From the moment you enter the award-winning Forde Abbey gardens, you are sure to be amazed by the stunning colours and spectacular vistas. Widely considered to be one of the finest gardens in the South West, this Dorset treasure never fails to impress with its fascinating history and beautiful informal and formal layouts.
The history of this garden dates back to the 12th Century, when the early Cistercian monks farmed this land, growing seasonal vegetables and fruit to sustain their strict vegetarian diet. These days, however, the only remaining structure from this monastic time is the Great Pond which is used not for aesthetic purposes but rather as a functional source of power for the mill that stands at the present-day Forge site.
It wasn’t until the early part of the 18th Century that the modern garden as we see it today began its development. Sir Francis Gwyn was responsible for creating the three connecting lower ponds using water from the Great Pond, and for laying the drives and lawns. In line with the era’s principles of design, he also incorporated lime and yew trees into the layout so that the eye would be drawn to the stunning vistas and views.
In 1864, the estate and Abbey were purchased by the Evans family, and it was under their stewardship that the garden took on elements of classic Victorian design. During this era, the walled garden was developed to the north while dark shrubberies were planted to the south. The summer bedding that framed the house in colour was admired for its beauty but it was difficult to maintain; even by the time the First World War was declared, ten gardeners were required to be onsite full time to keep it in pristine condition.
More recently, the Roper family took on the challenge of the Forde Abbey gardens, adding extra features to enhance the 19thCentury trees and 18th Century landscape. Over three generations, the family established the Rock Garden, Park Garden and Bog Garden, planting over 350,000 trees across the estate. The Roper family’s legacy is celebrated in the Centenary Fountain, which was constructed to commemorate a century of the family’s residence at the Abbey. As the country’s highest powered fountain, it reaches the impressive height of 160 feet and is a popular spot for young, and perhaps not so young, visitors who love to play in its spray.
These days, the gardens are a stunning example of preserved history that are now owned by Julian and Alice Kennard. They take a hands-on approach to maintenance, with Alice often tackling projects in the garden herself. The Kennard’s work is slowly adding to the story of the garden – a story which has evolved over nine centuries and which perfectly reflects the tastes and lifestyles of every generation that has lived here. Whether you choose to meander along the pathways or whether you prefer to sit on one of the swing benches to take in the views, you are sure to love your time spent in this glorious garden.
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Image credits: Eliza Ford & Forde Abbey
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