Westonbirt Arboretum is hidden in the countryside near the historic market town of Tetbury in Gloucestershire — just a 40-minute drive from Bristol. Run by the Forestry Commission and home to over 18,000 tree and shrub species from across the world, the Arboretum welcomes groups and families all year round to explore its leafy pathways and open grounds.
The Arboretum’s roots run back to the Victorian era, when wealthy 19th-century landowner Robert Stayner Holford began planting seeds collected on his travels around the world. As the land passed down the generations, the collection grew and the trees matured. Today, the park explodes into colour during autumn and spring to the delight of the many thousands of onlookers who come through the gates each season.
After stocking up on hearty refreshments at the welcoming café, visitors to Westonbirt Arboretum this autumn can explore two different areas throughout the park; the 1.6-mile Silk Wood trail and the 0.75-mile Old Arboretum trail.
The Silk Wood trail
From the welcome building at the park entrance, The Silk Wood trail runs through open woodland where diverse tree species thrive. Interactive info boards animate the walk for youngsters — shedding light on the trees’ seasonal behaviour patterns — and the impressive Stihl walkway offers stunning views over the leafy canopy.
The highlight however — especially in the autumn — is the Japanese maple collection. Here, a figure-of-8 path loops through an open park showcasing the maples’ breathtakingly beautiful autumn tones. Leaves of bright red, yellow and orange flutter against the brown tree bark, collecting on the ground in piles of vibrant colour.
The Old Arboretum trail
The Old Arboretum trail heads into the forest to the right of the café, and takes visitors back in time to the Victorian era. Enormous lime trees line grand avenues criss-crossing the estate, leaving the visitor feeling like a lady or gent from a bygone era taking a turn in the extensive grounds.
While the colours are muted compared to the vibrancy of the Silk Wood Trail, the peace and quiet here make the Old Arboretum trail a wonderfully relaxing route to follow. (Dog-walkers note, however, that while your four-legged friend is welcome on the Silk Wood trail, the Old Arboretum trail doesn’t allow dogs.)
Westonbirt Arboretum’s doors swing open at 9am every day and early-birds really get the place to themselves. Even by 10am and onwards — as the popular Silk Wood trail busies up a little — the Old Arboretum trail remains a haven of peace and tranquillity. For details on Westonbirt Arboretum’s opening hours, events, volunteer programmes check out the Westonbirt Arboretum Website. Entrance (Autumn rate) Adult £9, child £4
Photo: All photos by Chris Callaghan – more of Chris’s photos of Autumn colour at Westonbirt Arboretum in our Flickr album here.
Where to Stay near Westonbirt Arboretum
If you’re looking for a luxurious place to stay that’s 10 minutes drive from Westonbirt Arboretum, we recommend Calcot Manor with 35 stylish rooms, swimming pool and spa. We love their cosy Gumstool Inn for a relaxed lunch and a pint or the light and airy Conservatory Restaurant for elegant dining – you don’t have to be staying to eat there. For other affordable accommodation in Tetbury, take a look at The Snooty Fox or The Priory Inn.
Our contributing writer Chris Callaghan is a Bristol-based ski and travel writer, with an inexhaustible list of pubs, galleries, museums and events across the West Country to visit and write about. To read more on the parks and gardens in and around Bristol that Chris has explored, click here.
Disclosure: Chris was given free entry to Westonbirt Arboretum to write about this experience.
We visited Hidcote Manor Gardens just as August turned to September, on a weekend where the warm sunshine was tempered by a slight autumn chill to the air and the surrounding countryside was brown with recently harvested stubble.
This Cotswold garden was created by an American, Lawrence Johnston who came to Hidcote when the estate was purchased by his wealthy mother. Here he was able to indulge his passion for gardening and plant collecting in the garden that he developed between 1907 and 1930 as a series of garden rooms, contained by hedges and surrounded by avenues of trees and woodland. The garden was acquired by the National Trust in 1948 and was one of the first properties to be taken on just for its gardens.
Once you’ve passed briefly through the house and the study, the view as you step down into the garden is over a low wall and down a long avenue of trees. But from here on, it’s a case of meandering through one enclosed garden after another, through the maple garden with the thatched cottage peeping over the wall to complete the English scene and then into the white garden with clipped box birds at the four corners and white roses reliving a little of their summer glory.
