Every once in a while I encounter a garden which disappoints. Woburn Abbey Gardens in Bedfordshire left us feeling rather flat after our visit recently during an April bank holiday.
Suggestions for the new landscaping project at the park were put forward by the renowned landscape gardener Humphrey Repton back in the early 19th century at the request of the 6th Duke of Bedford. The layout of the garden is magnificent & the walkways around this part of the estate are very good indeed. Not all Repton’s ideas were executed & other gardeners had a hand in the final design.
We walked around the perimeter of the ‘pleasure grounds’ & saw a magnificent collection of trees. The remnants of snowdrops, bluebells & narcissus were decaying underfoot & I imagine this would have been a tremendous sight just a few weeks earlier. The grounds were very quiet; we had arrived early & really enjoyed these furthest reaches of the garden.
The Pavilion & Rockery however, were frightful. What we couldn’t understand is that this feature in the garden had won a grant for reconstruction in 2012. I have no qualms in saying that it looked like it needed another grant for a further reconstruction. There was evidence of glyphosate use on weeds, (a rockery should never be allowed to get weedy, never mind that it is a main feature in a listed historical garden), there was no exemplary planting to speak of (unless you consider osteospurmums choice plants) & there were unconcealed steel wired armoured cables & black ribbed conduit lying around Now, if this area was under review/reconstruction/replanting/refurbishment or whatever then is should have said so.
Walking behind us was a family of Japanese tourists; I was embarrassed, I felt like I needed to excuse the thing.
Alas, one of the ornamental ponds was also in disarray choked with weeds & also looked like it could have benefitted from some serious attention. The garden structures around it were in good order but this part of the UK was in a period of drought after a dry winter I did wonder whether this had any bearing on the poor state of the ponds.
The Orangery was a welcome respite from quite a chilly day. This area is rented out for meetings/weddings & the like & was looking really good. The camellias were in tip-top condition and the compost all raked & cleaned. The kitchen garden and outside formal areas around the main buildings also were in very good order but I must say, the work involved here is very easy garden-keeping.
The real challenge keeping a historical garden together is ensuring the features work & are fit for public scrutiny. They of course are the difficult expensive bits to maintain but Andrew Russell the incumbent Duke of Bedford is one of the richest men in the world with assets worth £685,000,000.00 give or take a few quid. So, are you thinking what I’m thinking?
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