Save the Date

April 2024. This is the month that Bowood’s Woodland Gardens will again open to the public, and I encourage everyone reading this to pay a visit.

MrElaineous and I have lived in Chippenham for over ten years now, and although we were aware of the Woodland Gardens, we had never managed to visit during its relatively brief opening season from April to late May or early June. We always had some excuse, but this year we found a clear space in our diary that coincided with dry weather and ventured over.

I am a bit embarrassed to admit that it took us 13 minutes to get from door to door. That is not a typo. It’s easy to overlook the places that are on our doorstep for attractions further afield, but we soon realised that this had indeed been a massive oversight. The garden was stunning, delivering such a profusion of blossoms that MrElaineous called it a candy store for adults.

Beyond the riot of colour, our walk turned into a treat for all the senses. Azaleas filled the air with a sweet scent similar to honeysuckle, and listening to the birdsong made me feel like we were miles from civilisation, not just a stone’s throw away from a fairly busy A road. And taste? Well, the Nosh Box food stand stocked by the local Lacock Deli has some of the best cakes we’ve eaten since visiting Carlisle’s Cakes and Ale.

Our first visit was dry but overcast; the plants were incredible, but we agreed our photos would be better with natural light. Two days later we again drove 13 minutes to see the flowers in their full glory, lit by the sun under a brilliant blue sky. We may have had more cake. In fact, we may have brought some home with us.

So, I heartily recommend Bowood’s Woodland Gardens to anyone who enjoys flowers, walking, or cake. But why is the garden here in the first place? After all, rhododendrons aren’t exactly native to Britain. Answering that question involves a bit of history.

The British fervour for plant collecting took them across the globe in the 19th century, from the rhododendron-filled valleys of the Himalayas to the tropical rainforests of South America. The invention of the Wardian case—a travel-sized terrarium or greenhouse—meant that more plants survived the perilous journey across the ocean to arrive back in the UK, where they were then snapped up by gentry up and down the country.

At Bowood, the third Marquess of Lansdowne originally planted rhododendrons in 1854, taking advantage of a seam of ericaceous earth that runs through the property. This soil is more acidic than standard compost, and it’s perfect for these international imports. In the 170-ish years since, they have absolutely thrived in this 30-acre plot of land, where they’ve been joined by azaleas, bluebells, magnolias, and other magnificent blossoms.

If I have managed to tempt both your wanderlust and tastebuds with this post, then I strongly suggest making a note on your calendar for 2024. At the very least, you’ll know where to find me once spring rolls ‘round again.

Off the Beaten Track Wiltshire

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MissElaineous Travel Blog: Escape, Explore, Discover, Enjoy