Relaxing in the garden
We explore some of the gardens in Bedfordshire that are regularly open to the public. Alongside the big names like Wrest Park are some lesser-known gems from across the county.
Houghton Hall Park, Houghton Regis
Houghton Hall Park has undergone a substantial transformation thanks to funding from Heritage Lottery Funding and Big Lottery under the ‘Parks for People’ scheme. Located in the urban heart of Houghton Regis, with around 42 acres of parkland and woodland, it provides outdoor space for local community group, schools and families. The kitchen and formal gardens have been restored to reflect the park’s heritage.
Luton Hoo walled garden
The Walled Garden at Luton Hoo Estate was designed by Capability Brown in the late 1760s for John Stuart, 3rd Earl of Bute, noted Botanist and Prime Minister under George III. After a period of decline, a project began in 2001 to research the history of the Walled Garden and its importance in Victorian and Edwardian society. Today the site comprises a five-acre garden surrounded by the original 18th century octagonal wall, and a range of glass houses, including a timber framed conservatory dated c. 1908, a peach house, a vinery and a further glasshouse on the diaphragm wall. There is also a selection of rare service buildings surrounding the garden including the Head Gardener’s office, a potting shed, a boiler house, stables and propagation houses.
Stockwood Discovery Centre, Luton
Alongside the museum galleries and parkland, Stockwood is also home to the Ian Hamilton Finlay Improvement Garden, Victorian Greenhouses and Fernery, Period Gardens, the Dig for Victory Garden and the Discovery gardens.
Woburn Abbey is home to parkland and 28 acres of award-winning historic gardens. When the 6th Duke inherited Woburn he commissioned Humphry Repton to produce designs to improve the gardens and park. The Chinese Dairy is the only structure of its kind in the country, designed in 1787 for Francis, 5th Duke of Bedford. Also worth visiting are the Bog Garden, the Camellia House, which has been restored in recent years and planted with species collected for 5th & 6th Dukes by plant collectors, the Kitchen Garden, Long Borders, Rockery and Pavilion. (Please note: Woburn Abbey and Gardens are closed until 2022 for major refurbishment)
Kings Arms Garden, Ampthill
A small woodland garden of about 1½ acres. A natural pond at the north end was made deeper and dammed to retain the water and a gully, which goes underground in some places, flows out from the pond. It divides and reappears around the garden. Even in the driest weather the ground around the gullies remains damp. As the garden has matured and the trees have grown, the deep shade of the woodland envelopes a lot of the garden in summer. In winter, the leafless trees allow light to reach the ground, encouraging winter flowering plants to grow and spread.
Wrest Park, Silsoe
Wrest Park’s 90 acres encompass countryside views and woodland walks, Dutch and Italian style gardens, the famous formal Long Water walk, a French style Parterre, and a Rose Garden. You can also explore the orchard, walled garden and the sub-tropical planting in the conservatory. Throughout the garden you will discover classical statues and an array of buildings including the 18th century Bowling Green House, a Chinese Bridge, the Temple and the Archer Pavilion.
Panacea Museum, Bedford
The fascinating Panacea Museum is surrounded by beautiful gardens. These gardens held great significance for the members of the Panacea Society who believed that the gardens stand on the site of the original Garden of Eden. Today, the gardens provide a peaceful space in the centre of Bedford.
The Swiss Garden, Old Warden
The Swiss Garden was created 200 years ago when Lord Robert Henley Ongley transformed a boggy brickfield on the Old Warden Estate into a picturesque alpine style landscape. In the 1870s, a new owner, Joesph Shuttleworth added some Victorian touches such as the Grotto & Fernery and Pond Cascade. Within the garden are 13 listed structures, an adjacent woodland sculpture trail, and two resident peacocks. Recent restoration work has ensured greater accessibility for all visitors and given the buildings and garden a new lease of life.
Jordan’s Mill, Broom
The Mill Gardens are food and flower gardens where crops, vegetables and fruits are grown in an ornamental setting alongside wild flowers and cultivated garden plants. Cereals such as oats, rye, wheat and barley are grown in rotation with other crops like potatoes, onions and cabbages, showcasing a number of farming techniques and the protection of wildlife habitats. Close by, the Mill Meadow is full of wildflowers in the summer and is grazed by resident sheep in the winter. Next to the meadow, is a woodland area designed to attract wildlife.
The Mill Gardens were designed by Chelsea Flower Show winners Ian Kitson and Julie Toll who took inspiration from ancient field layouts, hedge patterns and the flow of the River Ivel. Just as the Bedfordshire countryside is divided into fields by hedgerows, the different areas of our gardens are separated using yew hedging. A winding path, emulating the flow of the River Ivel, leads you through the Mill Gardens.
The Lodge, Sandy
The headquarters of the RSPB are best known for the adjoining nature reserve with its heathland habitats. However, visitors may also want to make time to visit the Italian style Lodge Gardens which are most colourful from May, when the rhododendron and Azalea collections are in flower and the roses begin to bloom. The Lodge gardens are managed organically and peat-free for wildlife, and inspire visitors to give nature a home in their own gardens.
Kathy Brown’s Garden, Stevington
Highlights of Kathy Brown’s Garden include the Art Gardens, inspired by a diverse range of artists including Hepworth, Monet, Mondrian, Hokusai, Rothko and Matisse. There is also an Edible Flower border which acts as a larder for demonstrations and afternoon teas. The Peony Borders are a newer addition worth seeing.
There are lots of examples of small community gardens that we could have chosen to feature, they come in all sizes and are found in both urban and rural locations. The two highlighted were entrants in the 2018 CPRE Bedfordshire Living Countryside Awards. They are very different projects but are both valued and well used by their communities.
Incredible Edible, Dunstable
With the help of Central Bedfordshire and Dunstable Town Council and local businesses, a team of volunteers turned a disused area on the junction of Katherine Drive and Duncombe Drive into a thriving community garden. Growing a variety of vegetables, fruit and herbs, the garden also provides a seating area. Rain water is harvested from a flat roof over a shop. There are monthly work sessions where the local community is invited to come and help maintain the garden, harvest the food and enjoy the camaraderie that this social gathering creates.
The Colmworth Triangle at the junction between Church Road and Church Lane was looking overgrown and unsightly. A dedicated group of volunteers in the form of Colmworth Gardening Club started a project to renovate it in 2012. Paths were laid and bulbs planted. Beds were planted and a tree bench added. The pine tree now takes centre stage adorned with Christmas lights which has become a popular annual gathering each December. The Triangle has become a delightful, attractive garden at the centre of the village. It is well used and much loved.
What’s on your doorstep? Is there a community garden near you that deserves to be celebrated? Find out more about this year’s awards and get nominating!