Family travel

A visit to the Beth Chatto Gardens

During our summer holiday in Essex we had the opportunity to visit The Beth Chatto Gardens just outside Colchester.

We went with the grandparents while Mr Tin Box took Tin Box Dog on a long walk as four-legged visitors aren’t allowed.

I can’t admit to being a plant expert but I do enjoy walking around beautiful places. The horticultural side of our visit was much more up Tin Box Grandpa’s street, but I did find the history and origins of the gardens interesting.

A bit about the gardens

The gardens were established in 1960 on seven acres of wasteland attached to the old Chatto fruit farm. It was an overgrown and inhospitable plot that Beth landscaped and nurtured with unusual plants that adapt to different and often harsh environments.
Flowering thistles

A monkey puzzle tree
A view of the gardens across a pond
Beth has made her name in the horticultural world through specialising in plants that thrive in different conditions. In 1975 and after years of lecturing in the Flower Club community she took a stand of her unusual plants to the RHS Hall, Westminster and won a Silver Medal. From 1977 Beth’s unusual plants stall won 10 consecutive Gold Medals at Chelsea. Since then she has written eight gardening books and lectured around the world.

Our visit

The Beth Chatto Gardens are open all year round and there is also a gravel garden, tea room and nursery which you do not have to pay to explore.
The gravel garden has taken inspiration from the Mediterranean with plants used to drought. These are my type of plants – ones that can handle a bit of neglect!
The scene that greets you once you have paid for your ticket is very different. There are lawns, shady trees and borders overflowing with tall green plants. 
Tin Box Tot and Grandma looking out across a pond
Tin Box Tot sat next to a lake
We visited during a hot week in August so a lot of the spring and summer flowers were already past their best. But that didn’t take away from the serene feeling that comes over you as you are walking through the informal flower beds and around the lakes.
Towards the back there is the woodland garden which is even less formal and gave us some welcome shade. TBT enjoyed looking for rabbits and took a fancy to the garden cat, although I’m pretty sure the feeling wasn’t mutual.
Tin Box Grandpa, Tot and Grandma walking down a woodland path
Back up at the front of the gardens by the house is the scree garden that continues the Mediterranean theme with smaller resilient plants in raised beds. There were lots of tactile plants here that Tin Box Grandpa recognised and tried to encourage TBT to feel. She was more interested in running around on the gravel paths that circled the flower beds.

After we’d had our fill of horticulture we visited the tea rooms for a cooling drink while Grandpa had a look around the nursery. He returned with a small bag of goodies for his own garden. Our visit ended with an ice cream as is often the way when we are out with Grandpa!

Need to know

I would say this is a grown ups day out as there was no playground. To be honest this was a bit of a relief as we usually spend most of our time going up and down slides rather than looking around once TBT has homed in on one. With no slide to distract her TBT enjoyed running freely around the gardens and doing forward rolls on the grass.
There was also a wildlife trail for older children to complete as they walked around the gardens.
Trees and flowerbeds
Admission to the gardens is £6.95 per adult between March and September and £4 from October to February. Under 14s are free.

Disclaimer: we paid for our own entry to the gardens and all views are my own.

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