We skirted around the lawn with old Cedar of Lebanon that is the focus point beside the house and into The Old Garden with herbaceous borders in soft colours with pink dahlias and purple Michaelmas daisies, and a bunches of orange lilies, perfectly set off by the old brick garden wall.
Soon we come to the magnificent Red border – with the perfect colour scheme for an early autumn day. Crimson dahlias are flying like flags, backed by chocolate foliage and scarlet geraniums in pots on the steps where ferns and clematis scramble through the beds and grasses rustle in the breeze. We look back along the vista towards the Cedar of Lebanon and then climb the steps to admire the miniature summer houses on either side, one with pretty painted tiles and the other that frames the view down the steps towards the fields and countryside beyond. Next there’s a Stilt garden where the trees are bare trunked on gravel, with a dense canopy that’s clipped into straight lines, very French looking.
I hope you enjoy the video below from our visit to Hidcote Manor Gardens
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On the terrace below we find the Pillar garden of clipped yews twined with ivy, yellow oregano and lavender. The terraced stone walls and pine trees, give a Mediterranean feel, a reminder of Lawrence Johnstone’s other garden, Serre de la Madone, in the South of France. A meander along the stream bed, dried out for the summer and a glimpse of the ha-ha that keeps the sheep in picture, but out of the garden and then we come upon an arched Billy-Goat-Gruff bridge that’s the start of a grassy avenue.
Here are children running races and collecting pine cones, and a perfect picnic spot in the wilderness on the other side of the hedge, where a pair of metal wart-hog sculptures are standing guard in the damp grass with, a little way off, another pair of giraffes have a view of the fields. We return to the house and stop for a coffee and cake in the tea shop before exploring the garden on the other side of the house. There’s a rectangular lily pond through the gate, with a purple and yellow theme of nicotiana, siberian wallflower and daisies, with the Plant House beyond. In the summer the side is open and you can sink into wicker chairs under the glass roof and make yourself at home as if you owned the place, while you contemplate tender greenhouse plants punctuated by spiky foliage. Although the Plant House is made from dark wood, I notice that all the other gates and garden doors are painted Hidcote blue, a shade that’s somewhere between green and peacock blue washed over with grey.
Around the lily pond are succulents in old stone troughs covered with lichen, and the bees buzz around through the clouds of waist high stems with delicate purple flowers and a few more pines for a hint of the exotic. We walk on through the orchard where there are another pair of animals released from the Ark, this time two solemn emu. The Rose border is past it’s best but the occasional striped, scented old-rose is still blooming. On the other side of the border from the orchard is the kitchen garden where a couple of pigs look up hopefully but then decide we have nothing to offer them. The pumpkins are swelling nicely and turning golden ready for harvest festivals and Halloween celebrations.
Consulting the garden plan, we realise the only bit we’ve missed is the Bathing Pool garden, with green water and an ornamental fountain in the middle. Yet look closer and you’ll see that the knee high water is deeper to one side, where one could have a cooling dip on a hot summer day and then run into the painted arbour to one side where bright young things from the 20s are playing croquet on the lawn. Our parting view of Hidcote is of families play ball on the grass and a gentleman in his 80s quietly enjoying a Magnum ice cream. It’s a place for all generations and all seasons.
Information for visiting Hidcote Manor Gardens
- Hidcote Manor Garden, Hidcote Bartrum, Near Chipping Campden, Gloucestershire, GL55 6LR
- Hidcote Manor Garden is run by the National Trust and is open March to December – you can find more details on their website here
- Entrance prices at the time of writing are Adults £9.05 and Children £4.54, family tickets £22.72
- We visited Hidcote Manor Gardens while staying nearby at the lovely country house hotel, Ettington Park Hotel, booked through Secret Escapes who offer special rates at Luxury hotels.
- For a pub lunch or evening meal nearby we recommend the Howard Arms at Ilmington
More things to enjoy in the area
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I might describe the Abbey House Gardens in Malmsbury as a gorgeous Cotswold garden that typifies the English country style, but the name doesn’t always ring a bell – until I mention the Naked Gardener and there’s an Ahhh moment “Oh yes, I saw it on Gardener’s World!”
