Visit to Bowood House and Gardens

My invitation read: “Come and visit Bowood’s famous spring planting; and Lord Lansdowne will lead a tour of his woodland garden.”

Who could resist such a missive. Not me! So I set off for Wiltshire- dreaming of camellias, magnolias, rhododendrons and azaleas galore!

And what I found was one of the best spring gardens I’ve ever visited. Over two miles of paths meander through the 30 acre garden- set within a former quarry. A stream runs through the valley with banks of ferns, candelabra primroses and bluebells either side.

Now, I’ve been on these garden visits before, where tours are promised. The owner is often there for a welcoming reception- but then frequently hands over to staff for the tour itself. So I was surprised and pleased to see Lord Lansdowne standing by his offer and giving us a walking tour of his garden – and one that ran an hour longer than planned.

If you come to visit my garden, I’ll take you around, show you the tree I planted when we moved here, my favourite seat, my favourite shrub and the plants I inherited from my grandparents’ garden. To be honest, our visit to Bowood felt just like that; a keen gardener showing us around his plot – with all his favourite trees and shrubs and viewing points. As soon as we arrived, Lord Lansdowne pointed to a group of cornus dogwood trees and described them as his “pride and joy.” And then followed a chat about how difficult they are to grow, and how “wonderful” they look when the white bracts appear in spring. His enthusiasm is something we all share as gardeners. We nurture and plant something, and then stand back and admire it, and want to share that moment with fellow gardeners. It’s something I recognise and understand.

One thing I haven’t got though (ok, there’s no rolling acres and stately home either) is a rhododendron named after me. This one is Lord Lansdowne’s – it’s rather lovely, with peachy cream petals and pink buds.

I can see why this is one of his favourite views, looking out from the garden. We are standing on the mausoleum steps looking out across the tops of the rhododendrons through a gap in the trees.

Some of the rhododendrons are called Bowood Hybrids, and Lord Lansdowne showed us the nursery beds where his selected seedlings are planted. He said they could be sitting there for 10 years before he’d know if they were something special or not. Patience is obviously a virtue when you are growing new varieties like these.

I must admit, there were a dizzying array of variety names as we walked through the woods. I should have written them down, but I was just listening to the commentary and enjoying what turned out to be a most unusual and special day. I mean, how often can you report that you were meandering through the woods and suddenly there on the path is the celebrated plantsman Roy Lancaster!

Roy, who is writing about the gardens, stopped for a chat and joined our group for a photo. It was fascinating to hear the two friends talking, the Latin names flying back and forth. And later, we visited a patch called Roy’s Corner, where specimens brought back from Roy’s plant-finding expeditions are being nurtured. Altogether, it had been, a day like no other.

Bowood Woodland Garden opens from 28th April until early June. Check the website for details. http://www.bowood.org

No wonder the owner admits he spends every Saturday lunchtime having a picnic in the gardens. I think I would too.

Many thanks to the Garden Media Guild for organising this visit to Bowood. If you work in horticulture, you can become an associate member. Membership is open to anyone working in garden writing, broadcasting and photography. Probationary membership may also be available for new starters in the profession and there are training courses and mentoring schemes available.

42 thoughts on “Visit to Bowood House and Gardens

    • Thank you. Must admit, I’d love a posh camera. But the thing is, i-phone is so light and always in my pocket. I’d miss most of the photos if I had to mess about with a proper camera. Thanks for reading. All the best.

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  1. Karen, your photos are magnificent. I think the visit to the gardens of Bowood accompanied by Lord Lansdowne was a very happy day for you, in a garden that was on your list of priorities. All Rhododendrons with Bowood denomination are beautiful and some I love. The path of the stream along the valley with ferns, candelabra, primroses and bluebells should be a treasure. I’m glad you had such a good time. I have entered the links and it is worth doing. Many memories and love for your mother. For you Karen love and take care. Loving greetings from Margarita.

