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Saturday, 5 January 2013

Anglesey Abbey

I've wanted to visit Anglesey Abbey for about 2 years, ever since I saw Carol Klein on Gardeners' World standing amonst the Himalayan Birch trees. So when my daughter wanted to meet up with a friend in Cambridge on New Year's Eve it seemed like a good opportunity to put writing resolution no. 3, from the previous post, into practice.

Angelsey Abbey is actually nowhere near Angelsey. It is on the opposite side of the country, about 5 miles outside Cambridge and was formed by a community of Augustinian monks in the twelfth century. The monks were expelled in 1535 during Henry VIII's Dissolution of the Monasteries and in around 1600 the Abbey was purchased and converted into a house.

The National Trust acquired the house in the 1960's from Lord Fairhaven and he stipulated that the interior should be maintained just as it was when he held his house parties there. We weren't expecting to see the inside of the house, thinking it would be closed for the Winter. And it is but on this particular day there was a guided tour of a small part of the house. That National Trust are experimenting with the idea of opening up some of their houses and showing people a little of the conservation work which is carried out during the closed season. We were to be guinea pigs. This was such a bonus! We learned about problems with moths and damp (particularly this year!) and dust amongst other things. The patience and attention to detail of the conservators is really awe-inspiring and every single artefact in the house is examined and cleaned over the Winter.
But what we had really gone to see was the garden and in particular the Winter Garden with those Himalayan Birches. So don your hats and please take a brief winter walk with me through an English garden. Meander along gravel paths amongst the fiery red stems of the cornus and the arching whitewashed brambles.
Admire the delicacy of the witchazel.

Run your fingers over the lustrous, coppery bark of the Prunus Serrula, the Tibetan Cherry tree.
 And breathe in the heavenly citrus sweet scent of the Mahonias.
Then, as you round the corner, let the Himalayan Birches take your breath away. My photos don't do them justice but trust me, it was like stepping into Narnia.
They actually wash the bark to keep it this clean and white.
This winter garden is as a result of the wonderful vision of Richard Ayres, a previous head gardener at Anglesey.
Sometimes, when you visit somewhere after wanting to go there for a long time, you can be disappointed. But I wasn't. If anything it was even better than I expected. They even had a choice of gluten,wheat and dairy free cake in the restaurant which for someone who is wheat intolerant was a rare treat. If you're close enough to visit Anglesey Abbey I would really recommend it and if you know of other lovely winter gardens please let me know.



  1. It was that coppice of silver birches that led to our house being called Silver Grove, and twelve silver birches being planted to make it so.
    Lovely post.

    1. I didn't know that. It's lovely to have that connection. I think silver birches are the most elegant of trees and you can appreciate their beauty more without their leaves.

  2. I've never been to this house but it looks like somewhere to add to our To Do List for this year. I think my favourite photo is the Cherry Tree bark. Beautiful.

    1. Definitely Ros. The house was really interesting too. They have a conundrum with some corroding marble pillars in the oldest part of the Abbey which Rod may even be able to offer an explanation for. The Cherry Tree bark was amazing. You really have to go there and run your fingers over it - sensational!