Abbotsbury Subtropical Gardens

Abbotsbury Subtropical Gardens, in Dorset which, because of a localised micro-climate, are filled with rare and exotic plants from all over the world.

The gardens were first created in 1765 by the first Countess of Ilchester as a kitchen garden for her nearby castle, but they nowadays cover 30 acres, divided into different climate zones.

palm trees in garden

Abbotsbury Subtropical Gardens, Dorset

The zones include a Victorian garden, walled garden, jungle glade, hydrangea walk, summer house, lily ponds, Jurrassic pond, arboretum and sculpture trail.

flowers edging garden steps

Mediterranean bank

Echiums making a show

Echiums making a show

red bridge in garden

The red bridge


Lush ferns grow enormous in this sheltered valley.

This year, for the 250th anniversary of the gardens, a Burma Rope Bridge nearly 120 feet long, was installed across the Jurassic pond area. I’m sure children will enjoy this feature, which is totally in harmony with its jungle surroundings – although whilst I was busy concentrating on looking where my feet were treading, I did forget to look around me!

The Burma Rope Bridge

The Burma Rope Bridge

bracts of the handkerchief tree

Davidia involucrata ‘Dove Tree’ in full flower

It was a pleasant treat to see Davidia involucrata in full flower, since it was after its main flowering time. The flower itself is framed by a pair of thin, white bracts. These delicate bracts flutter in the breeze giving rise to its common names of dove tree, handkerchief tree and ghost tree.
garden bench

Take a rest amongst the lavender

Polygala fruticosa Africana in clay pot

Polygala fruticosa Africana in a pot

I fell in love with the beautiful evergreen Polygala fruticosa Africana at BBC Gardener’s World Live Exhibition where I purchased a plant. It was lovely to see a larger version of it here at Abbotsbury being grown in a pot. It is a tender perennial that flowers all summer long, but needs winter protection in most parts of the UK.

Macro of purple flower Polygala fruticosa Africana

Close up of flower of Polygala fruticosa Africana

vista of chapel through trees

A vista of St Catherine’s Chapel, Abbotsbury

Acer palmatum seirya and ferns

Acer palmatum seirya by the red bridge

Laughing Kookaburra

The laughing call of the Kookaburra gives the garden atmosphere

Statue in the Victorian garden

Statue in the Victorian garden

Lily pond reflections

Lily pond reflections

Fountain in the lily pond

Fountain in the lily pond

Carvings on fallen tree trunk

Chainsaw artist Matthew Crabb carved this bench out of a two hundred year old oak tree which fell during a storm.

white bottle brush type flower

Melaleuca armillaris (Honey Myrtle), native to Australia

There was a Colonial restaurant which was about to close as we got there, so I cannot comment on the price or quality of the food.

Lots of lizards sun bathing

Lots of lizards sun bathing

We visited at the end of June, on a weekday before the school holidays. The woman at the ticket office was not particularly welcoming to say the least and seemed annoyed that we already had tickets (purchased from the Swannery). We asked for a map of the garden but were told that we didn’t need one as the path was marked. The main route through the garden did have basic arrow signage, but there were a lot of areas off the main path to explore and, without a map in our hands, we missed out a lot of what there was to see, including the Jurassic Coast View Point.

Overall I was slightly disappointed in the gardens as I felt they didn’t really live up to the hype. It didn’t help that we ended up going round in circles – due to not having a map. I was expecting it to be more of a garden with flowers and some trees, rather than the other way round. In fairness we may have visited between flowering seasons – the spring flowers were over and the summer stuff had yet to get into full bloom. But it seemed overgrown and dark, and some areas were in need of attention. The ugly wooden fencing which had been erected round some borders spoilt the look and there seemed no logical explanation as to why it was there. Better labelling of the plants would also have been helpful.

Fence round flower border

Ugly fencing hiding the flower borders

Entrance to the gardens was £11.50 for an adult and £8.50 for children (5-15 years) – which was expensive I thought, especially if teenagers are not that interested. However, if you intend to visit Abbotsbury Swannery nearby, then the combined ticket price of £16 (£13 for children) was better value.

[Prices correct as at June 2015]



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *