A red bridge crossing the lake and surrounding Japanese Maple

5 Hot Reasons To Visit Abbotsbury Subtropical Gardens

For a totally tropical experience visit Abbotsbury Subtropical Gardens. A plethora of floral, deciduous and evergreen species guaranteed to delight any gardener.

Situated in a steep valley in the depths of Dorset is the small privately-owned village and estate of Abbotsbury…the quintessential English village. Boasting thatched cottages, manor house, Abbey ruins with remaining Tithe barn and a cricket ground.
The SubTropical Gardens are well protected from the worst of winter-cold winds and frosts by the surrounding hills and woodlands. In this natural micro climate, all manner of rare, exotic plants and trees are nurtured within the 20-acre Victorian walled site.


Abbotsbury Subtropical Gardens

  • Rare Exotic Plants and Trees
  • Magnolia Walk
  • Rhododendron and Camellia Collection
  • Lily Ponds
  • Restaurant and Plant Shop

Rare Exotic Plants And Trees

Abbotsbury subtropical gardens started life as a walled kitchen garden to provide fresh produce for nearby Abbotsbury Castle. This now forms the gardens as we see them today. The beautiful stone walls remain as a backdrop to many stunning plants from all over the world.

In 1808 surrounding land was used to start a planting scheme of woodland trees and shrubs. Over the years as the trees provided further shade and moisture, rare plants, newly collected from China, Japan and the Himalayas were added to the collection.

Many new species were included in the gardens, collected from a wide range of countries, including Citronella mucronata from Chile, Picconia excelsa, which is now endangered species from the Canary Isles. These species are not hardy in the UK but thrive here in the gardens.

The Stranvaesia grows here too, named after Fox-Strangways the then 5th Earl of Ilchester. We now know it as Photinia, which is widely grown in the UK

Sadly, following the 2 world wars, with the subsequent lack of labour, the gardens became neglected and overgrown. In the 1960s Lady Teresa Agnew and her husband started a restoration programme.

More land was added to the woodland areas.

Further restoration has been ongoing, particularly after the storms of 1987 which brought down many trees and caused serious damage in various areas.

The gardens you see today continue to flourish and grow.

Look out for the Puya Alpestris, an unusual and striking plant with tall spikes of metallic, turquoise/purple flowers in summer. An evergreen bromeliad, native to Central and South America.

Pura alpestris Turquoise bromeliad
Pura Alpestris Abbotsbury Subtropical Gardens Rare Exotic Plants

You will find many succulents species from the Mediterranean such as Agaves, Echeveria, Aeonium, Euphorbia and Sedum. Growing alongside them is Echium Pininana from the Canary Islands.

Along wooded paths, there are many pretty species enjoying the shade, such as this Jacobinia pauciflora, or Brazilian Fuchsia.

Brazilian Fuschia
Jacobinia pauciflora Abbotsbury Subtropical Gardens

Magnolia Walk

To the south of the gardens, the valley rises steeply to a viewing point. This grassed hill is boarded on either side with a fantastic collection of Magnolia trees, some of which were still in flower. A spectacular vista in the spring the tree-lined hill rises to a viewing area overlooking Chessil beach. And what a stunning view it is, well worth the climb. You can see the coastline of Lyme bay for miles.

Dorset coastline and Chessil Beach
Chessil Beach From The Viewing Point Abbotsbury Subtropical Gardens

Rhododendron and Camellia Collection

As with many of the UK’s historic gardens, a Rhododendron and Camellia collection is inevitable. The botanists of the day traveled far and wide to find new plants and be the first to bring them back to England. The varieties growing at Abbotsbury don’t disappoint.

White Rhododendron. Abbotsbury Subtropical Gardens
White Rhododendron
Abbotsbury Rhododendron and Camellia Collection

Lily Ponds

The Victorian Lily ponds are so pretty when the lilies are doing their thing. Full of shimmering golden fish darting between the plants. Sit awhile, let the peaceful space envelop your soul. The ponds are a reflective, tranquil area to spend some time in before continuing your exploration of the gardens.

Lily Ponds Abbotsbury Subtropical Gardens
Lily Ponds Abbotsbury Subtropical Gardens

Restaurant and Plant Shop

Both the restaurant and plant shop can be accessed without visiting the gardens. The restaurant has plentiful seating inside and out, it is reminiscent of a plantation house, with its wide veranda shaded by palm trees, tree ferns and vines.

It serves a wide array of cakes, snacks, lunches and Dorset teas. Local produce is in abundance.

I can personally recommend the Dorset apple and cinnamon cake. Delicious!

The plant shop is well stocked with many of the varieties that you see in the gardens as well as garden accessories. And yes, I did spend a small fortune on plants.

Places to Visit in Abbotsbury

Chessil Beach

Chessil Beach or Chessil Bank is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

One of three major shingle beaches in the UK it runs for approximately 15 kilometers.

Behind the beach is the Fleet, a shallow, tidal lagoon.

They are both sites of special scientific interest, parts of the lagoon area and surrounding beach areas have restricted access during nesting and breeding seasons.

Chessil Beach

Abbotsbury Swannery

Abbotsbury Swannery is the only managed colony of nesting Mute swans in the world. The only place where you can visit and walk amongst these majestic birds and their cygnets. A trip to this beautiful place is one of the highlights when visiting Dorset.

St Catherine’s Chapel

A short walk through the village, followed by a climb up the hillside and you will come to St Catherine’s Chapel. Well worth the effort for the cracking views over acres of meadows to the Dorset coastline, Chessil beach and the Fleet.

For further information on the UK’s beautiful gardens go to UK Gardens to visit near you

Places To Stay In Abbotsbury

There are various guest houses, bed and breakfast establishments and self-catering.

East Farm House

The Ilchester Arms Hotel has rooms, it also serves delicious food.

The Abbey Guest House 

The Swan Inn has a large garden and a varied menu, serving freshly prepared meals.

I hope that this article has inspired you to visit these important gardens and local sites. You really will enjoy them. Let me know if you intend to visit or have already done so. If you have any thoughts or questions please do share them in the comments box below.

Please share with friends and family and on social media.

Thank you

Happy traveling