Garden & Harvest Festival at Forde Abbey hosted by Toby Buckland
PUBLISHED: 09:00 07 September 2017
This September garden expert Toby Buckland is hosting a new Garden & Harvest Festival at Forde Abbey. He takes us for a turn around their famous gardens
The first time I visited Forde Abbey, on the Dorset/Somerset border, I was struck by how this former Cistercian monastery offers vistas in every direction. It reminded me of those classic French gardens, it doesn’t matter which direction you go from the Abbey - the Top Lawn, the Long Pond or the Rockery - you look back and get a whole new view of the magnificent ham stone facade, the colour of honey, glowing amongst the greenery.
Built almost 900 years ago by Cistercian monks, the Abbey is now the family home of Julian and Alice Kennard and their three children Ben, Sam and Marcia. The couple are full of fresh ideas and passionate about the gardens; it currently feature a splendid sculpture exhibition, Landscape of Objects – with giant woven willow forms and creels suspended above the lake. There’s also a new meadow maze and a willow tunnel just coming into their own. Even established areas like the Walled Garden are annually re-worked with fresh sowings of veg, and then there are Forde’s famous sweet pea wigwams (featuring over 80 varieties this year), along with swathes of giant allium, cactus-headed dahlia and romping squash and pumpkins.
Heavenly Herbaceous Borders
Few gardens have as much colour and interest as Forde Abbey. The stunning double herbaceous borders, almost 100 metres long, draw you along its array of flowers - from scented roses, perennial sunflowers to vivid red crocosmia. View it from across the adjacent Long Pond which acts like a giant mirror, doubling the intensity and reflecting the sky. By the time of my Garden & Harvest Festival, the new meadow will be at its zenith replete with cottage-garden annuals like cornflowers, poppies, calendula, cosmos and ox-eye daisies.
Water with Wow Factor
Forde’s ponds and lakes provide the architecture of much of the garden, treating you to an ever-changing view of the borders and house. The UK’s tallest fountain doesn’t disappoint particularly when it bursts into life taking unsuspecting visitors by surprise! The pump was re-purposed from irrigating Forde’s fruit farm, hence its ability to push the water an astonishing 160ft high.
Wonders in the Walled Garden
The beating heart of the Forde Abbey is the Walled Garden. It feeds the house and supplies seasonal ingredients for Forde’s café. Explore its flower and veg-filled beds via the gravel paths. In summer the central axis is lined with willow wigwams covered in fragrant sweet peas, these are picked daily and sold as posies in Forde’s gift shop. In late summer this is a veritable kitchen gardener’s paradise: leeks, pumpkins, dahlias, kohl rabi, peas abound and in the adjacent glasshouse I recently enjoyed the tastiest nectarine I’ve ever eaten.
Toby’s Garden & Harvest Festival at Forde Abbey - 16-17 September
Enjoy talks from gardening experts Charlie Dimmock and Christine Walkden, garden tours and harvest workshops: try your hand at scything, learn how to grow your own beer, make soap or natural dyes from the flowers in your garden. Take a tour of the Walled Garden with Forde’s head gardener Danny Burlingham and learn about Forde’s amazing trees. You can also buy plants, artisan food and crafts from more than 150 exhibitors too.
Tickets: £10 in advance online (£12 on the gate), under 16s go free. VIPs tickets £50 including lunch, group tickets for more than 10 and gardening clubs £8.50 per person. More details at tobygardenfest.co.uk.
Find out more about Forde Abbey and its gardens at fordeabbey.co.uk