Monday, 8 August 2011

Abbotsbury sub-tropical gardens - Far Away in Time...

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.


patientgardener said...

Those plantings in the first photos are awful

I often smile when I hear people complain about the price of going into gardens as you say we pay far more for a theatre ticket and yet both take up as much time. Strange set of double standards.

I cant stand screaming kids and you are right it has got worse. Mine were never like that but my neighbours girls can be awful. It occurs to me that this is a result of the media generation, their homes are full of noise with TV. computers, internet, games, mobiles, ipods. Someone I used to know would generally have 4 TVs and at least one PC on in her house at any time so to hear anyone you had to shout. Plus the games, music, tV programmes are all loud as well. We come from a time when TV went on in the evening as a treat and PCs etc didnt exist. I think gardens etc should get tougher and tell people that if they want to bring their children they need to keep them under control and the noise down. But then the attractions will say they need the money so...........

Sue (aka Trillium) said...

Marketing companies can't comprehend when I say I am not actively targeting the 'family' market. Apparently they think I am missing something. I think not.

Glad you concluded it was worth it, after such an unpromising start.

GardensWeekly said...

What a great review, very funny! Some shocking planting though, no artistic planting foresight at all. I love the dry stone wall & bark photos. The reason I read yours (above all of the other gazillions of reviews/blogs-yawn...) was the words 'screaming kids'.
There is never an excuse but we all know those ineffective parents, 'Oh Johnny's just active' my arse... anyway many thanks for my lunch time read, nice change from riot tv/twitter...Pauline

MarkD said...

there's also a ruddy great pepper bush in there somewhere...dont think its Szechaun is probably the Nepalese pepper...v fab it is too. Love the Riverside too

Nutty Gnome said...

There's some pretty dire planting early on in your photos - can't call theme planting schemes because that would assume someone made an active decision to put them like that!

That Japanese bridge does sod all for that part of the garden and needs shifting out - pronto!

Can't be doing with screaming kids. Mine were never screamers - because we didn't let them be! People need to get to grips with the concepts of 'tough love' and 'boundaries' for their children!

janerowena said...

It's probably because parents are too scared to give their kids a quick clip now, or even threaten to - if the kids don't sue them, a stander-by will.

Those plantings are really offensive. Someone needs their eyes tested.

Paddy Tobin said...

I'm with Arabelle on the cost of entry to gardens. I don't mind paying for a good garden but I get very annoyed when the costly garden turns out to be of poor quality. Here, in Celtic Tiger Ireland, it became the norm to charge "what the market can bear" rather than pricing relative to the garden so, quite small and young gardens had, and still have, admission charges which were unreasonably high. The disappointment on viewing these gardens, often after a long journey, was exacerbated by the by the unreasonable amount charged.

Further to the above, it is notable how unwelcome any criticism of these gardens is. In England you have the advantage of huge population and consequently a possibility of distance and of remaining anonymous while here to make such criticism would be like throwing eggs at your neighbours windows. It is a small country.


Arabella Sock said...

I'm just listening to a radio phone-in (never a good idea) about "Have we lost control of our children". There is so much to be said on this subject not coverable in blog comments. I also a radio debate about children's behaviour where the protagonist said she felt it was entirely appropriate to let children run around screaming in restaurants etc. "because they were only young once". The opposer said he felt that it was OK for them to do it in parks etc. but not in indoor public spaces. NOBODY said it just wasn't appropriate full stop! These were well educated people's opinions. Anyway don't get me started!!!!

Paddy - that is interesting what you are saying about being unable to criticize gardens. I think here it's acceptable to criticize publically gardens which you have paid to enter in the same way you would do a film or a play. I would be hesitant about criticizing someone's private garden which they have created with their own taste and needs in mind.

Someone created a book (I've mentioned before) of Signs Useful for the Public

clic for the link

there should definitely be a sign for "Slightly Disappointing Gardens"

the cycling gardener said...

Noisy children - there's a time and a place.

Many years ago we went as a family to The Queen’s Head pub in Troutbeck, Cumbria for a nice bit of lunch. My son was just 4. Was he going to sit still? No. Was he going to stop shouting, squealing and jumping about on the window seat? Oh no. Despite several minutes of exasperated looks from fellow diners and staff and embarrassed requests for good behaviour from me and my husband, he continued to annoy everyone, including his sister. I’m afraid I stooped to the lowest resort and told him I was taking him to the car - he knew I meant business.

Dragging him out of the pub as he kicked, shrieked and wailed at me “no, not the car, please not the car” repeatedly at the top of his voice while trying to look like a mother who had control and calmly dealt with this kind of behaviour every day of my life took every ounce of acting ability I could muster. I marched him across the car park, took him swiftly behind the car and smacked his bottom - hard. I also told him in no uncertain terms what I thought of his behaviour.

There were tears, there were sobs, there were cuddles. Out came the hanky. We walked calmly back to the pub where we all went on to enjoy a lovely meal. He never showed me up in public again and I’ve never had to resort to such extreme discipline since. He’s 20 now, a strapping 6 foot 2 student and I’m very proud of him.

Victoria said...

I must have automatically bypassed the Victorian garden when we went to Abbotsbury, because all I can remember are the jungly bits and the huge trachycarpus and the birds (Lady Amherst's Pheasant?). No screaming children - just mine whingeing about having to go round yet another garden. (After five minutes, they always shut up. They secretly enjoy it - at least, that's what I tell them.)
The screaming thing is very odd. I can't remember screaming when I was a kid, because the very last thing you wanted to do was to attract the attention of some busybody adult.
But my neighbours' kids seem to do little else.

Blue Shed Thinking said...

Hydrangeas, petunias, Pleiones, overblown lilies and chrysanths, anything non-wild with bright pink flowers, assorted laurels (with the exception of Bay, in fact).

I think we have the makings of The Garden From Hell.

Were it not for the fact I can't draw a straight line with a ruler, I'd feel a let's wind-up Chelsea garden coming along.

Roland Paterson said...

What's wrong with screaming kids? :-)
We loved Abbotsbury because it was quiet when we visited and the children could run around and scream to their hearts content. We enjoyed the depths of the garden more than the showy beginnings, especially the ferns around the ponds etc.

Roland Paterson said...

Ah, and as for garden entry prices, It wasn't too long ago that I complained to Heligan about prices. The response was mainly along the 'how dare you' lines! I won't darken their patch again. Shame really as in season I guess it's great, but we had to pay full whack 2 days into season when nothing was growing.