Woburn Abbey Gardens – through the seasons



Early July long border

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.

Deer park

Deer park, which supports nine species of Deer

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.


Camellia House Mimosa in central bed


Camellias clothe the walls








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.

Wildflowers in the long grass

Wildflowers in the long grass

Bio diversity areas

Mid June – Orchids and other wildflowers in the bio-diversity areas

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.

Kitchen garden

Kitchen Garden in June




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!

Cedar of Lebanon

Cedar of Lebanon in early July

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.


New borders in July

Folly with Rambling rector rose

The Folly entrance – the Folly was restored in 2005

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.




Inside The Folly

Inside The Folly, the walls encrusted with shells


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.


Originally designed by Henry Holland, the now restored Chinese Dairy

The long borders were still looking good in October.


October borders

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.


The Bog garden in October

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.

Winter Oak

Winter Oak



Some of the many spectacular Woburn Trees








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.

Our Organic Vegetable Garden and planning an easy crop rotation

We’ve grown our own for years and I love it, the satisfaction that comes from picking our own fresh veg, herbs and fruit for lunch, dinner, guests or just us is immense. Our garden faces east so the sunniest spot is at the bottom of the garden which is bordered by a wild field and its a place that makes me very happy. My family benefit too, I know exactly how our produce is grown plus there are no air miles involved!

The area is about 10 meters wide by 20 metres deep. We have ‘no dig’ raised beds, the plan is we do not stand on them therefore the ground does become compacted by our weight, I also work with a crop rotation plan to ensure the best health of our soil. Each year we rotate five of the six beds. One is permanently planted with Autumn Bliss Raspberries and Strawberries.

There are three main reasons for rotating crops, keep growing the same crop in the same place and the build up of potential soil borne pests and diseases affecting what you grow increases. Secondly, the same bit of soil with the same crop year after year would deplete vital soil nutrients and thirdly some crops e.g. Runner Beans (Legumes) are nitrogen fixers and they can actually benefit the crop that follows.

Rotating crops

Rotating crops

Essentially there is 5 main rotating crop groups which work best in this order, as the soil conditions and requirements for the preceding crop benefit the following crops.




Legumes (Beans and Peas)


PORLB if you grow all 5, PORL if 4 groups – not everyone likes to grow a brassica.

Its mainly straightforward, but as with all families there is the odd surprise. – Turnips and Swede are in the brassica family, but these root brassica’s generally have less troubles and than the leafy brassicas e.g. Cabbages. Some crops will just slot in anywhere as they do not carry or encourage pests and diseases such as the marrow, squash and courgette family.

Our soil is naturally sandy and low in nutrients, so to increase fertility we add in plenty of home made compost, well rotted horse manure, comfrey leaves in trenches and as a tea and ten days before sowing some pelleted chicken manure. We also sow the gorgeous Phacelia tanacetifolia as a green manure in the Autumn, if the weather is kind it may survive a mild winter. Sowings made from April add nitrogen; its seriously pretty and the bees just love it.

Phacelia tanacetifolia and female worker bee

Phacelia tanacetifolia and female worker bee

I keep a notebook to jot down which seeds I planned and what actually worked. I have a five year diary too, filled with notes on weather, wildlife visitors, birds, bees, beneficial insects, butterflies, frogs and the unwanted – slugs, snails and voles. I note what worked best and when I sowed and harvested, peppered with doodles of peas on pea sticks and the odd rude word when its goes a bit pear shaped.

Plans written down and sketched out make a crop rotation plan easy in the following years, its a great productive use of time when the weather is grim too. Its easy to plan for the next 4 years, as I will just be moving one crop to the next area the following year, thats something that can be done on any size plot too.


I draw 5 boxes to represent the 5 crop groups or whatever number of crop families you are growing, dividing my chosen vegetable family selections, into the relevant family boxes.

So that’s year 1 done. To achieve a 4 year rotation, I repeat this on another 4 sheets of paper, each time moving the crops around to the next box. Voila! A four year crop rotation on paper, planned and recorded. Nothing is written in stone though and I find every year something to add in and take out, usually brassicas. I add into my plan when I intend add any home made compost, leaf mould or in the case of brassicas possibly lime. Compost and leaf mould go on any bed, the more the better.

Time well spent, leaving valuable time to sit with a cup of tea or something stronger and just take it all in, watch those insects at work, a little wildlife watching is good for the soul.


Happy Gardening!