|A landscape that's remained much the same |
for over a thousand years
Forde Abbey, not technically in Somerset but near as dammit being just a few miles over the Dorset border from Chard in south Somerset, is known for something altogether smaller, more modest and natural: it is covered, at this time of year, with swathes, rivers, and cascades of crocus.
This is how crocus should be grown: not as little clumps of specimens without context, floating lonely in a sea of mulched garden soil, but as rivers of purple and violet and white running down hillsides and cascading across fields, witness to the generosity of the natural world.
When you see crocus in this number you realise what spectacular plants they are: a sheet of colour from a distance, when you get up close you see how not a single one is the same as the next. Some have slender, papery petals, others are blowsy and generous; some petals are deeply striated in violet or fade from deep purple at the tips to translucent white in the centre as though someone had been along and turned the flower upside down to dip it in paint.
Most of the crocus at Forde Abbey are Crocus vernus and C. tommasinianus – both perfect for naturalising in grass as they seed freely and grow vigorously. The huge variations within each species is part of their charm, of course. They're also delicate enough to meld in and look natural: imagine large-flowered 'Snow Bunting' here and you realise it would just look plain wrong.
I love the fact that both house and garden are still in private hands: it avoids that corporate too-perfect National Trust look entirely, and though it is undeniably a little woolly around the edges, that's part of the attraction (and rather reassures you, since when a stately home has a few weeds in the borders it somehow gives you permission to, as well).
It's the only place I've ever been which leads you to the house through the veg garden: I approve enormously, as this is a real testament to the fact that edible gardens needn't be tucked away out of sight. This bit of the garden is ably managed by Charlotte Roper, who was kind enough to let me have a nose round the peach house – usually closed to visitors – in exchange for a photo of her Peach 'Peregrine' in full and sumptuous flower.
|Peach 'Peregrine' in the lean-to greenhouse looking sublime |
against the mellow stone of the Abbey walls
|Yews like big green dollops of cake mix: |
I just wanted to stroke them
It is a peaceful, absorbing place: one of those gardens where you find little surprises in odd corners. You may come to see the crocuses, but you stay to teeter along the ha-ha, explore the Blacksmith Hill and meander along the Stone Path. I ended with a happy half-hour rummaging among the extremely good selection of plants in the well-laid-out nursery alongside the garden. The perfect end to a perfect day.
- The gardens of Forde Abbey, Dorset, are open every day from 10am. You can also look around the house if you go in the afternoon between April and the end of October.