“ Gardens with nursery and tearoom, in Colchester, Essex / Address: Elmstead Market, Colchester, Essex, CO7 7DB „
If you like gardening, or like to visit beautiful gardens, then Beth Chatto's fabulous garden is a must-see!
The gardens are situated on the A133 in Elmstead Market which is about 4 miles east of Colchester.
There is plenty of parking and coach parties are catered for with prior booking.
Beth Chatto began her garden in 1960, on what used to be waste ground with lots of boggy areas. What she has created out of this wasteland is utterly amazing! You cannot image just how beautiful it is till you visit!
There are literally thousands of different plants, ranging from ones that grown in dry gravel to lush bog plants which surround the lakes and ponds that adorn the landscape. The whole garden blends so well into the surrounding countryside and to look at some parts you would think the plants and trees all grew naturally there for centuries.
There are beautiful walks through the landscapes and the whole place has a tranquility about it that is so relaxing. All you can hear are the birds singing and water trickling and visually, the colours of the flowers are incredible! Different seasons give you different things to look at, so it is well worth going back at different times of the year. There are summer walks and autumn walks which are designed to take into account the plants that are in season.
The garden is designed to be walked round, but the paths are wide enough to take wheelchairs and pushchairs, so everyone can enjoy this beautiful place. Some areas may not be so accessible for the disabled though, especially when the weather is wet. Guide dogs are welcomed.
For the keen gardeners there is a fabulous plant shop where you can buy most of the plants that grown in the garden. The staff there are also helpful with advice so that you can get the most out of the plants you buy.
Once you have walked your feet off, you can go and relax in the tea-rooms for a welcome cuppa and sample some of the fayre on sale there. They have a good range of both hot and cold food from soups and jacket potatoes to yummy chocolate cake! Worth the entrance fee alone in my opinion!!!
Toilet facilities are good and include disabled access.
The gardens are open Monday to Saturday 9am to 5pm and Sundays 10am to 5pm. The entrance fee is £6.00. Accompanied children under the age of 14 get in free.
Beth Chatto's garden is world-famous now and well worth a visit! Gives good value for money, though do try and visit on a sunny day if possible!
Just outside the hustle and bustle of Colchester Town lies a little slice of tranquillity. Beth Chatto Gardens offered me a haven of carefully tended natural beauty when I spent 12 months studying in Colchester last year, and is somewhere I continue to visit now, even though I live far from that part of Essex.
** My first visit **
Dreaming up ways to escape from endless coursework and my tiny room in halls, became something of an obsession in my first term at the University of Essex. So with the excuse that a dose of fresh air in my lungs would sharpen my senses and turn me into a master-essay-writer I set off to the nearest and nicest sounding place on the map, Beth Chatto Gardens.
I have to confess I'm notoriously awful at finding my way anywhere without getting spectacularly lost (I once ended up at Kew Gardens instead of Imperial College, thus missing an entrance interview, infuriating my parents and potentially changing the course of my entire life, oops!). So it was with great surprise that I found myself at the gates to Beth Chatto Gardens without any unplanned detours. This was thanks largely to the nice brown tourist signs that point you there from the town centre.
Situated on a busy road (the A133) I was rather concerned the gardens wouldn't quite be as peaceful as the website suggested. Luckily my fears were abated when I travelled up the long drive and found the sounds of traffic were soon replaced with merry singing robins. I left my bicycle locked up in the decent sized car park (they now have a row of bike racks), and ventured off. Entry tickets need to be bought in the little nursery shop, and you receive a sticker as proof of purchase. Formed in 1960 it's hard to believe these five acres of beautiful gardens were once a boggy wasteland. Beth Chatto has used her expertise to lovingly craft three differently themed areas using plants that thrive in the poor soil and soggy conditions.
Greeted first by the gravel garden which as the name suggests is full of drought loving plants. Landscaped to resemble a dried up river bed, the paths lead you around immaculately tended wafting grasses and pastel flowering succulents. Admiring the view from one of the sunny benches and enjoying the herby scents I'm instantly transported away to Southern Spain. On a warm day this is my favourite area of the gardens, and I'm not alone in thinking that... the two gorgeous, purring and friendly resident cats will most likely have staked their claim on the best bench before you can take a seat.
Head through an old arch and you will find yourself in the vast expanse of the main garden. Winding through grassy paths there is plenty to see and the remaining two themes; woodland and water gardens, join forces. The landscape is formed around the features of four natural ponds. The first small pond is home to a half sunken tiny rowing boat and some beautiful waterlilys. Listen closely and you'll hear the 'ribbet ribbet' of the resident frogs. In the middle of the sweeping, abundant shrubs and flowerbeds you'll find the second pond. A statuesque fir reflects beautifully in the waters where golden fishes swim below. Finally the largest of the ponds is watched over by towering graceful weeping willows gently dipping their fronds into the still water. In the summer months I can sit here for hours watching the ducklings paddling in between the willows. Come autumn the grown up ducks furiously quack to one another sounding just like laughter, and sure to bring a smile to my face even on the dullest of days.
