award, and one that for me has led to disappointment and even bafflement.

So I am delighted today to have a guest post about Abbotsbury, which was chosen as the Historic Houses Association/Christie’s Garden of the Year in 2012. Our reviewer is Jacqui Compton, who recently posted here on the landscapes in the rather more remote Faroe islands.

“Inspired by Landscape Lover’s review of Stourhead, I decided to take a weekend trip, combining a visit there with the Abbotsbury Sub-Tropical Gardens. Given that these two gardens were first established in 1744 and 1765 respectively, you cannot imagine two gardens so different in size, scale and style.

Abbotsbury is enviously situated on the south coast of England, about 750 meters from Chesil Beach, on the famed Jurassic Coast, which makes for a lovely drive before or after the garden visit.

Its website reports that Abbotsbury was established by the first Countess of Ilchester as a kitchen garden for her nearby castle, and later developed, by her globetrotting, plant-hunting descendants. It also advises not to miss the stunning views of the Jurassic coast from the view point at the top of the Magnolia Walk. Unfortunately, we did!

The gardens are divided into separate areas – no huge vistas here – with walks (well-signposted) for both able and disabled visitors. There were many wheelchair users enjoying the trails; something I’ve never seen before. Other gardens could learn from this. And dogs, on leads, are welcome.

On arrival, after having paid the hefty entrance fee, you enter the Walled Garden. Abbotsbury 01Nothing spectacular, but take a right turn to the West Lawn, and look back:

Abbotsbury 02

The scale of the planting took my breath away. Everywhere I looked, I just smiled.

Abbotsbury 04

I just loved the blue grass, the purple flowers on the top of their stalks, the very smallest flash of orange. What are they? I’m not a plantswoman, and that’s my biggest complaint with Abbotsbury. Very few plants are labelled, and those that are I found to be very recognisable.

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The hydrangea walk.

The hydrangea walk.

I’m very fond of hydrangeas, not to everyone’s taste I know, but they were at their absolute best. You couldn’t walk down without stopping and admiring.

The Coronation Walk leads down to water features, and those red painted pseudo-Japanese bridges, seen everywhere that I’m just a little tired of. But see that glimpse of amazing colour:

Abbotsbury 07What was it? The most amazing pinky / purple astilbe. Every visitor just stopped here and looked. The photo does not do justice to its vibrancy.

Astilbe x arendsii 'Hyacinth'?

maybe Astilbe x arendsii ‘Hyacinth’?

A storm in 1990 brought down many trees, and some have been left to naturalize and provide habits for wildlife. This one is oddly juxtaposed with a row of tree ferns.

Abbotsbury 08

The grasses border

The grasses border

Towards the end of the trail I felt that the planting got a bit confused, and the vistas were not so pleasing. However, two of my companions preferred the mixture of colours and the more open aspect.

Abbotsbury 10

Was it worth the entrance fee? Yes.

Would I go back? Yes. Every gardener will learn something here, the scale, the shot of colour in a subdued scheme, how to plant grasses and ferns to amazing effect. Walk through, take your time. A morning or afternoon well spent.

How far is it worth travelling to visit? We did about three hundred miles in a weekend, from our home in South Wales to Stourhead, an overnight stay nearby, Abbotsbury and then a drive along the Jurassic coast before our return. It was worth it.

Is it deserving of the Garden of the Year award? I’ll leave that debate in the hands of Landscape Lover…..”

3 comments on “Abbotsbury Sub-Tropical Gardens

  1. sissinghurstntblog
    August 22, 2014

    Enjoyed your review of Abbotsbury Garden. I visited it 2 years ago and enjoyed it very much, some of the tropical planting is stunning. We did make it up to the viewpoint at the top of Magnolia Walk which is a bit of a trek but it’s a great way to tire the children out! By the way, the purple flower in your photo looks like Verbena bonariensis and the orange one could be a crocosmia but it’s a bit too small to be sure. Helen (gardener)

  2. lula
    August 26, 2014

    Really good post and review of the garden by the guest blogger, and the pictures make me wish to visit it. I share with you critical opinions about awards, but in this case it we can say it deserves at least to be awarded, but the Year award…?

  3. Pingback: Review: Abbotsbury Sub-Tropical Gardens | GardenDrum

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This entry was posted on August 21, 2014 by in Gardens, UK and tagged , .

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