Wednesday, 16 June 2010

A tropical surprise in Southern England - Ventnor Botanic Garden

Today I went to the Isle of Wight and visited the Ventnor Botanic Garden - I was surprised, amazed and delighted by what I saw!!  This glorious 22-acre garden is managed by the local council, is completely free to visitors and has some real surprises in store for you - Chusan Palms, many mature specimen trees and different garden areas that will delight you - ranging from an Australian garden (below) to glorious herbaceous borders, that all thrive in the unique microclimate on the south coast of the island.
The site has an interesting history because it was formerly the Royal National Hospital for Diseases of the Chest , founded in 1868, but it eventually became redundant as antibiotics were discovered for the treatment of tuberculosis, and the building (which was reminiscent of a Victorian workhouse), was finally demolished in 1969 to make way for the wonderful garden that is there today.  
Sir Harold Hillier, the internationally renowned plantsman who created the gardens bearing his name near Winchester, used this site to house tender plants and shrubs from his collection and as a result, there is an astounding array of specimens here from China, Japan, New Zealand, Australia and South Africa - all in themed gardens. The result of his original endeavours, together with the council's commitment to caring for the plants and the appointment of a curator, who has worked hard to make Ventnor what it is today, is a magical garden - and one of the best I've seen this year.  
But this remarkable garden has not always looked this good.  Hillier died in 1985 and the garden was then hit by some incredibly harsh winters, when many many plants died. The great storm of 1987 wreaked further havoc on specimen trees and plants, so there has been much work for both the council and curator, Simon Goodenough in the last 35 years. But looking at the garden today, you would never guess that it had suffered such a difficult time. 
This is one to put on your "Wish List" - there are lots of special deals on ferries to the Isle of Wight, and many other gardens to see, including Mottistone Manor, which I'll be reviewing later this month.  


  1. You have talked me into adding this garden to my wish list, and I would definitely like to visit the Isle of Wight.

  2. Charlotte, It's such a delight to see this garden. Jim Dobson included his visit to Ventnor and Simon Goodenough in his book, Beautiful Madness; but the book doesn't have any photos. This is way beyond what I was capable of imagining. Thanks. -Jean

  3. Us northeners envy that microclimate .. I wan't a palm in my garden too! Actually I have one in the living room but the ceiling is beginning to pose a problem :)