Thursday, August 04, 2011

Abbotsbury Subtropical Gardens

Whilst on holiday in Devon we went along to Abbotsbury Subtropical Gardens in Dorset. Situated close to the sea and with a good shelter belt of trees all round they have one of the best situations for growing subtropical and exotic plants, some of which are not hardy enough for most parts of the UK but are growing fine outside there.

The gardens were established in 1765 by the first Countess of Ilchester as a kitchen garden. Since then it developed into a magnificent 20 acre garden filled with rare and exotic plants from all over the world. The garden introduced many of the plants we grow now, discovered by the plant hunting descendants of the Countess.

We started out from the main entrance past a large tea room reminiscent of a colonial building in India or maybe Australia, with a couple of large Butia Capitata framing the entrance way.

As we entered the garden the first area is fairly formal in style with very old Trachycarpus fortunei palms towering over more tender plants that area bedded out in the summer, lifted and put under glass in the winter.

From the more formal areas the garden leads into woodlands, planted with bamboos, gingers, and other leafy exotic plants.

Schefflera macrophylla

From the bottom of the valley you walk back up along side a stream with a mass of colourful planting benefiting from the moist conditions.

And this section is more open areas and a few arids. Also a big pond with lots of golden orfe

Abbotsbury usually benefits from having a milder micro climate and on previous winters the garden remains frost free all through the cold season. But last winter was exceptional and even their location was not spared from prolonged freezes and continuous sub zero temperatures, not to mention a blanket of snow lasting for days. They lost a number of borderline hardy plants that had previously thrived there for many years; such as some of the more unusual tree ferns like Cyatheas, different aroids and colocasias, and rarer temperate palms. Despite this most of the plants that were just damaged have recovered and they have done some replacement plantings and the garden still looked amazing, as the temperatures were still much warmer than elsewhere in the country. 

This Mule Palm, X Butiagrus nabonnandii looks unscathed though.

Although Tresco still retains it's crown as the best subtropical and exotic public garden in the British Isles, Abbotsbury is definitely up there as one of the best and a must see for exoticists like us. 

And as always with gardens like this I wish we had more time to spend there. I guess we will just have to visit again next year!

Abbotsbury Subtropical Gardens



  1. I think I just glimpsed 20 acres of paradise :-)

    What species were the bamboos in the photo of the Sino-Himalayan glade?

    :: Bamboo and More ::

  2. It really does look subtropical - the plants, the lawns & the house/tea room. You could easily mistake it for South East Queensland.

  3. Hi Gerhard, it's a fantastic garden, you'll love it and worth visiting next time you're on holiday here again :) I can't remember for sure what the bamboo was but I think it is Phyllostachys nigra. I'll look at some ofnthe close-up photo later and if it's a different ID will let you know

  4. Hi Missy, I agree, I think they've got the atmosphere right and the tea room does look very colonial. They do weddings there too and there was one ongoing when we went. Apparently the place looked even better before last winter but they've done a good job with their replanting.

  5. Looks very interesting garden, so proud must they be. You had good time!

  6. Wow, that's a very wide garden and when viewed from afar looks like a forest, very well maintained too. A forest garden is also what i want to make of our property, but maybe that will materialize in the next lifetime, as this time funds are limiting. haha.

  7. What a fabulous looking place. I want that gate... The woodland area looks amazing, I prefer it to the more formal areas. Do you have pond-envy?!


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