Woburn Abbey in Bedfordshire, the beautiful home of the Duke and Duchess of Bedford first opened to the public in 1955. The gardens in one form or another date back 400 years and amazingly just nine staff currently manage the grounds. The garden as it is now spreads across nearly 30 acres and is set against the magnificent back drop of the house and the surrounding deer park from which the garden is separated by a haha. Since 2004 many areas of the garden have been redeveloped and work is underway for further restoration and development work, drawing on the visions of Woburn’s historic designers. Its a garden I visit regularly, through all of the seasons and I wanted to share my highlights of this past gardening year.
From the gate house a 2 mile serpentine drive winds through the 3,000 acre Deer park which allows some spectacular views of the many magnificent historic trees, passing the private entrance and finally reaching the car park and public entrance to the house and gardens. There are designated public footpaths leading through the Deer park, which can also link to the nearby 40 mile long Greensand Ridge walk.
Early Spring – As well as the huge number of trees to metaphorically hug, admire from afar or get up close to in the woodland area, there were an increasing number of Snowdrop drifts this year and the now restored Camellia House to shelter in and swoon over.
Late Spring – my favourite time here and the borders are just beginning to flourish, an exciting time to see how Woburn encourages their bio-diversity areas. Swathes of grass behind the formal borders and throughout the gardens are left long and are awash with wildflowers. This works really well and shows how even the most splendid of borders do not need a manicured lawn to show them off.
Beyond the most formal parts of the garden the grass is also extensively left long for the thriving wildflowers and mown pathways lead the way through to the furthest parts of the garden.
Early Summer – The Kitchen garden is relatively small and is a recreation of part of the main 4 acre Kitchen garden which is half a mile from the house, this recreation was completed in 2011 and is bordered on three sides by walls and a clipped Yew hedge. Its lovely but I would really like to visit the full working Kitchen garden.
The historic Cedar of Lebanon tree is the pride and joy of the Woburn gardeners, planted over two centuries ago and its pretty spectacular!
The new borders added two years ago are either side of a wide gravel path which lead towards the Lake, Cone House and Hornbeam maze.
High Summer and The Folly, a design by Humphry Repton who was commissioned in 1805 by the 6th Duke of Bedford to make improvements to the existing landscape and “Pleasure Grounds” surrounding Woburn Abbey, Repton produced a series of Red Books, containing the views he saw in the form of paintings and then an overlay of how he would change and improve these views. Woburn has an exhibition room dedicated to Repton, for those interested in Garden Design history.
The Folly and children’s garden had fallen into complete disrepair, but are now restored and the children’s garden replanted. Apparently the nanny would read to children inside the folly.
Autumn – In October we joined Head Gardener Andrew Stout on a guided tour of the gardens, these tours are free and take place once a month on the same day as the “come and grow” events. It was quite exciting to go behind the scenes and look inside the normally locked Chinese Dairy. Designed by Henry Holland and built in 1794 to house the 5th Dukes collection of oriental porcelain, the Dairy was originally connected to the house. This building too is now restored and if you get the chance a behind the scenes tour is recommended.
The long borders were still looking good in October.
The Bog Garden was also looking good in October. Opened in 2007 and is sited on a natural spring, the water encourages many dragonflies in the summer.
Winter – Woburn is not known for its winter planting or mass displays of early spring bulbs, but it has the most fantastic trees, my photos do not do them justice, but if trees are your thing a winter visit is well worth the time.
Woburn is an easy garden to visit, thoughtfully signed, helpful staff and good paths to walk on. A decent cup of Tea too. Currently open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays and from April 11th 2014 the gardens are open daily.