Where thatch reigns supreme in Bedfordshire - the Swiss Garden
|The Swiss Cottage at the heart of the garden - a home for Lord Ongley's mistress|
If you're looking for an English garden that's a little different, the Swiss Garden in Bedfordshire is certainly worth visiting! It began life in the 1820s when the third Lord Ongley inherited the Manor House at Old Warden Park and breathed new life into the landscape there. He also built the Swiss Cottage (above), which perches on its own slope at the heart of the garden, reputedly for his mistress, who came from Switzerland. But in 1872 he sold the estate to wealthy Victorian industrialist, Joseph Shuttleworth, who created the somewhat eccentric garden, complete with grotto, that survives today.
|A network of canals criss-cross the garden|
The Swiss garden is part of the Shuttleworth Collection, which also includes a collection of vintage planes in hangars. Typically Victorian features including wrought ironwork, stained glass work in some of the buildings, a grotto and fernery all add to the eccentricity of this nine-acre garden. But it narrowly escaped dereliction in the 1970s and was finally saved from ruin and restored by Bedfordshire County Council. Today it's a fine example of a Victorian garden and although you won't find stunning border displays here, you'll find a truly tranquil landscape, and some stunning specimen trees.
|View from the Indian pavilion|
Part of the charm of this garden is the winding canals that run through the middle of it, the random pieces of statuary dotted around, the wrought iron bridges that criss-cross the water and the strong emphasis on thatch. When the Shuttleworth family bought the garden they added a fernery grotto (closed on the day I visited, so no pictures here). You won't find flowerbeds or herbaceous borders here, just a green landscape, several surprises and a general sense of well-being. The garden is especially glorious in springtime, when the azaleas and rhododendrons are in bloom.
|Tree seat with thatched roof around English oak tree|