Saturday, 29 November 2014

Abbey House Gardens: closing down.

Earlier this year I heard the news that this glorious garden was closing, as the owners are divorcing and having to sell in order to split it, so I rushed down there to have one last look around.

In case you haven't been there, it's almost in the middle of Malmesbury, the couple (former couple) who own it are famously nudists, and garden in the nude, and allow nude open days where visitors leave their clothes at the entrance. In England! In our weather! *rolls eyes*

Luckily I have managed to only visit on "clothed" days, although I've seen Ian, the owner, in just boots and very brief shorts, which was quite shocking enough to someone who regularly comes home scratched, bleeding and covered in insect bites from my normal day's gardening in "normal" clothing, and who cannot imagine how battered I would be without any clothes at all.

 Here are a few snaps from the day - starting at the formal gardens, which I always enjoy, as I love the feel of formal gardens, as well as having a professional appreciation for the time it takes to get topiary into shape.

Here's a lovely example of "over and under" box hedges, and yes, that is a tortoise on the left.

He's not allowed to wander around at will, but it seems to take him quite a long time to get from one side of his pen to the other, so I guess he doesn't mind.

Here's another corner of the same "room", with another lovely variegated holly in the middle.

That thing on the right is possibly the biggest pot-made-into-water-feature that I have ever seen...

What a whopper!

I was trying to do an arty shot with the reflection of the house in it, but didn't quite get it right.

More topiary, this time they've carefully presented the date 2000, which is presumably the date they planted it.

I love the detail that goes into this sort of topiary - look at the elegant shape of the "2".

 Now this is what I call a water feature - a slender tapering spindle with water tumbling from the very tip, and shimmering all the way down to the bottom.

On a good day, it looks as though it is spinning in  place.

It's made of separate discs on a central pole, so you can just see through it - another lovely effect.

 Oh dear, another attempt at an arty shot between the hedges.
Now we get to the herbaceous beds, in the next section of the gardens: in a way, I enjoy seeing other gardens looking a bit messy and tired at this time of year (I went there in mid September) and this bed certainly looks as though it could do with a bit of attention!

I've seen the long borders very early in the year, and they are cunningly banked upwards from the path to the back, so that you get a much better layered effect once everything is in flower.

Another bed, another urge to get in there and weed it!
 The vegetable garden was looking particularly tired...
 ... and some of the beds looked as though they could do with a bit of structural attention.

Presumably, once it had become apparent that the owners' relationship was over, decisions were made not to indulge in the usual maintenance that you need to keep these raised beds looking good.

Leaving the formal gardens behind, I headed out the "back" to the wild area.

And there I found this cheeky little fellow growing on the hillside, as though he had the right to be there!

(Japanese knotweed, in case you don't know it.)

Minor digression - have you seen the size of the fish!!!

They have a big raised pond by the tea shop, in which they have a lot of Koi carp, a typical decorative fish for posh gardens.

I hadn't been for a couple of years, and I was staggered at how big they have grown.

OK, without anything to give it a sense of scale, it's hard to accept how huge they are, but please believe me that this one is well over two foot long, and I doubt I could get a grip on his body, even using both hands around the middle.

Not that I would ever try, of course!

They are very inquisitive and friendly, as the staff take pains to feed them when the visitors are looking, and they give small paper cups of fish food to little kiddies.

 Moving down into the wooded area, I was very saddened to see that so many of the Tree Ferns have died.

I remember when they were newly planted here, they were "the in thing" and it was very enviable to see how many of them had been planted.

Sadly, though, they are now looking more like a petrified forest than a flourishing jungle.
 Here's one of those odd little things that catches my eye and intrigues me - here's a lovely dry-stone retaining wall along by the house, beautifully built, but look, there's one big block sticking out!

Why? Why? I want to know!

As there was no-one to ask, I headed on down to the lake, looking very jungly in the September sunshine.

And here is their funny little tump - it's the spoil heap from digging out the ponds below, apparently, so they have made a virtue of it by adding spiral paths and a cute little hut at the top.

Heading back up to the house again, on my way out I took another snap of this lovely topiary, I love the use of the two colours to emphasise the shapes.

And finally a quick plant snap - I don't usually take many photos of plants (well, I do, but they are never worth looking at!) but this was irresistible: ever seen one of these?

It's a Fascicularia bicolour.

"What?" I hear you cry.

It's a Bromelaid, which are mostly aerial tropical jungle plants which have to be grown as houseplants over here.

Not this guy!

It likes full sun, and it likes being well-drained, but apart from that it will grow in most of the UK quite happily, outdoors all year round.

It's not as spiky as it looks, and in late summer the leaves start to turn this very bright scarlet. In a good year, this is followed by a bright blue flower, apparently.

I was kindly given one by a fellow Professional Gardener earlier this year, which I split up and potted on, and I have high hopes that in a year or two I'll have a surplus of them ready for sale.

So there you have it, my last trip round an interesting and contemporary garden, now sadly up for sale but, even more sadly, well out of my reach. 


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