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