If you've been calling into the Attic for any length of time, I guess I don't need to tell you where we are visiting today as you will recognise it for yourself. Like much of our Dorset holidays, making a visit to the Subtropical Gardens at Abbotsbury has become something of a tradition for us, something we all seem happy enough to repeat time after time, year after year.
We were here at Easter and it was lovely then, but truthfully oh so much more beautiful in the height of summer.
The summer planting in these gardens is incredibly inspiring, a bold and beautiful blend of colour and texture. The deep borders are immaculately kept, but they aren't at all formal. There are lots of perennials in full flower all competing for attention, and I love the crazy, colourful riot of it.
Even the parts of the garden that are without colour (excepting for multiple shades of green) are lovely, a rest for the eyes after all that outrageous floral zing. It's another hot day when we visit but with a light breeze, perfect for meandering the easy pathways in and out of dappled shade and lush foliage.
It's much busier here in Summer than when we visited in Spring, with coachloads of tourists as well as many families like us. So instead of hogging the Scenic Bench at the top of the hill for our picnic lunch, we decide to give it up for the many people huffing and puffing up the hill. We move off to the side and park our picnic blanket amongst the tall, swaying summer grasses instead.
I love to picnic, I really, really enjoy eating this way. I look at the above picture of grass, and it's the food that immediately springs to mind. On this day we had soft brown rolls filled with tuna/mayonnaise/cucumber, a punnet of the sweetest baby plum tomatoes, some packets of salt and vinegar crisps, sweet little clementines and some mini chocolate caramel biscuity things to finish. And some huge bottles of ice cold water to drink, it was a tad too hot for coffee, even for me.
Sitting right amongst this sort of long grass, you are also sitting amongst a surprising amount of insect life. Most of it is wonderful, although I did get bitten by something mean and unseen which caused me to yelp and leap out of the grass like a jack in the box. We saw lots and lots of different butterflies, including my favourite Common Blue, ladybirds, many types of beetles and bugs (some amazing bright orangey-red ones, which thanks to google I've just identified as the Common Red Soldier Beetle), and of course grasshoppers. Watching all three Little People stalk grasshoppers was really funny, and it kept them (and us) fully entertained for ages. It was only Little Man who managed to perfect his Trapping Technique and he captured a few different specimens for us to marvel at.
After lunch, we wandered back down from our picnic view to continue along the winding pathways through the gardens. This is the Hydrangea Walk, and although for some unknown reason I still can't make myself really like hydrangeas, I had to admit they were looking spectacular this year.
I mean, just look at the size of them there blooms! Some of them were as big as footballs!! Impressive, but just not for me. If this were a Dahlia Walk, well now I would be hyperventilating.
One of the many things I love about visiting gardens is the change in visual scale that you can perform just by zooming out and in and out and in with your eyes, much as a camera can do. One minute you can be looking ahead and taking in the broad vista and the diverse expanse of landscape, and the next minute your eye is attracted to something close-up, something delicate and beautiful right there inches from your nose. And so in you go, setting your eyes and mind into macro mode, zooming in and taking in every little wonderful detail.
At Abbotsbury gardens, it was often the butterflies that caused me to zoom in.
The whole place was full of butterflies, most of which we recognised and could name straight away. Interestingly, Little Lady asked me how I knew the name of so many butterflies and I told her that I had always had a fascination for them since being a child. I had books about butterflies, even a jigsaw puzzle which had the various butterflies cut out as individual shaped jigsaw pieces. Gosh I loved that puzzle, I remember it so clearly! I wonder if my own Little Peeps will absorb the information I pass on to them, the names of insects, the joy in identifying and appreciating. I hope so.
Ahhh yes, here we are again, stalking around these beautiful ponds, putting our 20pences into the dispensing machine to retrieve the small handfuls of musty smelling pellets to feed the fish.....
The fish performed beautifully on this occasion. They rose to the surface with big open mouths and gobbled up every single pellet of food that the Little Peeps threw in, much to the squealing delight of Little B.
Some of the fish were ginormous, like as long as your forearm. Obviously seriously good gobblers.
Descending down from the fish ponds is pure pleasure for the senses. It is hot and fragrant and colourful and not at all English.
The planting is Mediterranean here, with lots of aromatic herbs and some stunning flowers....
I love these blue agapanthus flowers, another zoom-in moment for me here as you can see. We also tried (and failed) to zoom in to the rather large lizard scurrying through the undergrowth here, but he was just too damn fast on his lizardy legs for us to capture him on camera. But the Little People loved that they could add "lizard" to the already lengthy list of wildlife we had spotted throughout the gardens.
It was a lovely visit, this one. It ended in the usual way, with a restorative stop at the spacious tables of the outdoor Colonial Restaurant for ice cream and cold drinks, before spending a length of time in the small but very well designed children's play area. All in all, a very successful and happy trip, with only a few minor scrapes/grazes/bites/squabbles/tantrums.
One of the reasons we visit Abbotsbury Gardens so regularly is that we have an annual family season ticket, making it very good value for us, a family of five. We bought the ticket last August and so this was our third time using it, and even better it also includes free entry to the Children's Farm and the Swannery. If we had to pay to go to the children's farm, I don't think we would go actually as it would cost us £25 each time. But having the season ticket enables us to bob in for a few hours and allow the Little People to play, play, play whilst J and I sit and drink coffee and try not to be bothered by the noise of so many children (with their hot and bothered parents) all in one place.
Our favourite-most-favourite bit of the children's farm is the guinea pig barn...it is ace! I wish I had taken a picture to show you the whole set up, there are literally dozens and dozens of guinea pigs free-roaming around the floor, piggies of all shapes, sizes, colours and hairyness.
Oh my goodness, this photo makes me laugh so much!!! This was Little Lady's mop of a pig, a real adorable little scruffy fluff ball.
The other thing that I wished I had photographed was the Bug Show that was happening in the big barn, my goodness it was really great. I just didn't have the wherewithal to actually get my camera out, was too busy trying not to hang my mouth open in slightly frightened awe. We got to hold giant African Land Snails and the huuuuuuugest giant millipede with a million bristly little feet. We got up close and personal with some amazing snakes (they were enormous, and we stroked them!) And the scorpions (so deadly!) And the Spider! There was a massive bird eating spider that only the Big Boss was allowed to hold, but we got right up close to marvel at it's massiveness. It was possibly the best bit about the whole farm visit this time, the Little People enjoyed it very much.
Weirdly, even though we were in Abbsotsbury for two visits we didn't make it up to St Catherine's Chapel this time and I kind of missed that. But we did something else this holiday that we've not been able to do before......we walked. And by walking, I mean proper miles of up and down, climbing, hiking type of coastal walking that I so love......it was WONDERFUL. Oh those views!!!!!!!! Will you join me tomorrow as we stride out over the clifftops? See you then..........
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