The Naked Gardeners are Ian and Barbara Pollard and they love to garden – well, naked. If you see their publicity material you find a couple of naked Adam and Eve style figures to remind you what you might expect when you visit and there are even postcards on sale with them lingering naked amongst the flowers and foliage with a leaf here or flower there tastefully covering the naughty bits.
I love the tradition of mildly eccentric English men and women who follow their fancy and do just as they please – why shouldn’t you wander around with no clothes on in your own garden? If you like the idea of enjoying this garden with the freedom of no clothes then check the Abbey House Gardens website for the dates of the Clothes Optional Days, although personally it never quite gets hot enough in the English summer for me to be tempted.
As we walked around the garden we came across the Naked Gardener, not quite starkers as it wasn’t the hottest day but wearing a loose shirt, that just about covered him up as he went to work on deadheading the roses. I thought it would be a little rude to point the camera (we English are so polite) so you’ll have to content yourself with lovely floral photos instead.
There are plenty of statues of naked statues around the garden, from the two masculine figures locked in a wrestling match at the entrance to the perfectly toned torsoes with a lizard running over their privates and ivy creeeping over them on the river terrace.
But don’t let me distract you from the general gorgeousness of the garden which is truly a labour of love. We took the suggested route through the knot garden with an Alice in Wonderland feel of yew and box hedges, clipped into shapes and a giant face staring out at you from one end. The ruined arch of the Abbey loomed just outside the garden and once extended right along the borders of the garden.
We moved on to the lawned area where the hedging traces the shape of the walls of the Lady Chapel that once stood on this spot and in the flowerbed you can see a medieval coffin that once housed the body of a monk who lived here. He was featured on the BBC TV programme, Meet the Ancestors, and apparently his skeleton offered clues that he was brought up near the sea and suffered from periods of food shortage throughout his childhood.
There are many more connections in the garden with the Abbey next door and the current Abbey House was built in the 16th century on the site of an older 13th century Abbot’s house, while just beyond the river are the Monastic fish ponds that enabled the monks to have fresh fish on Fridays. Under the apple tree you’ll find a statue of the Cistercian monk, a mysterious figure with his face hidden by his cowl.
In every direction you look as you pass through the garden you’ll glimpse vistas created by hedged walkways and arches and punctuated by statues and water features. There are the classical English herbaceous borders and when we visited the roses were still in full bloom, planted according to a rainbow of colour with just the odd misfit to keep things interesting. The gardens are a photographer’s dream and it is really quite difficult to take a bad shot, so beautifully has the garden been planted for form and colour with a painter’s eye.
Past the Serpentine rose bed and through the old orchard with fruit trees dotted around that are used to make fresh juices and you”ll come to the sunken herb garden. It’s surrounded by a pergola planted with climbing roses and clematis and the raised beds are full of herbs that might have been used by the monks for their medicinal properties as well as their perfume, making a waist high mass of green. gold and purple.
Having worked our way around the gardens on the south side of the house we stopped in the small cafe for a light lunch of quiche and salad, waiting our turn while a very patient young man helped a German lady count out all her pennies of unfamiliar currency. There were tables around a pond with huge goldfish or you could eat your lunch inside a conservatory room with views over the back of the house.
Finally we made our way through the river garden behind the house where the ground drops steeply away to the river at the bottom of the hill.This part of the garden was completely overgrown when the owners arrived and it has now been planted with water loving plants and iris that flower in spring with a wooden bridge to take you across the river for a view back towards the house from the mound.
We visited the Abbey House Gardens in July when it was a riot of summer colour but I believe that it would be beautiful at any time of year with frost tracing out the knot garden in winter, tulips and colourful bulbs in the spring and golden foliage and berries in the autumn. And of course if you have Naturist tendancies, you can also enjoy the garden naked during the Clothes Optional open days – although with the English summer being somewhat illusive I’ll prefer to enjoy the garden with my clothes on!
The Abbey House, Malmesbury, Wiltshire, SN16 9AS – open daily March-October
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More lovely gardens to visit
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