The love of gardening is a seed once sown that never dies. Gertrude Jekyll

Annie's Little Plot

Annie's Little Plot

Friday, 12 October 2012

A tour of....Abbotsbury Subtropical gardens

Visiting these gardens on a slightly blustery day of sunshine and showers at the end of September made me realise that I always do my garden visiting out of the traditional peak garden season. I get too busy in my garden and the allotment in the summer and the weather factor doesn't help, when we have a summer like this one you feel if you get a sunny day you have to make the most of it and spend it weeding and sowing. But I guess the mark of a good garden is one that looks good in all seasons. These gardens were voted the winner of the HHA/Christie's Garden of the Year for 2012 and it has received many plaudits from garden visitors including Alan Titchmarsh and it is much splashed around in the tourist brochures for the place that he once said that they are "one of the finest gardens I have ever visited". Well who am I to argue with the great one but I decided to have a look for myself.
The drive to the gardens from Lyme Regis is along some stunning coastal roads to the village of Abbotsbury which is less than a mile from the stunning Chesil Beach. Apparently this part of the Dorset has a higher than average record for sunshine hours (I'm moving here next week!), the gardens are also sheltered by the surrounding hills and the warming effect of the sea all combine to make this a haven for all sorts of less than hardy species and the gardens contain a rich variety of plants from all over the globe.
The walled gardens were once part of Abbotsbury castle, a large mansion built in the late 18th century but the house no longer exists, it burnt down in 1913, though the gardener's bothy is still there. You enter into the original walled garden but the garden now sprawls over 30 acres with many mature and rare trees. The extension outwards of the garden was instigated by the 3rd Earl of Ilchester, William Fox-Strangways. He was a foreign services diplomat and also a keen botanist and his many travels allowed him to introduce many new species from a wide range of countries. The shady, humid conditions of the surrounding woodlands were perfect for many of the species popular at the time from China and Japan. As with many gardens, there was some decline during the 1st and 2nd World Wars, some of the garden was used during the 2nd World War as an encampment. Restoration of the gardens were started in the 1960s and there was some severe storm damage in 1990 which forced further restoration and of course the gardens continue to be developed today.
 There are a number of areas of planting, like the Jungle Glade, Bamboo grove, Mediterranean planting, grasses border and Chilean border to name but a few.
I guess the star plant at this time of year in this garden is the Hydrangea and they seem to revel in the moist, warm conditions with some huge flower heads.
There are all sorts of flower heads and colours found in the planting on the Hydrangea walk.

But I think this was my favourite.
The Bamboo grove makes a lovely tunnel.
At the south of the garden is a walk up to the Jurassic Coast view point, which has been recently planted with two rows of Magnolia trees and leads to amazing views out to Chesil beach and to the west the cliffs and bays of this amazing coastline.


The stream running through the garden was planted with huge Gunnera, Tree ferns, hostas and Osmunda regalis. With a gorgeous Japanese-like red bridge.

The trees were only just starting to take on their autumn tints in this view within the garden of nearby St Catherine's chapel.
In the middle of the gardens is an amazing carved oak seat which was created by chainsaw artist Matthew Crabb on a 200 year old oak that came down in winds in 2009. It would have been a huge job trying to remove the tree so they came up with the great idea to make a feature out of it.

 The extreme rainfall and flooding earlier on this year also affected the garden, saturating the ground and on a windy night a Monterey cypress which was thought be planted in 1890 came down. They are planning to deal with it over the winter, it will be interesting to see what they do with this one. It just shows that gardens never stay still and you have to adapt to changes whether planned or unexpected.
One thing that struck me as I walked round were the different scales within the garden, from the massive....

To the dainty.

I have to say the tropical, jungle garden style is not the sort of planting that I'd like in my own garden but you really appreciate the exuberance of it all and it's perfect for this mild maritime climate. 
My favourite part of the garden was the Mediterranean Bank leading up to the Lily ponds.

This part of the garden was a suntrap and here on this sunny day you could feel the heat which had encouraged out the butterflies too.

And the lily ponds are a still tranquil area.
Walking up the top part of the garden is the Pavilion corner (which is licenced for Civil weddings).
There were some unusual plants which I'd never seen before, how about this Rostrincula sinensis.

As with many gardens there is a nursery attached where you can purchase some of the plants that you have seen on your travels round the world in the garden. In fact you can also buy them online. If you are round the area at this time of year then on certain nights the gardens are open till late and they light up the garden which sounds enchanting. So I'd recommend a visit to this botanical treasure trove in an amazing setting at any time of year and to finish it all off how about some fabulous cakes in the colonial tea house.


  1. Thanks for a most enjoyable post, and lots of wonderful photos.
    It's somewhere that I've never visited but everyone I know who has been have been most impressed.
    I like hydrangeas so they would be top of my list to look at, along with the owl carving.
    Flighty xx

  2. What an amazing place. We went there years ago and I remember a willow tunnel the girls loved playing in. That wood carving is fantastic! xx

  3. Very nice and interesting post with some excellent photographs. The climate in this part of the world (usually) is good making gardening a pleasure.

  4. I've yet to make it there but it's on the list. My sister-in-law doesn't live too far away so maybe some time next year. It looks amazing. I know what you mean about tropical plants. I think they can be difficult to grow in a typical British garden, looking a little awkward but there is something about the light by the sea, you see it in Cornwall too, it seems to lend itself to more tropical planting rather than pastel English cottage garden planting. Love what they've done with the fallen tree.

  5. Definitely one to remember for when we are in those parts.