On my way back from Devon, I popped into Forde Abbey in Somerset, a garden I’ve wanted to see for ages – and wow, what a treat!
As I was driving from Devon to Wiltshire, I took the A30 to Honiton and then the A35 to Axminster. In Axminster, I drove on the A358 towards Chard – the Abbey is situated 4 miles south-east of Chard and there are brown tourist signs from the A30. Don’t make the mistake of following your satnav when you get closer to Forde.
The garden at Forde continues to develop with sustainability at its core. It was nominated for Historic Houses ‘Garden of the Year’ in 2019 and you can see why.
I timed my visit for the Tulip Festival at Forde. Each year, the Head Gardener, Joshua Sparkes chooses another layout and this year, they had been planted in concentric circles – as you can see, they were absolutely stunning. Next year, he’s shifting the focus away from massed tuplips to creating a Tapestry of flowers – ‘We have to be more clever with our planting, encouraging the tulips to have more of a perennial nature.’
Forde Abbey was founded as a monastery in the twelfth century and after the Dissolution of the Monasteries was leased by the Crown to Richard Pollard. It was not lived in until it was bought in 1649 by Edmund Prideaux who later became Oliver Cromwell’s Attorney General. The estate was inherited in 1702 by Mary Prideaux who with her husband Francis Gwyn laid out the garden, the design of which survives today. In the nineteenth century, the Gwyns were no longer financially able to live in the house and it was rented to the philosopher Jeremy Bentham. After passing through several hands, Forde was bought by Mrs Bertram Evans in 1863 who carried out an extensive restoration project. Her son William left the house to his cousin Elizabeth Roper. Forde Abbey remains in the Roper family.
There’s a cafe on site as well as a plant nursery filled with a seasonal selection of herbaceous perennials – and I found the staff extremely helpful with what plants would do well on my heavy clay soil.