Perhaps the last weekend in July wasn't the best time to travel westwards along the congested south coast route, traffic turning what should have been a three hour drive into a six hour crawl. Still, the promise of dining at our favourite fish restaurant The Riverside at West Bay, and the excitement of somewhere new to us, Hix at Lyme Regis, made the driving ordeal worth enduring. To work up an appetite for our fishy feasts we had planned a visit to Abbotsbury sub-tropical gardens which has been on my "to do" list for decades. It would need to be good to live up to the expectations I had of it.. a lush exotic garden hidden in a valley leading down to the unending pebbled starkness of Chesil Beach - Far away in time *.
An entrance fee of £12.00 each leaves the Bedsock grumping - not a good start (although RHS members can get in for free in the more god-forsaken months of the year). I wonder if we are out of touch with how much these things cost although we frequently shell out a fortune for theatre tickets without too much complaint this still seems a lot to visit a garden. It had better be good.
Near the entrance a fabulous Pterocarya fraxinifolia (wing nut tree) watches over the gardens like the 'Tree of life' in Avatar.
We wander the way the white arrows are pointing and into the Victorian garden... oh dear Mrs... oh dear..
My hostas are still looking fabulous and healthy now that we have got rid of the mass snail dwelling which was the old wall. These are how mine used to look by this time of year when they would be confined to an unseen corner of the garden... UGH!
A hideous planting scheme which I absolutely loathe.. it is SO wrong..
OHMIGOD! Who let the hydrangeas in? Could they look more awful against the bright primary colours of agapanthus and crocosmia!
Perhaps I should have read the garden's website first for it's hint of impending doom....
The Garden is a mixture of formal and informal flowers, world famous for it's Camellia groves and magnolias. Noted in Dorset for its Rhododendron and Hydrangea collections and the charming Victorian Garden.Hydrangeas!!!!! Not my favourite**.. their charmless papery flowers the faded, washed out colours of old lady knickers caught in a colour run.
We are beginning to feel ourselves slump... the previous day spent in the car, now the promised paradise is beginning to give us all the pleasure of a municipal park... and it's complete with screaming children too!
[Rant: What is it with polyphloisboian*** children these days? They can't perform any activity unless it is accompanied by ear-splittingly loud bawling and yelling? Not just when in outdoor spaces but also whilst eating/running around in restaurants? We were mischievious, active, children escaping parental control to run free and wild in the surrounding countryside and beaches - but I don't believe I ever even had the lung power to scream in that kind of a way and nor did I want to. Not just out of respect for the peace and comfort of anyone else but because we enjoyed the gentle sounds of nature around us. I blame the parents.. and indeed, although the gardens were far from crowded you could hear the loud and bombastic voices of adults booming through the vegetation frightening off any birds or creatures that may have crossed our path. Why didn't they all just go to Pizza Express if they wanted that level of noise pollution?]
So now I am in a grump.. although this is mainly because having not looked at the map of the gardens I believe that the disappointing Victorian Garden is all that there is. We start to wander away from the white arrow trail, out of the trees and up to the top of the hill that protects the valley from the sea winds. Things are on the up.. the steep climb is worth it for the fantastic views over Chesil beach which could not fail to raise our spirits..
And then back down into the 'real' part of the gardens where the exotic trees with peeling bark towering above lush vegetation remind me of walking in the Australian Blue Mountains.
There are still some hydrangeas but they are becoming less offensive as our attention is diverted by the beauty of individual trees
If this isn't called a 'giraffe tree' then it certainly should be..
Tree ferns lining the gulley remind me of South Australia's temperate rainforest area at the Great National Otway Park - except for the red Japanese style bridge. I can't decide whether this is a totally good or totally bad thing in this context.
This is the Jurassic coast and it is easy to imagine dinosaurs forcing their way through the enormous gunnera and ferns to this limpid watering hole
There is much more to the gardens and some rather nicer planting schemes than the first we encountered. We wandered there happily for several hours and ultimately felt that it was more than worth the £12.00 entrance fee. Lose the hydrangeas and it would be very nearly perfect!
And our fish meals were even better than expected too so all-in-all a pretty good weekend away!
*In the same way it is impossible to drive past Portland Bill without the following bit of dialogue taking place:
"Is that Portland Bill?"
"It is Portland and don't call me Bill!"
it is also fundamental to the Chesil Beach experience to sing the words to the tune of Echo Beach by Martha and the Muffins.
**We did once see some attractive hydrangeas at Savill Garden, Windsor.
*** Look it up! I did.