In the centre of the historic town of Malmesbury, on top of the hill, next to the old Abbey, is a garden recently created, but easily good enough to compare with any historic garden. Overlooked by the ruined arch of the Abbey, the garden evokes a sense of history, introducing new planting to an ancient site, using a combination of formal design and modern sculpture in a fascinating mix of colour, and texture.
Abbey House is the home of Ian and Barbara Pollard and their family. The Pollards arrived here in 1994, when the five acre garden was rather run down, and set about planting the site with two thousand different roses. Continuing the work, and adding to the garden each year, there are now ten thousand different species of trees and plants which offer a long season of variety and colour from early spring until late autumn. For the visitor, the first encounter in the drive is a statue of two naked wrestlers, modern in design, but classical in feel, and it is this juxtaposition of the ancient and modern which gives Abbey House Gardens a special character.
Abbey House Malmesbury
Past here is the first glimpse of the garden, a vista through a wrought iron gate along the length of the formal garden, providing a taste of what is to come. Entering the garden by the house, the visitor arrives on the front terrace, where the planting is full of colour and Wisteria climbs the house.There was originally a Benedictine Monastery here, and St. Aldhelm was the first Abbot in 675. The beautiful Elizabethan manor house, now home to the Pollards, was built in 1552 on the ruins of the Thirteenth Century Abbot's house, and the historic house lends the garden a feeling of age. In front of the house are the formal gardens. To the left, there is a knot garden in the form of a Celtic Cross, its pattern taken from a cross on the Island of Iona, chosen to celebrate the founding of the first religious centre here by the Celtic Monk, Maidulph, in the seventh century. To the right, box edged beds hold Irises, flowering at my last visit. The garden is filled with topiary of box and yew, which give height and structure.Up the path from the front door is a Saxon Gateway, and through here an Upper Lawn, where many of the roses are planted. This was once the site of The Lady Chapel of the Benedictine Monastery, built in the thirteenth century, but demolished at The Dissolution by Henry VIII in 1539, and a statue of a monk sits in the corner, reminding the visitor of the garden's history.From the Upper Lawn, walking through the Gothic Archway, built in 1999, there is a modern water sculpture 'Thales' by Barry Mason. Then comes a pergola and the more traditional double herbaceous borders, filled with colour right through to the end of the year. A serpentine bed holds more roses in rainbow colours, underplanted with tulips for a fine spring show. Then, on to one of the most magnificent parts of the garden, a herb garden with a central fountain, surrounded by a circular colonnade, covered with clematis and climbing roses, and fruit cordons of apple, pear, peach quince and grape vines. The colonnade offers dappled shade and the cool flowing water attracts the visitor to the timber-edged beds containing about 1200 herbs. Next, a sweet little summer house provides an entrance to a large laburnum tunnel, in magnificent full bloom at my last visit. There is a stew pond filled with large carp and another modern cooling fountain flowing into it.From here, the garden runs down the steep hillside behind the house to the river at the bottom. The woodland walk is restful, and a wonderful contrast to the formal garden. There are sculpted torsos by Ian Rank Broadley on the wall of the house above the rear terrace, again contrasting the modern with the thirteenth century wall, this being the oldest part of the house. Beneath the terrace is a bank of heather and daffodils for spring colour. Down the hill there are snowdrops and bluebells in the Spring, and collections of magnolia, maple and rhododendrons. The visitor can cross the river by bridge, or by the stepping stones. Across the river on the far bank is a spring which feeds old monastic fish ponds, and beyond them a small waterfall, marking the end of the garden.This is a wonderful garden, developed and cared for by its owners, reflecting their combined architectural and horticultural skills. Appreciating the historic site and enjoying the magnificent variety of planting and colour, this is a garden to visit many times. Truly enchanting.