Somerset's Winter Gardens

PUBLISHED: 16:02 03 January 2012 | UPDATED: 20:50 20 February 2013

Frozen Forde Abbey

Frozen Forde Abbey

A hardy handful of our county's great gardens remain open throughout the winter months: just make sure you wrap up warm! Words by Sarah Ashworth

A hardy handful of our countys great gardens remain open throughout the winter months: just make sure you wrap up warm!

Words by Sarah Ashworth

One very wise person once said: "Theres no such thing as bad weather, only the wrong clothes." With this is mind, January is as good a month as any to get out and enjoy the fresh air of the outdoors. Indeed, a frost-sprinkled lawn that crunches underneath foot, branches stripped back to their bare bones and breath which mistily condensates in front of you, all hold a very different magical appeal to that of a summer garden. Gardens also often offer a discounted winter rate, so slip on a hat and scarf and enjoy a brisk January jaunt.

Hestercombe Gardens, Nr Taunton

Lovingly restored to its former glory and re-opened to the public in 1997 for the first time in 125 years, Hestercombe Gardens brings together three centuries of garden design: an 18th-century Landscape Garden, a 19th-century Victorian Terrace and Shrubbery and the early 20th-century Edwardian Formal Garden.

Its 50 acres of land features everything from temples and terraces, cascades and courtyards, to ponds and pergolas. All of this, combined with its situation on the southern slopes of the Quantock Hills, means you are sure to stumble upon something of interest even in the fading sun of colder months.

Should the weather take a turn for the worse, there is also plenty to see indoors with tearooms, an art gallery and the recently restored 17th-century Water Mill with its Dynamo House and Mill Room with historical machinery on display. Plus, if you get your skates on youll also be able to do a spot of ice skating, available until Sunday 8 January, adults 6, children 4 and family ticket 16 (Group rates: 5 per adult, 3.50 per child (minimum of 10); Corporate rates: from 10 per person with exclusive use, room hire and a choice of delicious menus for lunch or dinner (minimum of 35).

Hestercombe Gardens, Cheddon Fitzpaine, Taunton, TA2 8LG.

01823 413923,,

Gardens open everyday 10am-5pm, adults 8.60, children 3.25.

Forde Abbey, Chard

Despite its 900-year-old origins as a monastery, visitors are encouraged to visit Forde Abbey all through the winter months to keep the spirit of the living family home and working estate alive. The 30-acre gardens remain open with an honesty box in operation until the beginning of March.

Those visiting during the New Year may be able to spot early blooming flowers such as the dainty Cyclamen coum and hellebores, species that thrive in cool and shady light.

Keep an eye out in late January and early February for the first signs of life after winter with the appearance of budding snowdrops: the flower William Wordsworth called the venturous harbinger of Spring. This February will again see the gardens special Snowdrop Weekends when visitors can hopefully see the magnificent white carpet of flowers and enjoy a warming drink from the caf open every Saturday and Sunday during February.

Forde Abbey, Chard, TA20 4LU. 01460 220231,,

Gardens open everyday 10am-4pm, honesty box (4 recommended).

(Royal Horticultural Society members have free entry to the gardens from until the end of February).

Montacute House, Montacute

Although the National Trusts 16th-century house is closed for the winter months, visitors can still take a stroll through its adjacent formal gardens or, for the more energetic, its 300-acre estate all year round.

Some of the garden highlights include the Stuart and Tudor pudding houses, pavilions where the gentry would retire after dinner in order to enjoy their desserts amongst the tranquillity of the gardens. What better excuse to savour some of your own cake from the caf on site! Montacutes famous wobbly yew hedges are also well worth a visit, particularly because their unique shape was formed by natures own winter forces. During a heavy snow storm 66 years ago, snow settled on the hedges for three weeks moulding their curvaceous shape, which has remained ever since: proof that winter can be wonderful.

On Thursday 12 and 26 January, and Thursday 9 and 23 February, you can join a member of Montacutes gardening team for a tour and friendly chat about the gardens, a free event included in your entrance fee: perhaps the perfect way of walking off all that talk of pudding.

Montacute House and Gardens, Montacute, Somerset, TA156XP.

01935 823289,,

Gardens open everyday from 10am-4pm, adults 5, children 2.50.

The Walled Gardens of Cannington, nr Bridgwater

Steeped in history, its believed that tunnels underneath the formal lawns of the Walled Garden were built by amorous monks and nuns from the adjacent Cannington Priory in order to meet in secret. The iron-bound gates at the entrance to Cannington, once built to hold the curious nuns inside, will reopen to the public after Christmas and New Year on Tuesday 3 January.

You may need to unbutton that winter coat while exploring the state-of-the-art botanical glasshouses that are home to arid, sub-tropical and tropical plants from seven different climate zones. A lot the plants grown here are for sale in the plant and garden centre which, along with the tearooms, also remain open.

In association with Bridgwater College, Cannington Gardens also aims to cultivate Somersets strong affinity with its land through a wide range of land-based courses such as Horticulture, Landscape Design and Floristry, all of which utilise the gardens facilities and run throughout January and February.

The Walled Gardens of Cannington, Church Street, Cannington, Nr Bridgwater, TA5 2HA.

01278 655042,,

Open Mon-Fri 10am-4pm (last entry an hour before closing), adults 3.50, children free

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