Never a weed in sight, the gardens are obviously tended to diligently, but the informal planting design gives a wonderfully relaxed feel to the surroundings. Towards the edges of the main garden, the neatly mown grassy paths trail off into mossy shady areas. Ferns line the walkways leading me to a bridge over a small stream - the spring which feeds the natural ponds. Beneath the dappled sunlight, bulbs sprout up amongst my steps, adding lively colour amongst the lush green.
** And back again... and again... and again... **
At £6 for an entry ticket, it's quite pricey for such a little place. But if you live near to the Gardens or plan on visiting any more than two times, I'd highly recommend signing up for the 'Friends of the Garden Scheme'. For a £15 single 'Friends' ticket you can go as many times as you like over the course of a year. If you fancy sharing your visit with someone else, and have a willing companion, then a double ticket can be bought for £25. Oh and if you are really popular and have 24 friends then you can all go as a group, for the bargain entry fee of £5.50 per person!
You can easily take in the whole of the gardens in a couple of hours, so you may think this is somewhere only worthy of a one-off trip. But actually no two visits of mine have ever been the same, and that's the reason I kept coming back month after month. The changing seasons result in a constantly evolving landscape, with new delights for the eye on an almost weekly basis. Additionally Beth seems to channel her creativity wholeheartedly into the place, varying planting schemes with great gusto. I was always overjoyed on my visits to see small paths once fenced off with a low lying tangle of twigs and a polite 'no entry' sign, suddenly open and offering up a new adventure of plant delights.
Furthermore, it's not just the plants that change from visit to visit. Since I discovered the gardens back in 2009, the tea rooms have undergone an extensive, but tasteful expansion and refurbishment.
** So it's time for a bite to eat... **
After all that wandering in the grounds, a cream tea is in order. Although the tea rooms have undergone their facelift in the couple of years I have been visiting, they still serve up the same delicious menu. Like all good garden eateries, the food is organic and locally sourced where possible. Hearty soups, home baked cakes and scones and generously stuffed jacket potatoes are always on offer. Prices are very reasonable considering the quality of ingredients. The contemporary surroundings are beautiful, with huge windows basking the area in light and each table adorned with a vase of wild flowers. The staff are all lovely and very adept at tailoring the specials menu to the occasion. Throughout October I particularly enjoyed their pumpkin soup and toffee apple pudding, yum yum!
If warmer weather beckons then picnic tables are situated in the car park. Perhaps not the most appetising sounding of locations, but the car par is all very natural and grassy, no tarmac in sight. In fact the only negatives I've found when eating my sandwiches here are the buzzing bees, but then these are uninvited guests to every picnic I suppose.
** Finally, I attempt to recreate the gardens for myself... **
The nursery is a sprawling affair, with huge greenhouses and numerous pots lining the outdoor area as far as the eye can see. It seems to me that if it grows in the garden it will be somewhere amongst the plants in the nursery. The plants here are probably a little higher in price than at my local garden centre, but then the quality is also probably a bit higher too. You can be sure of the care in cultivating the baby plants here, as they are also the ones used when planting around the gardens. Additionally the staff in the nursery shop have always been really helpful in pointing out the best method of planting whenever I bring my pots up to pay.
A really nice touch here in the nursery is the wheelbarrow full of clipboards, paper and pens. Instead of a care label poked into every plant pot (and wasting a lot of plastic and card) Beth Chatto Nurseries simply have a name and care placard in the vicinity of the pots and let the buyer make notes on these details should they need. This works very well and is something I would love to see implemented in the larger garden centres.
** Also on offer... **
Throughout the year the gardens are host to a variety of events. These mainly centre around improving skills, such as photography, painting and of course gardening. Small group workshops with lectures from often award winning teachers take place a couple of times a month. With the upcoming events advertised on posters throughout the facilities, I've often been tempted. Unfortunately at around £50 for a one day workshop including lunch and coffee it's always been just out of my price range. I've always thought it would make a lovely gift for someone though. For something a little cheaper you could try one of their hour long garden tours for £10. I've never tried one of these, preferring to take in the gardens at my own pace.
** Visiting advice **
Surprisingly perhaps, my favourite time to visit the Beth Chatto Gardens in in Autumn. With the backdrop of trees resplendent in their fiery red tones and raindrops bringing the ponds to life and forming glittering diamonds on the velvety leaves of succulents, there's no better place to be. As an added bonus the masses tend to stay away until spring and summer, so you'll often have the entire gardens to yourself.
Everything potential visitors need to know can be found on their comprehensive website; www.bethchatto.co.uk. So here's just a summary of the vital information I've left out earlier;
*Address: Elmstead Market, Colchester, Essex, CO7 7DB
*Tel: 01206 822007
*Opening times: Monday - Saturday 9am till 4pm and Sunday 10am till 4pm.
*Accompanied children under 14 go free.
*Gardens and facilities fully wheelchair accessible and guide dogs are welcome.
Thank you for taking the time to read my review, I hope to see you all there on my next visit :)
This review is posted on both Ciao and Dooyoo under my username sbeach000