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    • Thank you Margarita. I fretted rather a lot as to whether I would be well enough to go, but in the end I just set off and hoped for the best. As it was, I was having a good day, health-wise and coped with all the walking. There were plenty of places to sit down, even in the woods. You would have loved every corner of that garden. It was filled with jewel-like colours and set against the bluebells, made a wonderful, cheerful scene. I do hope your pain is less now and you are settling in to your house in the country. Love and greetings to you and your family, from Karen x. (Ps. I’m in the group photo, last person on the far left.)

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      • Karen, are you worse? Can not you walk a lot? I hope that soon you recover and it does not hurt to walk. I continue the same with my pains. Go couple we have joined hahaha! Some good friends 🙂 In the photo are you the very thin woman with long hair in jeans and low boots and a navy blue coat? If I have been successful, you are very beautiful and very classy. I wish you a lot of good health in your heart. Love Karen and take care of yourself. Loving greetings from Margarita.

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    • Thank you Jessica. Weren’t we lucky with the weather and everything. The bluebells were the perfect backdrop for all those rhododendrons and azaleas. And in the sunshine, the scent from the bluebells was really strong. Thanks as ever for reading. Much appreciated . Karen

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  2. Clearly a good day for your visit.

    You could put a personal name label – a pretty one – against one of your delightful pots. I haven’t heard of any convention that says you cannot give your own piece of pottery your name or a preferred one. the blushing bloom in it would continue on as ever with whatever formal and informal name/s it has. 😉

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  3. How fortunate you were to have such an experience. The garden is just too gorgeous for words and I loved seeing your photos. I’d like to know the name of the beautiful bell-like flowers in the last photo.

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    • Thank you Jane. That’s so kind of you to say so. I will just check, but I think they said it was an un-named seedling. Isn’t it absolutely stunning. The leaves had a soft bronze underside which really set off those flowers a treat. All the best. Karen

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  4. A most enjoyable post and lovely pictures. It certainly looks and sounds like a wonderful place to visit, and being shown round by the owner was obviously an added bonus.
    Lucky you meeting Roy Lancaster, who I have met briefly some years ago. xx

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    • Thank you Mike. It was an amazing day. It was quite something. The owner kept pointing to two rhododendrons and saying they had cross pollinated and then to another shrub nearby where the resulting seedling had grown. It was fascinating to see the best elements of both parent plants in the new offspring, so to speak. Roy Lancaster was as amazing in real life as you thought he would be. So knowledgeable, and yet unassuming and kind and generous with his time too. He was working, but he stopped to chat to us all. Made my day. Enjoy your weekend. Hope it’s sunny there. Mum and I are just back from a walk in the local park. Must say, the parks dept are keeping it looking fabulous, even with the cutbacks. They work so hard. xx

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    • Thank you Derrick. I hope you are enjoying your weekend. Mum and I have been to a local public park, Knighton Park in Leicester this morning and the trees look fabulous. There was a davidia handkerchief tree looking stunning with huge white bracts. Thanks for reading 🙂 x

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  5. I remember hearing about some of the rhododendrons with those names, but I do not think we grew even one. Ours needed to conform to our relatively arid climate. We grew a few of the classics, but only if they were actually happy here.

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  6. Thank you, Karen. Your report whetted my appetite, for today Maggie and I enjoyed a tour of Bowood with the Historic Houses Association. Like you, we were taken round the woodland gardens by Lord Lansdowne and then we visited the house and private walled gardens. What a wonderful place to visit on a lovely sunny day. For anyone who loves rhododendrons, Bowood is a must, but remember the woodland gardens are only open for six weeks.

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    • Thank you Geoff. So glad you managed to visit Bowood. We also visited the walled garden, which will be the subject of another blog post later. Thanks for reading and getting in touch. All the best. Karen

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    • Thank you Brian. It’s a most glorious place. Literally got everything! Woodland quarry dell, house and orangery, parterres, capability brown landscape, walled garden (book in advance). I could have done with a whole weekend there to be honest. I plan to take my mum back and stay at the bowood house hotel next door as a special treat. Thanks for reading. K

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